These days, we are all looking for ways to trim the fat, so to speak, in our food budgets. Our purchase habits haven’t gone unnoticed, and grocery stores are responding to these new shopping habits with packaging that both pleases and entices us to purchase.
Having trained us for years to buy big ‘ol hunks of meat, grocers know that we first shop with our eyes – THEN with our wallet — when selecting steak in the meat case. That has prompted a unique approach by grocers – the steaks still appear to fill the package but are now very, very thin.
I can understand how the visual presentation of a large piece of meat is appealing, and when the price matches our budget – it gets snapped up quickly. BUT cooking a thin steak can be problematic for many backyard cooks. By the time you get the sear marks on the surface the steak is often overdone — especially if you prefer meat that is cooked rare or medium-rare.
Here are a couple of tricks I use to prevent overcooking those extra thin (under 1/2 inch) cuts of steak. The first trick: “Freezer.” Well, I don’t actually freeze the meat, but I get it as cold as possible, dry the surface and give it a quick rub with a pinch of salt – then toss on the grate. I generally use a Char-Broil® Premium TRU-Infrared™ grill so the grates are easy to get to a temperature hotter than 600°F – so searing is not a problem. BUT, if you have a standard gas grill, a trick to use for browning the surface quickly on these thin cuts of beef or pork is to use a light coating of clarified (melted with the whey skimmed away) butter. Butter has a low smoke point, and clarified butter is a bit higher, but it will help to give your steaks a quick sear mark.
How does this work? The Maillard Effect is a scientific principle that teaches us that a dry slightly saline surface browns more efficiently. A thin steak at room temperature will cook quickly on the surface, while the interior will heat up past 140°F – resulting in meat with that somewhat unappealing gray color.
By chilling the steak down to near freezing, the surface will respond to the heat of the grates and brown, but the interior will require a bit more time to build heat. You may only get one turn and not have time for crosshatch grill marks – but the surface is more likely to have the brown crusty flavors you enjoy and the interior can remain in the “pink.”