That disapproving head shake, perplexed grunt, or hypocritical sentence that starts with “Well, actually…” are telltale signs that the self-proclaimed food police are hanging around your grill or stovetop.
At a time when everyone is an expert and isn’t afraid to let you know, we’re going to help you clean up the bad information and dispel some common misconceptions about steak cooking.
Whether you want to cook beef on the grill or in the pan, forget these three meat myths.
Myth 1: Burning curls in juices
Every time I hear someone extol the glory of searing a steak just to keep the juice in, I instantly cringe. All animal protein is naturally very porous, and searing meat will never form an impenetrable fortress around the outside from which moisture cannot escape. Try searing a piece of meat and then letting it sit for five minutes; You will notice a small puddle of the natural juices pooling around the floor and emerging from the exposed surfaces.
In fact, searing destroys the outer cells and actually causes water loss as the meat fibers contract. Then why fry? That crust you work so hard to make is more about flavor than moisture retention. A large crust is the sign of the Maillard reaction (aka browning), where the proteins in the meat break down into amino acids, and those amino acids combine with sugar and mix. The result is not only a beautiful color, but also a rich, powerful taste.
Myth 2: Only turn the steak once
Feel free to turn your steak as many times as you like; In fact, it’s best to turn around every 30 seconds or so. Yes, you heard that right. While it’s true that constantly moving and turning your steak will prolong the browning process, the even transfer of heat to both sides of the meat ensures a more even doneness. (And don’t worry, your steak will still get a great color using this method.)
In addition, rapid flipping results in a steak that cooks faster than the single flipping method. (Just give it a try.) And depending on the heat of your grill or pan, you can minimize the chance of burning your steak before the center is cooked to your liking by flipping it several times during cooking.
Another advantage? You’re not risking rippled-edged steaks; Meat fibers contract and pucker when cooked quickly, like a simply flipped, hard seared steak. So if you turn often, you might sacrifice the Hollywood grill marks, but you’ll end up eating a steak that’s evenly cooked and shaped.
Myth 3: Don’t salt steaks too early
The idea behind this oft-repeated myth is that salt will dry out the meat and make it tough if applied too soon. Perhaps this idea came from the same thinking behind searing meat to seal in the juices, but the reality is you actually want a dry outside for searing (and salt won’t toughen the meat).
Salt acts as a drying agent, drawing water out of meat fibers. When the salt works its magic, it creates a sort of brine on the surface of the meat. After some time—at least an hour—this brine will soak back into the steak, resulting in a better seasoned, juicier cut of meat.
Feel free to salt your steak the night before grilling, then store uncovered in the fridge. The salt has had ample time to absorb and the exterior is bone dry – perfect for achieving a juicy steak with a sear.
If you don’t have time to salt ahead of time, wait until just before you cook the steak to season it. You definitely don’t want to throw it on the grill after 10 or 15 minutes of salting; This is the time when the water drawn out of the meat is still sitting on the outside of the steak, causing it to steam instead of browning.
Another salting sin to avoid is salting your steak after cooking. This flaw results in grainy, stringy meat that only tastes salty on the surface. However, this rule does not apply to finishing salts such as English Maldon sea salt or fleur de sel, which are added on top of pre-cooked spices. These salts add extra texture to the steak and don’t soak into the steak.