Salt and Pepper Grilled Vegetables with Grilled Olathe Sweet Corn “Confetti”

Smoke is a flavor. So is char. However, when we grill to cook, I believe that by and large we attend to these two less as flavors and more as either an aroma or an optic. For example, “Look at the nice char on that steak.”

Another enormously important and intricate flavor that we often confuse with a simple char is the so-called caramelization of sugars and amino acids on grilled foods called the Maillard reaction, named after its discoverer, French scientist Louis Camille Maillard. Nearly anything brown or dark brown on a cooked (baked, fried, sautéed, grilled, seared, “browned,” roasted, deep-fried, even dried) food is a result of the Maillard reaction. It produces complex flavors, aromas and background tastes, especially umami.

I say “so-called” caramelization because to caramelize anything is, in essence, to darken merely its sugars, not its amino acids. The Maillard reaction also darkens the latter.

But

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Want to drastically improve your cooking? Get the right types of salt and use them well

 <span class="copyright">(Hanna Carter / For The Times)</span>
(Hanna Carter / For The Times)

Salt is often the difference between a good dish and great dish. To season with it right and well, it’s helpful to understand the different types of salts and the best ways to use them.

Where does salt come from?

True “sea salt” is harvested from shallow marshes, ponds or other low-lying areas. It comes from either sunshine and wind evaporating the water and leaving behind the salt or from raking salt off the surface of still water.

Other cooking salts come from solution mining. After water dissolves salt deposits, the brine solution is evaporated and purified. The salt left behind is then dried and refined, ending up as almost entirely sodium chloride.

The harvesting and processing determine the shape, size and taste of cooking salts. Here’s a guide to the most commonly used types:

Kosher Salt

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt: My go-to salt

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