The perfect steak? It’s all about the science – PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Grilling is a part of the annual observance of the founding of our nation and while it has no historical part of the holiday, it’s as part of Fourth of July as fireworks.
“It’s something that everyone can take part in. Whether you are flipping the burger or not, it’s something that you can be a part of and share in,” said Gage Linn, who works at the meat counter at Alwan & Sons.
But how does one make sure they grilled the perfect steak or burger? Why does cooking meat too fast ruin the meal and leave you with an unsavory taste.
It’s as basic as remembering your high school chemistry or biology.
So why does cooking slowly matter? What happens inside that steak or rack of ribs? Meat is protein, right? And what happens to proteins when they are heated?
They denature, which is a fancy way of saying that the shape the proteins are in comes undone. And the more unwound they are, the easier they are to digest by the human body. Also, the meat becomes looser and thus, more “tender.”
Many cuts of meat come from parts of the animal used for motion. Those muscle contain more fibers called collagen which keep the muscles in place and working correctly. But those same fibers mean the cut of meat stays tough.
Cooking the meat over time breaks those fibers down and also makes it more tender.
But if you cook the meat too fast, it dries out. That’s because the moisture inside the meat is cooked out. But if you cook over lower heat and longer, then the moisture doesn’t evaporate as quickly and reabsorbs into the upper part of the cut as it moves from innermost to outermost.
“It allows the meat to get used to the temperature it is at instead of reacting and shrinking,” which can lead to tougher meat,” Linn said. “Slow cooking allows it mellow into the temperature so the meat stays relaxed.”
That allows the water to come out slowly and steam the meat and just leave as evaporation, he added.
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Remember that collagen. If you cook things too fast, Linn said, the collagen and other connective tissue can shrink up and that’s not good.
“It can hold things together and get too chewy. It’s when you bite a piece of gristle and you are sitting there and it’s not going anywhere. That’s the connective tissue,” he said.
But when you cook it slower, that tissue can melt away and turns into “butter” on the inside of the meat.
“It just melts in your mouth,” Linn said.
How to cook
Gage Linn, who works at Alwan & Sons, says the key is to trap the moisture in and that’s by cooking both fast and slow.
“What I like to do is to have a hot side and cooler side on my grill. Cook the meat quickly to sear the outsides and that will trap in the moisture. Then, I like to move it over to the cooler size so it’ll cook slower,” he said.
The idea is pretty simple. Searing the meat on the outside prevents too rapid of evaporation.
And what about wet heat or dry heat. Dry heat is grilling or smoking. We’ve already covered that.
But a wet heat is akin to crockpot cooking. That allows the flavors to remain in the meat and also to keep it extra moist, he said.
A few more pointers for us amateurs. Don’t trim the fat off until after the meat is cool. Much of the flavor is kept in the fatty portions of the meat and by trimming them off, you lose a lot of the moisture and the flavor, Linn said.
Also, know the color of your meat when it’s finished so when it’s done.
“If you cook too fast on the outside but not enough on the inside, it’s not a good burger,” he said.
So, what to look for? For chicken or pork, you know the inside is done when the juice coming out is clear. For beef, it’s the opposite.