Monday, March 1, 2010

2. Cooking Temperature: 1600 Degrees?

This is the second in the following series of blogs on the ideal cooking temperature for grilling a steak over live coals:

1. Cooking Temperature: Ideal Temperature
2. Cooking Temperature: 1600 Degrees?
3. Cooking Temperature: Need to Modify Grill Height
4. Cooking Temperature: Measure Temperature
5. Cooking Temperature: Measure Grill Height
6. Cooking Temperature: Calculate Ideal Grill Height
7. Cooking Temperature: Modify Grill Height
8. Cooking Temperature: Inverse Square Law

As discussed in a previous blog, the correct temperature to achieve SteakPerfection is 750°. See http://bit.ly/dixHpA

If the temperature for SteakPerfection is 750°, why do steakhouse chains claim that they cook their steaks at a much higher temperature? For example, Ruth’s Chris advertises on its website that "Our famous steaks are seared to perfection at 1800° and topped with fresh butter so they sizzle all the way to your table."

Advertisements like this are true but misleading. The truth is that the temperature 2” from the walls of the oven is 1800°. But this is misleading, because the steaks are cooked 3” from the oven walls, where the temperature has dropped down to 750°. Yes, that single extra inch results in the temperature difference. This is the result of the inverse square law, which will be described in more detail in a separate blog.

The steaks at Ruth’s Chris and most other steakhouse chains are not cooked over live coals. Instead, they are cooked inside a specialized infrared oven. The oven uses natural gas to heat the ceramic top and bottom walls from the outside. The steaks are cooked inside the oven with the infrared heat from the tiles on the roof and on the floor of the oven. Thus, the steaks cook from the top and bottom at the same time.

There are three major advantages for steakhouse chains to use infrared ovens. First, because the steaks cook from the top and bottom at the same time, they do not have to be flipped and thus cook in half the time and with no flipping necessary. Second, because the cooking temperature, distance from the heat and steak thickness are constant, the ovens are automated with timers. The cook puts the steak into the oven, hits the start button, and takes it out when the buzzer sounds. Therefore, the oven can be operated by lower-skilled workers. The third advantage to using a specialized oven is that the steak does not acquire the metallic off-taste from natural gas, because the natural gas burns outside the oven.

On balance, infrared ovens produce a much better steak than gas grills (which cook with gas heat from below the steak) and gas broilers (which cook with gas heat from above the steak), because infrared ovens impart no gas-taste. However, because the infrared ovens do not impart a distinct taste to the crust, most steakhouse chains season the steaks before cooking them, so that the exterior crust acquires a complex layer of flavor.

SteakPerfection is a complex process that involves every detail, from pasture to plate.
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