Grilling is rife with old man’s tales, advice and observations passed down through the ages that even professional chefs and steakhouses tout as fact. But you might be surprised to learn that the “science” behind your perfect grilled steak doesn’t really hold up under a microscope. Thankfully, our friends over at AmazingRibs.com have done the research and delivered the facts about some of grilling’s biggest misconceptions.
Myth #1 – Searing Meat Seals In The Juices
Fact: Meat seared before cooking actually loses MORE juices.
This is one grilling myth that just won’t die, and the common misconception can be traced back to the German chemist, Justus von Liebig in 1847. His theory was that when you sear meat, the brown “crust” that forms creates a barrier that keeps juices in. But this crust (while tasty!) is not waterproof. Juices continue to get squeezed out of the meat during cooking, no matter what. The sizzling that you hear throughout cooking is proof, as this is the meat’s juices seeping out and vaporizing on the grill.
Read more here, and see how Food Network’s Alton Brown debunked this myth and revealed that seared steak lost 6% more juices than an identical unseared steak.
Myth #2 – Cook Poultry Until The Juices “Run Clear”
Fact: Temperature is more important than color, even in chicken.
There are a number of factors that cause pink, purple, or red-ish meat, bones and juices in poultry. A naturally occurring protein in the meat called myoglobin that changes from pink to clear during cooking is one — and the original theory behind this myth. The pH of the meat, pre-slaughtering stress conditions, climate, and the chicken’s age at slaughter also contribute to less-than-appealing-looking chicken.
But the bottom line is that – regardless of color – poultry is safe to eat when it reaches 165F, so invest in a high-quality digital thermometer to monitor doneness. AmazingRibs.com has a fascinating, in-depth article about the science that debunks this myth, and you can read it here.
Myth #3 – Red Juices Are Blood
Fact: Blood is removed during slaughter; the red/pink juices are a chemical reaction
First, blood is carried through veins and bone marrow — not muscle. So nearly all blood is removed during slaughtering. The pink/red color in an animal’s muscle (meat) is caused by the protein myoglobin. The one similarity it does share with blood is that it changes colors. Just as blood is blue and turns red when exposed to oxygen, myoglobin is naturally pink/red and can become brighter red as it absorbs oxygen. The redness turns to tan/clear as the meat is cooked. To further debunk this myth, consider what actual blood looks like when cooked – like from the end of a rib or chicken wing that has been cut and there was residual blood in the marrow. It’s BLACK, not red!
Ick factor aside, the reality is that this myth can lead to overcooked steaks when you use color alone to check for doneness or try to “cook the blood out” of a steak.
Myth #4 – Soaking Wood Chips Add More Flavor
Fact: Wood absorbs very little water
One of our favorite quotes from Meathead on the AmazingRibs.com website is, “Why do you think they build boats out of wood?” Many grill recipes claim that soaking your wood chips in a flavorful liquid – such as apple juice or beer – for a couple of hours adds more flavour to your smoke. Meathead tested this theory by soaking various cuts of wood in colored water for 24 hours and photographed the surface and inside of each piece of wood.
You can see the results for yourself here, but the reality is that wood absorbs very little water, even in the cracks.
Myth #5 – Carryover Cooking Increases Temperature 5 to 10 Degrees
Fact: Depending on the cooking temperature, carryover cooking can increase meat by as much as 20 degrees
When the meat is removed from the heat, the residual heat on the outside of the meat will continue to cook the inside — this is called carryover cooking.
When smoking or cooking at a low temp, there is a slow, even and steady temperature change where the inside and outside of the meat are close to the same, so you can expect the standard 5-10 degree carryover increase. When cooking at high temperatures, the outside of the meat will be much hotter when you remove it, so the outside will take longer to cool and carryover cooking will continue for far longer. In this case, expect an increase of up to 20 degrees — a change that could ruin a perfect medium rare steak.
Myth #6 – Bring Meat To Room Temperature Before Cooking
Fact: This is a recipe for foodborne illness
It’s shocking how this myth has propagated over the years, even among famous chefs. The idea is that getting the center of meat closer to room temperature means it cooks faster. But depending on the size of the meat, this could take hours. In one experiment, AmazingRibs.com‘s Meatheat measured that it took 10 hours for a 4.5 pound pork shoulder to reach 72F in the center. Remember, the “danger zone” for foodborne illness is between 40-140F, and some bacteria can double every 20 minutes at this temperature. Imagine the potential contamination of leaving meat out in a 70F room for several hours!
Meathead continues the discussion more in-depth here, and reveals why it’s actually more beneficial to start with cold meat.
Myth #7 – Bone-In Meat Is More Flavourful
Fact: Not all bones – or cooking methods – are created equal
This one’s a doozy to dig into! We highly recommend that you read the full article on AmazingRibs.com here to understand the science behind bones and how they impact flavour – it’s fascinating! Basically, bones do not add any flavor to thick, dense cuts of meat cooked using a dry method (grilled, fried, oven-roasted). However, in cuts of meat where the bones are dominant and where there is a lot of connective tissue that can break down to create gelatinized collagen, the bones are responsible for the rich, unctuous taste we associate with this type of meat — think, ribs! The other time where bones contribute to flavour is in braised dishes, such as osso bucco, where wine or water slowly pulls the marrow out of the bone and it cooks down to create a rich, velvety sauce.
Myth #8 – Lookin Ain’t Cooking
Fact: Occasionally opening the grill cover for short periods of time does not affect temperature or cooking time
When you do want to keep the heat in, just how detrimental is opening the grill cover? AmazingRibs.com put this myth to the test by experimenting with opening the cover of a gas, pellet and charcoal grill for 1 and 5 minutes, recording the difference in air and meat temperature, and observing how long it took the heat to recover.
So, does this myth hold up under the microscope? According to AmanzingRibs.com, “No, it is not true in warm weather if you open and close quickly and don’t do it often. Yes, it is true if you leave the lid off for long or if you open it frequently, especially in cold weather.”
Myth #9 – Check Meat Doneness With Fingers
Fact: “This is utter nonsense!”
This one can be summed up rather quickly. Every person’s hands are physically different, and the flesh beneath your thumb will “feel” firmer or softer than that of another person in your house. We’ll wait while you go check.
The other, more important factor, is that every cut of meat is going to feel different – both raw and cooked. The cut, grade, thickness, and age, breed, and diet of the animal all contribute to how a steak “feels” when poked.
Myth #10 – Boiled Ribs Are More Tender
Fact: Boiled ribs are mushy and flavourless
“If you boil ribs, the terrorists win.” That’s how vehemently AmazingRibs.com discourages this gross practice. While the idea originates from delicious eastern Europe dishes where ribs are boiled with vegetables, they’re making a stew, not barbeque. Water is a solvent, and boiling ribs pulls out the flavour and makes the meat mushy, or even dry if overcooked.
Properly cooked ribs should not “fall off the bone.” They should taste like pork or beef, not just BBQ sauce, and they should have the “same mouthfeel and bite as a tender. juicy steak.”
So, have we rocked your grilling world with any of these revelations? If you’re curious about any of your other best practices, head over to AmazingRibs.com and check out some of the other grilling myths they’ve debunked over the years!