Hey hey it’s summer time and you know what that means? Barbeques! Lots of barbeques! But along with barbeques comes overcooked, dry and burned meat. In fact this is a common problem with stove-top cooking as well…
Keeping Meat Juicy
When it comes to keeping your meat juicy and tender there really are only two ways. Either cook it for hours to break down the fats, proteins (in particular collagen which is the most common form of protein in animals) and connective tissue in the meat and allow it to suck up moisture once the protein strands have unwound from long term exposure to heat. Or if you have a quality cut of meat, cook it for as little time as possible. Otherwise called ‘searing meat’. Anything in between will likely leave you with tough, chewy and dry meat.
Searing meat is the technique you have to master if you want to become a summer master of the grill. The reason for this is because when protein comes into contact with intense heat its structure tightens and squeezes the water out, much like water being wrung out of a cloth when it is squeezed. This in turn makes the meat go dry and tough.
However, you also want the meat to be nicely browned which is a sign the protein has been turned into complex sugars which have a huge depth of flavour. So the best way to achieve the two opposing goals of needing browned flavoursome meat on the outside and moist, tender meat on the inside is to sear it in a hot pan at a high temperature. Do not touch or move it in the pan, this will only slow down the browning process, meaning the meat will only have to cook longer and will therefore dry out more.
The Myth of Searing Meat
It is a complete myth that searing meat somehow seals in the juices. In fact if anything, searing meat will dry it out more, because as previously mentioned putting protein under intense heat will cause it to tighten up and wring out the juices as well as them being evaporated by the heat. The only reason for searing meat is to create extra flavour and that alone. And believe you me, it is definitely worth it!
How to Sear Meat
If your cut of meat is reasonably thin – i.e. under about 2cm thickness – then cook it on one side until the meat starts to brown then flip it over and cook it for half the amount of time on the other side. This will enable you to gauge when your meat is cooked – because you will know that it is more than half cooked before you turned it over. Depending on how rare or well done you want your meat, vary how much you let it brown on the upside.
If your cut of meat is thicker than 2cm, sear it quickly on both sides for about 2-3 minutes each and then put it under the grill or broiler in your oven at about 200 °C until the meat springs back when you press it in the middle for medium rare. It should be a little bit wobbly to press for rare, and quite springy for well done.
The most important thing is to remember to let your meat rest for at least half as long and you cook it. This will allow the protein to relax slightly and reabsorb some of the moisture. And remember that the residual heat will continue cooking your meat after you have removed it from the heat, so bear this in mind when figuring out how well done you want it to be.