We were watching a cooking show one evening when my seven-year-old blurted out, “Hey! Why don’t I ever get ‘perfect diamond grill marks’ on my steak?!”
Touché, son. I hereby swear to work on my grilling technique. After laughing at his perfectly reasonable but unexpected question, I started to wonder: “Why DO chefs sear those fancy lines on my steaks? Is it purely aesthetic?”
I did a bit of super-sleuthing and discovered it’s a reactionary measure:
The Maillard Reaction. And it has everything to do with flavor.
Meat acquires most of its flavor during the cooking process. Sure, you can marinate a cut of beef or season the outside to increase its tastiness. But the beefy flavor occurs when high heat meets naturally occurring fat within the lean. Yes, that’s right — when it comes to a great steak, you really do want to burn those calories! Sort of.
When you — or the chef if you’re dining out (it is Steakhouse Month after all!) — put a steak on the grill, the surface temperature of the beef gets hotter than the inside. This triggers the Maillard reaction. The proteins on the outside combine with sugars in the meat. This dynamic duo creates a robust, beefy flavor and triggers the browning process.
So when you sear your steak — or any other meat for that matter — you’re starting a chain reaction that leads to exquisite flavor. And there’s nothing like the browned, crispy exterior’s contrast with the tender, juicy inside of a steak!
This “cooking trick” was discovered by a guy named Louis-Camille Maillard in the early 20th century. Over time, scientists determined that the Maillard reaction plays a role in the taste — and tantalizing aromas — of seared meat. Speaking of aromas, I stumbled onto another fact about beef. Did you know there are more than 600 components in the aroma of your steak? Me neither! But that’s a [much longer] post for another day.
So those diamond grill marks are a mark of excellence from your favorite steakhouse — they’re decorative, fancy and downright cool. They also serve as a testimony that magical things happen when combining a hot grill and a mighty fine piece of meat.
Remember that the next time your server places a sizzling steak on the table in front of you! Notice the caramel color, the amazing aroma and then … take a bite. Mmm. Now THAT is the reaction you’ve been waiting for, right?
And to answer my youngest child’s question: my grill marks may be ‘diamonds in the rough’ but the flavor of your Certified Angus Beef ® steak is a multifaceted mouthful.