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Barbecue'n On The Internet
The Smoke 'N Fire Enquirer
October 8, 2008

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Flame Kissed Burgers on the grill make for great entertaining.  Go ahead, invite some friends over this weekend

Cooler weather means delightful evenings for cooking around the barbecue pit.  And now is the time to enjoy the nice weather before it becomes too cold.

Today, we're discussing the art of searing meats to keep the juices in.  For millennia, the common theory has been to sear the meat to keep the inside both moist and tender.  In this issue we will discuss the pros and cons of this conventional thinking.


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Searing Meats

"Searing meats" does at least three desirable things:

  1. It creates desirable flavors through a process called caramelization or creating a "crust" on the meat.
  2. It improves the appearance of the food with a dark brown colorization.
  3. It creates a desirable taste contrast between the crust of the meat and the tender, juicy insides of the meat.

Searing SteaksBUT, and here is the question at hand ... Does searing the meat really seal in the juices?

All of us have heard this all of our lives and we all want to believe it, right? So, let's take a look at what this searing entails as far as actually sealing in the meat's juices. 

I believe we can all agree that flavor from most meats comes from the juices remaining in the meats after they are cooked properly; and that juices come from the interspersed fat within the meat.  [i.e. chicken breast has little interspersed fat, thus is hard to make as tender and juicy as other cuts of meat.]  Therefore, prime cuts which are more heavily marbled with fat have the better juicy results.

So, does searing meats retain more juices?

Wikipedia states: Even though some people believed that searing locks in the moisture or "seals in the juices" of the food, it has been scientifically shown that searing results in a greater net loss of moisture versus cooking to the same internal temperature without first searing. ...  They go on to state that Justus von Liebig, a German chemist and food scientist, first put forth this theory around 1850. FYI: He also was instrumental in developing the bouillon cube.

Further, it states: The Food Network program Good Eats carried out such a test in episode EA1H22, Myth Smashers.) As early as the 1930s, such experiments were carried out; the seared roasts lost the same amount of moisture or more. (Generally more, since searing exposes the meat to higher temperatures.)

Seared SteakThese comments may have many of you either cursing the articles or scratching your head thinking about the possibility that searing may not seal in all of the wonderful juices you were thinking it would.

The "searing theory" goes really deep into such subjects as:

  • How hot the fire must be?  For some, over 700° seems to be the minimum temperature that is needed to actually sear the meat. FYI: Did you know that Titanium becomes soft and pliable at 1751° So, anyone saying that they are cooking at 1500°, their statements need to be scrutinized closely.
  • Good searing can also occur at 500° to 700°.
  • How long to cook the meat?  Most meat is overcooked by all reasonable estimates because many people 1) are afraid of catching salmonella, 2) don't like the blood, 3) don't use a meat thermometer and 4) don't realize that meat continues to cook a short while after being removed from the fire.
  • How thick is the cut of meat? If the meat is thin, there is little possibility you will be able to sear the outside of the meat and still have a tender, moist, juicy center.
  • How many times does the meat need to be turned "or flipped"?  We don't go with the "only one time" theory since this has the tendency to overcook one side.  More even cooking occurs when both sides evenly.
  • How do you turn the meat? Do you use forks that "puncture the meat" or tongs that gently squeeze the meat?  Do you press the meat to get the juices to fall into the fire for flare-ups that help sear the meat further?
  • Do you like Charring The Meat?  Not a good idea.  Charring is where the surface of meat breaks down completely leaving you only carbon. 

Medium RareWe're not here to tell you to "Sear or Not to Sear" but to offer information for you to consider. Remember, if you are searing the meat, which is a process of cooking that creates a crusty surface texture of the caramelized sugars that provides that steak flavor you want - you are not necessarily sealing in the juices.  The idea that you can sear the surface of the meat into a piece of solid material that holds in all the juices inside the meat ... like a plastic bag/container ... is not really possible.  There will always be cracks and crevices in the meat which will allow the juices to escape.  Contrary to many cook's thoughts, you will never achieve a solid shell of "juice protection".

We suggest that what makes a desirable, tender and juicy steak, chop or even roast results from the following:

  1. Obtain the best cut of meat you can afford.
  2. Have it cut to at least 1 1/2 inches thick.  2 Inches would be better.  Don't try searing a thin steak.
  3. Season with your favorite marinade or dry steak rub.
  4. Cook it on high temperature 500° to 700° if you want a "sear".
  5. Once you have your sear, you can move the meat to a little cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. Always have the meat "grilling" and not moved to where it would be considered "indirect cooking ".
  6. Cook it until you have a dark brown color, not just golden or brown. Not black either, that's char.  We see no reason for not turning occasionally.  This prevents overcooking on one side and less on the other side.
  7. Don't overcook.  Anything past medium really cannot be seared. Again, do not try this with thin steaks/chops.
  8. Check temperature when you feel it is almost done with a quality bi-therm meat thermometer.  It will save your meat & your money.
  9. Remember, the meat continues to cook after removing it from the grill.  Take it off about 5° before your desired temperature.
  10. Serve as soon as possible.  Have everything else ready to go.
  11. Enjoy the flavor and the meal.

Click here for our list of temperatures of various meats and fish.

Click here to purchase bi-therm and wireless thermometers.

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Sweet-Meat, Barbecue Manual

The master of barbecue has his own book, a manual for proper outdoor cooking really, which is chock full of how to prepare old time barbecue of all types.  You will enjoy his humor and techniques.

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Old Smokey Contest Winner
Old Smokey #14Each newsletter we give away one heck of a grill to one of our lucky readers. By far, the Old Smokey Grill is our largest selling portable charcoal grill because of its durability and ability to produce great tasting food. There is only one winner each month! The winner of this month's Old Smokey Grill - #18 is:

Mary Romero

Hey Mary, please send us the email address used when you signed up for the Smoke 'n Fire Enquirer and we'll validate your address. Congratulations! For everyone else, we'll have a new contest next month and will be drawing from the same list you are on!

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