For a long time, perfect grill marks across a steak (and other foods) have been equated to a perfectly cooked piece of meat. There’s just something about those dark lines that makes many people’s mouths start salivating. Plus, many old-school Steak Cookoff Association judges still love seeing it.
But, how do you do it properly? In this article, we’ve broken down how to get perfect grill marks every time, as well as what is actually better when it comes to getting the best flavor in your steak.
If you are looking to imprint the perfect grill marks on your meat, seafood, or vegetables, there are a few steps to follow to make that happen every time:
Note: A diamond sear pattern works best for meat and thicker seafood. Vegetables, fruit and smaller seafood do best with a singular diagonal sear pattern to ensure they are not overcooked. So, in that case, you would skip the step where the food is rotated 45 degrees to sear the other way.
With seafood, vegetables, and fruit, achieving those perfect grill marks not only looks good but can also help you gauge when the food is done cooking. But, when it comes to steak and other cuts of meat, you actually want to go beyond just grill marks to get the best result.
When you sear grill marks into a piece of meat, it is more than just the aesthetic aspect. What is actually happening is known as the Maillard reaction. This is a chemical reaction that occurs when heat changes the chemical structure of amino acids, proteins, and sugars in the meat. When this happens, the surface of the meat caramelizes and browns, resulting in a much better flavor profile.
So, when you are just going for grill marks on the meat, you are actually stopping the Maillard reaction before it can spread over the entire exterior surface. Instead, grill marks are just a superficial reaction that limits the perfectly browned parts to just where the meat touches the grates.
Unless you are grilling seafood, vegetables, or fruit, to get the best results and maximum flavor, you want to sear as much of the exterior of the meat to a golden brown. Thus, allowing the Maillard reaction to happen over the entire piece of the meat. This is especially true for beef. So, grilling a steak or other cut of meat this way will give you more even cooking and a richer, more delicious flavor.
To achieve this result, you may need to change the way that you are grilling your meat. Unlike when you are just wanting to imprint the grill marks, you don’t want to grill your cuts directly over the high heat for long. You need to create a two-zone grilling set up and cook the meat over medium-high heat on the indirect side (at about 225°F) for most of the time. Then, make sure you are flipping often. Doing this will allow your meat to cook evenly, give it a delicious crust over the entire exterior, and properly cook the interior.
When it comes to grilling steaks over a two-zone setup, many people think of first searing the cut over high heat and then moving it to the indirect side to allow the interior to cook the rest of the way. Sometimes this is still a good method.
But, for steaks that are over 1” thick (and even other cuts of meat), this can actually lead to the meat burning on the exterior before the interior is done. This is because meat cooks from the outside to the inside. The last thing you want is burnt, black char all over your steak. So, to ensure this doesn’t happen with a thick-cut steak, utilize the reverse sear method.
With this method, you’ll start the steak over the indirect heat side. When the internal temperature of the meat reaches about 115°F, move it over to the direct heat side to get that brown crust over the entire exterior. Make sure you flip and rotate the steak often to ensure even browning.
In doing a reverse sear, you’ll get a steak that is perfectly crusted on the exterior and properly cooked through the interior.
Source: Fine Cooking
There are times where you may still want to get those perfectly lined grill marks, especially when it comes to seafood and vegetables. Following the steps above, you’ll be able to do that every time. But, when it comes to steaks and other meats, allowing the entire exterior of the meat to sear into a beautiful crust will give you an unmatched flavor.
Do you like having grill marks? Have you recently mastered the all-over exterior crust? Leave a comment below. We want to hear from you!
For more tips on grilling steak like champion Grillmasters, make sure to also check out our article here on insider steak secrets.
The pro tips on grilling steak don’t stop there. Check out the in-depth online steak-grilling classes with the champion Grillmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy. Take your grilling game to the next level and master how to cook competition-caliber steak through step-by-step instructions and tips. Get your All-Access pass now and learn how to grill a perfect steak straight from the pros!
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