Science Explains How to Cook Frozen Beef for the Perfect Steak Dinner
At the end of a long, hard day, few things satisfy meat eaters more than a juicy, tender cut of steak — as long as they don’t mess it up during the cooking process.
For many people, having a steak dinner means digging into the back of your freezer, pulling out that slab of meat you’ve been saving, and letting it thaw. But food scientist Guy Crosby, a Harvard professor of food chemistry and science editor for America’s Test Kitchen, says the thawing process may actually lessen the flavor and texture of your rib eye, strip, or t-bone.
“For years people would think, ‘Geez, I’ve got to spend hours thawing this thing out before I can cook it,’” Crosby tells Inverse. “Well, no. You can cook it, and it can turn out just as good and sometimes even better when you throw it on the grill or in the skillet when it’s still frozen.”
The reason is simple: The high-temperature differential between the outside of a frozen steak exposed to high heat in an oiled skillet allows the outside to brown and sear nicely without affecting any of the juiciness. This external browning process is known as the Maillard reaction, a heat-based chemical process involving proteins and sugars that causes these molecules to rearrange themselves to form new ones, some of which are the compounds that make steak look delicious and taste just right.
Once the browning process is complete, pop that seared beauty into the oven at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, using a meat thermometer to ensure the middle hits a nice 125 degrees Fahrenheit for a perfect medium-rare cook. Then, let it rest covered for at least a few minutes — this allows the juices time to settle after warming in the oven where the fats inside were rendered and turned to liquid. Otherwise, the liquids are going to pour right out when your knife goes in.
Crosby and his team at America’s Test Kitchen ran an experiment to see if a frozen sear vs. the thawing approach resulted in any appreciable difference. They found the frozen steaks browned as nicely as the thawed pieces, lost 10 percent less moisture, and had thinner strips of that gray, overcooked beef you get between the sear and the meaty center on all cuts of steak — which is good news for summer grilling enthusiasts.
Fresher is better, but frozen is just as good, so pull that beef out from the back of your freezer and prepare yourself a quick, weeknight steak dinner that’s guaranteed to taste better than last night’s Lean Cuisine.
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