Searing Meat

bbqjonesJune 25, 2002

Just thought I'd let you BBQ novices know that the surface of meat will not technically sear at temperatures below 700 degrees. The reason places like Ruth's Chris, Mortons Chop House, Del Frisco's, Don Shula's etc. have such wonderful juicy steaks loaded with flavor is that they are "seared" and cooked for short periods of time at temperatures over 1,000 degrees. Truly searing meat involves fusing the tissue together so juices can't escape. This can only happen at temperatures over 700 degrees. The notion that cooking meat at high temperatures toughens and dryies meat out as suggested in a previous post is absolutely false. Try roasting a chicken at 450 degrees for 45 minutes vs 350 degree for 90 minutes. I don't know where "lpsage" got his certified grill whatever title but I seriously doubt any owners of Member Mark or Virco grills are searing anything.

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The same high temps that turn the outside of the meat into an impenetrable barrier can and will do the same thing to the interior. 450F is more than enough to sear the outside of a chicken or turkey. I know from plenty of experience.

Meat is protein. Protein denatures and toughens at high temps. The tenderest results for a tender cut of meat are obtained by gentle heat and long cooking times. Cuts with a lot of gristle take longer to turn the cartilage into jelly. High heat turns it into something resembling plastic.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 12:20AM
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Oh, and those restaurants use prime cuts of beef, that are heavily marbled with fat. Hence the juicy results, which have little to do with searing. And searing can easily be done on a grill directly over the flame with the cover open over the flame of a $99 grill. Big deal.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 12:27AM
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The 550-600 temps being reported with the Virco are from the dial on the hood. Wouldn't it be safe to say that the temp right on the grill next to the flames be a different story? Hotter?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 7:44AM
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1000 degrees. Holy moly batman, are we searing meat or welding!? I'm not buying this. After a certain temperature you would end up with a nice layer of ash (or burnt/black exterior) and an absolutely "raw" interior.

The higher the temperature after a point (a point well reached on most grills) and you have more problems with uncooked meat and burnt, disgusting exterior. Juice retention IS NOT the problem here. I have had Ruth's Chris and might I recommend Spencer's to anyone in Utah, every bit as good-aged beef and better sides.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 12:29PM
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Yes, you can sear the sides of the cut of meat just as well on the grill closer to the flame, you don't need a blast furnace to do this. It may be more laborious with a big roast than with a flat steak. 450F will seal poultry skin just fine though.

I would imagine some restaurants use their high heat ovens as a "wow" factor to convince people that only the restaurant has the proper equipment to produce these very high temps and a really juicy tender steak, so that they don't even try at home, and come back to the restaurant and pay $$$ for the experience.

If you talk to traditional BBQ'rs, such as haul those big smokers around to events, they swear by low steady heat as the key to tenderness. They *might* sear the cuts first in the firebox, but this can be done over any fire. The main cooking goes on at temps 325F or below. They scoff at people with gas grills because 1) there's no inherent smoke and 2) the temps most people use are too high.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 4:09PM
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The trick to the tenderness of the mentioned steak houses (what they have in common) is aged beef not super heated grills. It constitutes less than 1% of beef available, is expensive, and the aging makes it tasty and tender.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 4:29PM
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I looked up my favorite cooking resource, "Joy of Cooking" for the skinny on searing and beef.

There are about eight grades of beef, with Prime being the top, and within that, dry aged being the absolute best. Prime comes from young, tender cattle, with muscle that is well-marbled with fat. Dry aged means hanging the whole beef carcass at refrigerated temps for 2-3 weeks. During this time the outer portion of the side loses moisture. The inner portions get very tender and rich in concentrated flavor. To get edible cuts, the dried outer portions of the carcass must be cut away, which means less yeild and higher price. This type of aging is getting quite scarce. More common is wet aging, which basically vacuum packs cuts of meat and ages at refrigerated temps. The result is just as tender as dry aged but without the enriched flavor.

