Don't look now, but spring is right around the corner. And with the seasonal shift and temperatures climbing, it's time for America's favorite outdoor recreational hobby to come back: That's right, I'm talking about being a hobbyist drone pilot! Wait, no I'm not. I'm talking about grilling steaks.
There's nothing I enjoy more dusting the winter off the backyard grill and popping the steak seal after a long seasonal hibernation. The smell of fresh cut grass and a flaming grill should be a bottled cologne or air freshener. In fact, I'm going to invent that. Kickstarter here I come!
As grilling season nears, though, it's important that we have a little conversation. I've heard some of the things you've been saying. I read your steak diary. I know what you're thinking. Quite frankly, your steak diary is a scary place, but I'm glad you have a forum to express your inner meaty thoughts. That said, there are some meat misconceptions that I want to help clear up for you.
Misconception #1: Searing the outside of your steak at a high temperature locks in the juices.
Take a minute and just think about this common misconception. How could this possibly work? It's not like you're melting plastic around your steak. Sure, the heat will tighten up the muscle fibers, but liquids, like succulent meat juice, are pretty much free to seep through the cracks. I would never consider waterproofing my tub by "browning the outside," although that is approximately the level of plumbing knowledge I have. Searing the outside of a steak performs two important functions: First, it helps give you a nice crunchy and flavorful snap when you take a bite. And secondly, you can get a prettier color on the outside for a more photogenic steak for your Instagram feed.
Misconception #2: You should set your steak out on the counter for 20-30 minutes before cooking.
So, the logic here is that if you set the steak out it will rise to room temperature and you'll get a more evenly cooked and better tasting steak. I've heard a number of well-respected culinary minds espouse this belief. I've also heard many people say the converse, that you shouldn't allow your meats to rise to room temperature because you're inviting bacteria and other nasties into your meat party.
I can say after a considerable amount of research and a few home tests that there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory. If you have a frozen steak, that definitely needs to be properly thawed before cooking. The temperature of your room will be approximately 72 degrees. After 20 minutes, your steak won't be room temperature, but it will be warmer than it was in your refrigerator. That said, your grill is going to be hundreds of degrees (which will take care of the bacteria issue for the most part), and you're looking to bring your steak up to an internal temperature of 130 degrees. Either way, an uneven cook will be more likely from hotspots on your grill than it will be from cooking a room temperature steak. If you like doing this, go for it, but there's no conclusive evidence that says it has any real effect on the taste of your steak.
Misconception #3: Salting your steak before cooking will draw out the moisture and leave you with a tough cut of meat.
Yes and no here. It's true, if you are going to salt-pack my steak for an extended period of time, the salt will most definitely draw out the moisture. But if you're doing this, I have to ask why? As an alternative, I'd like to point you to the wild and exciting world of charcuterie and jerky making. Nobody does this, but the salting would have that effect. That said, extrapolating this logic to how you would normally prepare a steak does not have the same effect. In fact, my favorite way to prepare a steak for grilling is to pat a nice solid coat of sea salt and crushed pepper on the exterior right before placing it over the heat. There is not enough time for the salt to draw out any moisture and you're left with a well-seasoned, great-tasting cut of meat. Seriously, don't forget to season your meats.
Misconception #4: Only flip your steak once.
If you flip your steak more than once you're not ruining it. This is simply a matter of personal preference. The effect on your steak's taste is negligible at best. It's more about how you prefer to grill, and where you're most comfortable. If you're regularly flipping your steak, chances are you've got the hood open, which means you're letting out heat. This will affect the timeliness of your cook, but if you make an adjustment for the lower temperature by extending time, you'll be fine. Some people prefer to flip their steaks often because it helps prevent curling. I can see the logic here, but if curling is an issue consider a less fatty or thicker overall cut of meat. High fat and thin cuts will have much more of an effect on curling than a lack of flipping on the grill. Again, this is just a personal preference thing. Some people like a classic "Ponderosa" look on their steak, which requires a hot grill and three flips. You do you.
Misconception #5: Sizzling steaks hot of the grill taste best.
While setting your steak out on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking it is a misconception, resting your steak after cooking is not. You shouldn't go straight from grill grate to plate. Take it eaaasy baby, slow it down a bit. "Resting" or "relaxing" your steak for five minutes after coming off the grill will make it juicier and more flavorful. Basically, there's a lot of science that goes into this, but when a steak comes hot off the grill the exterior is very hot, and because of the temperature there is little moisture. The center of the steak is considerably cooler and still has moisture. As a steak rests, the muscle fibers loosen and the juices will spread more evenly across the steak. Once you cut into the steak the juices will then be more likely to stay in the meat, and less likely to spill out all over your plate.
Ben Vaughn is an award-winning chef and best-selling author, restaurateur, and television personality. You can find more of Ben's writings as a weekly columnist for the Las Vegas Sun, a weekly contributor to the Daily Meal, and on his website bvate.com.
Ben's newest book Southern Routes was released in 2015. Ben is also the host of the digital series The Breakfast Show on the Small Screen Network.
Follow on Twitter @benvaughn.