This is why the aesthetic look of the food is important and a vital part of the gourmet restaurant scene. How food appears on the plate has a significant factor in and corresponds to how well we enjoy eating the food. This harkens back to the days in early man when the look of the food was important in determining the acceptability of the meal.
Evolving Look And Taste
As with most things in human evolution, cooking evolved over time and the act of using heat to prepare food was both a safety concern and flavor issue. Way back, there was no way to gauge temperature so the look of the food was important to determine how cooked the food was and when it was ready. Over time, as innovation often causes, this changed and the look of the food took on more of a predetermining flavor factor than any specific cooking means of judging doneness. Textures, colors and more all came together to present an appealing and mouth watering look and this has lasted to present day, where perfect grill marks add to both the presentation and anticipation of a good cut of meat.
Well Marked Steak
Grill marks are mainly important on steak and chicken cuts. There are multiple reasons for this. You can have grill marks on ribs and burgers, as well as hot dogs but the unique shape of the ribs means they won’t be consistent. On burgers and hot dogs, they tend to get covered up with condiments and most people don’t give them a second thought. However, they are highly visible indicators on cuts of chicken such as chicken breast and on all manner of steaks. Thus, the focus is getting the perfect sear marks on steak as the same applies to chicken.
Grill marks on your meat are called sear marks and is caused by the higher heat released into the meat by the metal grate, as opposed to the heat in the surrounding air. While the grate facilitates the marks, it is the heat that has to be there to perform the mark creation. Most grillers use the dual zone method which uses the grill natural tendency of having a hot side and a less hot side. Some call the less hot side the warm side but that implies a significantly lower temperature than what is functionally achieved. To begin, you must super heat the grill. This is done by allowing the charcoal to get to it a fully lit status and allowing the flames and the heat to accumulate under a closed lid for four to five minutes. This high temperature will heat the grate to where it will instantly sear the steak with the marks when the cuts are placed.
It’s Grate Cooking
While heat is the primary producer of the temperatures for searing, the grate is what actually creates the marks. Some grillers will buy grates with the cross hatch pattern already laid out but this is a lot of effort and one that can backfire if you constantly turn the food and the temperature be not perfect. Standard grate patterns are fine and what really works best is cast iron grates. Cast iron transfers the heat better and has the right thickness to make the perfect marks. To actually make the marks, place the meat on the super heated grate at a 45 degree angle for a few minutes. Then, after this first set of marks are seared in, remove the meat, flip it over and rotate it to 90 degrees and replace it upon the grate. Once this is done, remove the steak to the lower, less hot portion of the grill to resume and finish cooking. The result will be a well sear marked steak that is done to perfection.
Please Don’t Stick
Please don’t stick is a silent mantra of many grillers when making the perfect sear marks. This is especially true when cooking chicken as the meat will tend to stick to the grate. There are two ways to resolve this issue. Place a small amount of oil on the grate or lightly coat the meat with an oil. Be sure to use an oil that does not add flavor to the meat and do not use a low temp oil such as olive oil, as it will breakdown at the higher heat of the grill and not provide any benefit. Lightly coating the meat is by far the safer option as attempting to add oil to the grates while super heated will often cause a flare up. A very light coat on the meat is sufficient to reduce sticking and applying the coat with a light grill brush is usually the optimal method for doing this.
Getting the perfect sear marks takes some practice but once you have it down it will improve the reception and anticipation of your hard work. Perfect sear marks present the image of a master griller and the results of which should not be ignored.
Not only does it give you a sense of accomplishment but it will have people raving about your grilled food for months or longer. Remember, presentation is part of the dining experience and the little extra effort will be appreciated by everyone.