According to JofC,, searing is more important for grilling due to the lack of any way to catch drippings. However they also say it can be done with high heat from the charcoal source, and I assume similar high heat can be obtained on most gas grills by turning up the flame.

Also, and I quote from JofC:

"Grilling: The central fact about grilling is that it is generally a high-heat cooking method, which involves cookign realteively tender foods quickly over a hot fire. When food is exposed to the direct heat of the flames, a seared crust develops on its exterior. Tender cuts of meat such as beef, pork or lamb grill beautifully, as do shrimp, scallops, and firm textured fish such as tuna, swordfish, and mahi mahi... oil the cooking grate before you begin grilling."

"While grilling is quick and hot, barbecuing si slwo and low. Barbecuing involves cooking whole pigs aor lambs ore one of the large, tougher cuts of meat (such as beef brisket or pork shoulder) in and enclosed psace with teh hot smoke of a wood fire. The temperature is usually kept at around 220F: the very slow cooking causes the meat's connetive tissues, called collagen, to dissovle into tenderness. Because of the moisture in the enclosed space, barbecuing resembles the moist-heat method of pot roasting, transforming trough meat into a tender, smoke-tinged treat. The crusty, smokey exterior provides a satisfying chewiness that contrasts perfectly with the moist, richly flavored inner meat."

    Bookmark   June 27, 2002 at 12:31AM
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Here's a dumb question from a grilling novice: When searing, do you A) let it sear, flip it over, sear that side, then turn down the heat and let it cook, or B) let it sear, turn down the heat, let it cook, then after it has cooked, turn it over.

Also, what is the best way to tenderize meat? Is it necessary to get the best results?


    Bookmark   June 27, 2002 at 6:24PM
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As a basic rule of thumb, a steak should only be turned once. This would include cuts like tenderloin, strip, ribeye, t-bone, porterhouse, sirloin. On a 30" Lynx this means putting a 1 1/2" thick steak on the grill for about 3 minutes, flip it and cook for 3 minutes more and put it on your plate for a mouth watering medium rare. The Lynx reaches temps of 900+ degrees. The beef is not black or burnt in any way because of the high heat.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2002 at 7:12PM
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My method varies somewhat from the Lynx method. I sear both sides of the steak, and then turn down the flame and let it cook slowly on each side. I try not to turn it more than once, but judging the right amount of time for each side does take some experience with the cut of meat and the grill. A combo meat fork/thermometer can help with this, I suppose.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2002 at 9:23PM
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I grill on a DCS Grill that gets extremely hot and sears beautifully and personally I find that New York Steaks, Rib eyes and beef tenderloin, pork, chicken, etc.. are better if they are turned a number of times. The secret is to not puncture the meat while you are turning it. I usually have the butcher cut my steaks at least 2 inches thick and I cook them rare to medium rare. By turning the meat you keep the juice circulating in the meat. Similar to how rotissiere cooking works. I turn a steak this size at least 2 to 3 times per side. This also gives you the nice criss cross grill markings on the meat. When you cook a chicken or a Prime Rib or a leg of lamb on a Rotissiere it turns out moist and juicy because the juices are not being brought to the surface but are kept rotating and circulating in the meat.


    Bookmark   June 27, 2002 at 10:57PM
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I totally agree with your point on piercing the meat. I have friends that insist on taking a nice strip steak , stabbing it 100 or so times with a fork and marinating it in italian dressing. When the are cooking you can see the juice running out of all the fork holes. As far as turning the meat , I find on 1 1/2 inches once is usually enough but on 2 inches your method sounds good to me. So do the steaks.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2002 at 12:00AM
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Thanks for all of your help. I'll have to try it soon!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2002 at 10:03AM
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I sear both sides, then turn back on first side at lower heat then other side at lower heat to get medium rare. Any hotter and I get rare to raw, so after searing I can cook to preference by controlling temperature (baking is ok by me once the outside is perfectly seared/sealed). And no hole punching please ;-)

    Bookmark   June 28, 2002 at 2:41PM
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