Summer grilling entails removing a hunk of beef from the fridge and thawing it all day to achieve the desired burnt streaks, with the sizzling juices flowing just so as a knife cuts the steak.
Except, that’s not how you barbecue the ideal steak. Procrastination, according to food chemists, is the way to go, and throwing a frozen steak on the grill will produce even more tasty results.
When researchers compared the thawed and frozen beef, the outcome was unexpected. Frozen steaks browned almost as well as fresh steaks, lost 10% less moisture, and had thinner slices of overcooked beef between the sear and the pink meaty center. In other words, patting frozen steaks onto a hot grill resulted in a great overall steak — virtually ideal.
To go from a frozen hunk of meat to supreme yumminess, steaks must go through two essential chemical transformations. The first step is to sear, which is performed at incredibly high temperatures. Meat browns as a result of the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between proteins and sugars. Through the addition of heat energy, these molecules rearrange to create new molecules, including the aromatic compounds that make steak look and taste incredible.
However, you don’t want the whole piece of meat to get brown and crunchy. Consider this: the ideal steak should be juicy and tender, which necessitates steadily heating the inside of the beef. This means that the steak cooks equally and helps you to get it to the ideal temperature, somewhere in the narrow zone of too rare and too well cooked.
A few things happen when a steak warms up. The fats contained inside the meat would render and transform to liquid, making it melt-in-your-mouth delicious to bite into. It also explains why few of us like our steaks cold with a purplish red rare center. However, if you overheat, you can begin to pay the price of moisture loss.
So, for most of us, a medium-rare steak grilled all the way through with a nice sear on the outside is the pinnacle of excellence. This assumes you bought a very high quality, tender cut of meat, such as a tenderloin or strip loin; other cuts have different optimal cooking temperatures.
This is why preparing steak from frozen is the easiest way to eat it. Since the meat is frozen, it will easily achieve the high temperature needed for the Maillard reaction without losing the taste of the inside by overcooking. The larger the temperature difference, the less overcooked beef there will be between the sear and the middle, and your steak will be more tender.
Food scientists suggest freezing steaks uncovered on a parchment-lined baking sheet until firm, then covering them in plastic and placing them in a freezer bag until ready to barbecue. This dries out the surface of the beef, which speeds up the Maillard reaction so the excess moisture does not have to be boiled away before it can begin.
Often, the less time your steak spends frozen, the better it will be, so don’t just load your freezer and forget about it. When it goes through mini-cycles of thawing and refreezing, meat left in the freezer develops ice crystals on both the outside and inside of the tissue.
Never-frozen steak will certainly still reign supreme, but momentarily frozen steak will be just about as delicious if you know what you’re doing and consider what you’re dealing with.
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