The Real Reason Some Restaurant Grill Marks Aren't Real

Ever noticed that your grilled chicken sandwich looks a little too perfect or that your charbroiled burger doesn't actually taste like it was made on a charcoal grill? Well, there's good reason to be suspicious because the grill marks you see on the food you order at restaurants aren't always legit.

According to Fast Company, these grill marks are sometimes made with a special branding machine and never even make contact with an open flame. Instead, after the meat is cooked in an industrial oven, it gets transferred to a rotary brander that uses heated wheels to sear char marks into the already-cooked surface. This two-step process of baking then branding is significantly faster than actual grilling, with the grill marks taking only one second to make.

Meat with fake grill marks won't taste as authentically grilled. Still, to combat this, Food Republic explains that before cooking, the meat is either soaked or injected with chemical additives and flavors that give it a smoky grilled taste. As a result, when people see the grill marks, they don't think twice about whether a grill was involved or not.

Why do some restaurants fake grill marks?

Food is just as much about appearance as it is taste. As the saying goes, we eat with our eyes first. Meat is no exception, and restaurants use this to their advantage. Food stylist Claudia Ficca shared with Thrillist that meat with grill marks is perceived as more appetizing than meat without them. It doesn't matter if the food isn't actually grilled or if it has artificial smoke flavor added to it.

As Ficca explained, grill marks combined with good advertising are enough to convince consumers of how it was prepared. People associate grill marks with charred meat and barbecued flavor, so when you see them, you're conditioned to assume based on the visual cue that it also tastes that way. That means if you're eating a crappy fast-food burger or packaged chicken from the freezer section of the grocery store, the grill marks will still make it seem of higher quality than it actually is. Of course, a grill will produce the same effect, if not better, but a branding machine is much more efficient and consistent.