The Serious Science of Searing Your Steak

The Serious Science of Searing Your Steak

The quest for the perfect steak is not only passionate and never-ending (Vegans, I guess you should stop reading right about now), but also controversial and occasionally the topic of heated debate (conveinent pun). The differences can even be regional (e.g., Chicago vs New Orleans-style steaks). And one of the many mitigating factors surrounding steak preparation is searing.


Be it in your favorite cast iron pan, or under the blistering heat of your state-of-the-art outdoor grill, searing your steak has the potential for producing some of the most delicious results available, especially if you know what you’re doing.


It’s important to start with the fact that searing is NOT for anyone who enjoys their steaks more than medium. Well-done steaks cooked by searing essentially mean a chunk of dry beef. We need some pink for a good sear.


In the world of steak, “Browning” is known more scientifically as the “Maillard Reaction,” closely related to caramelization. This is the process of heating sugars and amino acids together, and takes place between 300° and 500° degrees. The Maillard Reaction creates that flavorful and crusty surface that gives any meat its great, grilled flavor. Hence, our starting point for a great steak is 300°.


On the flip side (kind of a pun, if you look at it the right way), charring is the unpopular cousin of searing. That’s when the surface of the meat breaks down completely, leaving only carbon. Typically, charring occurs where the meat meets metal, and not only tastes bad, it’s bad for you. Charring takes place at temperatures above 500°. So now we’ve established our limits for effective searing.


I’m sure you’ve read that the process of searing “seals” in the steak’s juices. Don’t believe everything you read. In fact, it’s been conclusively proven that this doesn’t happen (science again), and that this is not the real goal of searing. What searing really does is creating the crusty texture most people find appealing and caramelizes the sugars that gives that super-delicious steak flavor.


That said, what is the perfect method of searing? Start with meat that has a dry surface. Marinades are okay, but you have to dry off the meat before setting it on your grill or pan. That’s because any liquids are going to immediately steam, which will physically lift the meat off the cooking surface and cool off the surface, reducing the sear. You can oil your grill or pan prior to searing, but with higher-fat meats, it’s not necessary. If you do, make sure you use oil with a fairly high smoke point.


You also want to seriously preheat your grill, and start at a proper searing temperature. Because of this step, it’s critical that you KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT. Knowing how your grill/stove/pan heats and retains heat is very important when finding those ideal temperatures. Always aim for the hot spots!


But the main factor in searing your steak is COURAGE! Knowing when to flip and when NOT to flip! Don’t be timid. Look for a dark brown color before you flip. Golden brown is not enough. And avoid black at all costs.


At Guy Gunter Home, we have the grills that will give you the control and confidence you need to approach that perfect slab of meat and sear it to perfection. Stop by our showroom or visit our website for the inspiration and equipment to become a true meat master – all part of our quest at Guy Gunter Home to be the Purveyors of a Life Well-Lived.

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