We all know the internet can be a wonderful thing. Information is readily available at a moment’s notice, blah blah blah. Unfortunately, another more frequently used tool of knowledge is word of mouth and more likely than not this information is wrong. The internet is funny in that it can either perpetuate the old wives’ tales we cling to, or enlighten people about them.
Once upon a time I was the administrative assistant to the Risk Manager at a hospital. She is one of the wisest people I know and she shared a story with the staff that has stuck with me to this day. She had been tired of hearing “well, this is just how we’ve always done things” when discussing why a certain approach was taken in patient care. Her intent in sharing this story was to show this is not always the best thinking. Just because it is common practice doesn’t mean it’s correct.
The story starts with a young girl watching her mother bake a Thanksgiving turkey. Her mother put the turkey in the oven and left the oven door slightly open. The girl asked her mother why she does that and she replied, “That’s how my mother always did it.” So the girl visited her grandmother and asked her, “Why do you leave the oven door cracked when you cook the turkey?” Her response was the same. It was something her mother had always done. The girl then went to her great-grandmother and repeated her question once more to which her great-grandmother replied, “When I was young we lived in a very small house. The oven was not big enough for the turkey so the oven door wouldn’t shut all the way.”
For the great-grandmother this was not a clever strategy but a necessity. Things may seem logical at one time, or may have been in a specific situation, but we have to keep in mind the weight of certain circumstances in that moment and maybe even accept that new knowledge or circumstances has surfaced rendering the old obsolete. Society is always learning and advancing but sometimes we refuse to budge from our familiar frame of mind.
Heavy stuff, right? This is actually kind of a fun little blog post today. There are a lot of theories out there regarding prep and cooking of beef and it’s something people apparently feel strongly about on both sides. I am not here to side with either theory but to simply shine light on these common debates. The rest is up to you. I am curious to know your personal opinions and practices!
#1. Should you rinse meat before cooking?
Some believe you should rinse meat before cooking to get rid of the bacteria that reside on the surface. After all, it has been drilled into our brains that is important to rinse fruits and veggies before eating them. It only makes sense to rinse meat as well, right? However, others disagree explaining this actually does not make much of a difference at all. In cuts you would rinse such as steak and roasts bacteria only lives on the surface and those bacteria will quickly die with exposure to high heat. They believe the only thing you manage to do when rinsing meat is easily spread that bacteria to your hands, sink and counters.
#2 Will letting meat come to room temperature allow for more even cooking?
This is one I see all the time and have always been curious about. It does kind of go against everything I learned in my food health safety course when I worked in the fast food industry. This is advice offered by everyone from a back country BBQ’er to renowned chefs. If you cook a steak straight out of the refrigerator the center will take much longer to heat causing the outside to overcook. It’s usually recommended to let the meat sit for 20-30 minutes before cooking. Several people have taken to test this theory and noticed that in reality it usually takes an alarming couple of hours before you could consider meat room temperature. On top of that, they didn’t seem to notice much of a difference between cold and room temperature in the final product. Whether this is something you believe to be true or not, it does seem universally agreed upon that this only applies to whole cuts as bacteria doesn’t penetrate the meat. You never want to let ground beef or even cuts that have been tenderized to sit at room temperature for longer than a few minutes.
#3 Do marinades make a more tender meat?
I feel like this is one of the most debated theories out there. I even said myself in my pot roast recipe post that I love when I get to marinate meat. It’s not something I do often and feel fancier when a recipe calls for it. I always think the longer the wait, the better the meal is bound to be – something I have definitely proven wrong, by the way. Some say using certain marinades, such as something acidic, can actually have the opposite affect after too long of a period. Others say marinades only penetrate the very surface of the meat, not making too much of a difference. Who knows?
#4 When should you season meat?
There is some discussion on whether or not seasoning at a certain point in the cooking process makes a difference. I remember hearing from a famous chef that you can salt a steak before cooking but you should never use pepper until after because the pepper can burn causing an unpleasant taste, or something to that affect. Then again, I’ve seen this contradicted by that same chef. Other people believe salt will draw out the moisture creating a dry, tough steak. Another idea is that this is a good thing because a dry surface is how you get that good, seared crust. What do you do?
#5 Will searing meat keep juices in?
