Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cooking: Grill Marks

"We taste first with our eyes."

The steak master serves the guest a steak with the perfect exterior: a dark-brown crust, which is highlighted by a criss-cross diamond-pattern of dark grill marks.

To achieve this perfect exterior, the steak master brings the temperature of the grill to exactly 750F. The temperature is measured with an infrared thermometer at the center of the grill level, where the steak will be grilled. If the temperature is significantly hotter, the crust will be overly charred; if cooler, the crush will be too soft. When the grill reaches 750F, the steak is placed on the grill, directly over the live coals. If the steak has been trimmed properly of all major fat, there will be no flare-ups.

The steak master uses a timer and flips the steak at the following times, in four separate steps.

Step 1: First, the steak is placed over the coals and grilled for 2 minutes.

Step 2: Then, the steak is flipped and grilled for 2 minutes.

Step 3: Next, the steak is flipped, rotated 60 degrees (so that the grill marks form a diamond pattern) and grilled for 3 minutes.

Step 4: Finally, the steak is flipped again, rotated 60 degrees, grilled for 3 minutes and then removed to a plate, covered with foil and rested for 5 minutes.

In summary, the steak master grills the steak at 750F over hot coals for a total of 10 minutes, with 5 minutes per side. Each side is grilled first for 2 minutes and then rotate 60 degrees and grilled for an additional 3 minutes. This results in a perfect exterior, with a dark-brown crust and distinctive grill-mark pattern.

Reason: The difference in the grilling times of 2 minutes and then 3 minutes is because the steak's exterior is relatively cool for the first 2 minutes. Thus, during the initial grilling period, the crust and grill marks form quickly. After the flip, however, the exterior has warmed significantly, as the crust has begun to form. As a result, the grilling time is increased to 3 minutes per side, in order to complete the crust and so that the offsetting grill marks (the second set) achieve the same dark color as the first grill marks. Grill marks form as a function of the difference in temperatures between the steak exterior and the grill, not the absolute temperature of the steak exterior. Thus, perfect grill marks require 2 minutes for the first set and 3 minutes for the second.

Clarification: The cooking times given here assume the following:
  • The ambient temperature is 60F
  • The relative humidity is 60%
  • The air is still (no breeze)
  • The steak is a top loin (New York)
  • The steak is 2" thick
  • The steak has been trimmed of all fat
  • The steak is to served rare
  • The steak is cooked over live hardwood coals
  • The temperature at grill-level is 750F
If there is any significance difference in any of these variables, then the steak master will change these cooking times to account for the difference.

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