I’ve noticed in my research that people everywhere are VERY concerned about their meat juices. It’s pretty commonly taught that searing the meat will create some sort of barrier, keeping the juices in and your meat nice and moist. It is argued that this really doesn’t affect anything and juices will escape no matter what. In fact, some people even state this CAUSES more juices to leak out. The good news is the feeling I got from most of my reading is the difference is super minimal, so it may not matter regardless of which way you tend to lean.
#6 How many times should steak be flipped?
In line with searing, the idea is that you should only flip steak once in order to not release juices, also if you keep flipping the heat doesn’t have time to reach the middle, meaning an overcooked surface or under-cooked center. The absolute complete opposite has also been said, that flipping actually helps get a more even doneness.
Like I said above, people are serious about their meat juices. (Fun fact: Did you know the red juices you see running from beef isn’t blood? It’s actually a protein found in the muscle called Myoglobin and it dissolves in the water causing the pink liquid you often see.) For the sake of repetitiveness I’m going to group these all together:
You often hear, don’t flip with a fork, don’t cut open to check for doneness, and let meat rest after cooking. All of these revolve around avoiding loss of moisture or allowing the meat to absorb all it’s juices again. I think this is where basic human psychology comes in. When you poke a steak or roast the juices pour out of it. It looks like a lot of moisture and flavor being released! Of course it’s going to be concerning. Apparently it’s not to some though. It is actually said that this loss is so minimal and actually unnoticeable in the meal. This is one that is probably just safer to agree to disagree with your neighbor.
#8 How to check if it’s done.
Honestly, I didn’t even know this one existed. Most agree the best and safest way to test doneness is to use a meat thermometer, but need I remind you of the juice loss concern? So along came the “poke test” or testing with your finger or face. Now, hear me out before you start putting your face all over your steak. Apparently you can poke the meat with your finger and compare how much the meat gives with different parts of your hand or face (ex: a medium rare steak will feel like touching your thumb to your middle finger). This determines how done the meat is in the middle. Guess this depends on if your dedication lies with meat juices or clean hands.
#9 Bone-in or Boneless?
Do you think this makes a difference to taste? Some people think the bone in meat will give it better flavor. This has been argued, of course. I even read about a study someone did with mashed potatoes cooked with and without a beef bone. Some people noticed a meatier flavor in the potatoes with the bone, but most didn’t notice any difference. I’ve also read there’s more science to it (mashed potatoes aren’t the same as beef), that it is only true to the meat directly surrounding the bone, that this makes a difference in certain cuts. I personally tend to go for boneless for the convenience. I’m lazy and I like to think I’m not alone, haha.
#10 Is well done the safest way to eat meat?
I think when it comes down to it, people’s preference of meat doneness again comes down to our mentality. Some people, regardless of how good it may taste, just don’t have the ability to get over the raw-ness of a rare steak. It is easy to believe it is not safe. Others simply do prefer the taste and texture of a well done piece of meat. As I have mentioned before I think it is universally agreed that with ground beef well done is the only safe way to eat it. However with whole cuts, this may just be a personal preference.
Some bonus grill theories for you:
Will oiling the grill grates prevent meat from sticking?
A lot of people do this to make life easier. I certainly have. I’ve also read you should oil the meat directly. Something about the cold temperature of the meat keeping the oil from burning and creating a bad taste. It seems to be a debate even among celebrity chefs. Some say oil hot grates, some say oil them cold. Try it out and see what you think!
How will lifting the lid affect temperature?
Another thing grill masters seem to be adamant about is lifting the lid to the grill as little as possible to avoid a slower cooking time. I figured this to be true but actually read something interesting. Some people say it’s the heat on the surface of the meat that cooks the inside. So while opening the lid will release a lot of hot air, this does little to affect how the meat cooks. I guess some could argue that it will just take longer to maintain that surface heat.
Sear first or last?
Grilling is one of those things I so badly want to excel at. I absolutely love the crusty charred goodness on any sort of meat but it’s something I haven’t mastered without overcooking everything. Well this is one I will have to work on. It is commonly believed that you should sear your meat directly over the heat source and then move to indirect heat to let it cook the rest of the way, however it is also rebutted that you should actually cook through first and then in the last couple minutes sear to perfection, known as the reverse sear. Either way, I just need to figure out how to succeed!
So there you have it. Almost every debate you will read about how to properly cook beef. I noticed a lot of the beliefs people hold on to really make sense, but so do the opposing arguments. As with anything, it seems near impossible to get a straight true answer. So I want to know what your meat beliefs are and challenge you to be open-minded, do your own research and try something new! You may find a new game-changer technique!