Want Grill Marks On Steak, Chicken, Pork?

by grillrepair on

perfectly seared grilled steaks without grill marks

Perfectly grilled meat will not have burnt stripes and striped of seared meat still leaves most of the surface of the meat free to drip and lose flavor.


Do You Want Grilling marks on the food you cook outdoors?


Please, someone tell me why.  I don’t get it.  I just read the most ridiculous article about this product that makes grilling marks on food and there were dozens of comments from people supporting the contradictions in the article.  The writer of this article was selling the product so it is obvious he’s going to make it sound really amazing but what is really amazing about having black lines across food?

There are a few very popular ways of cooking outdoors.  This does not mean this is what everyone does but as someone who speaks with clients about their barbecues all day, every day I can say with a great amount of confidence that the majority of people cooking outdoors are cooking one of 3 ways: barbecuing, broiling, grilling.

Let’s define this because I have spoken with thousands of people who use the term “BBQ” as a kind of shorthand when they really mean “cooking outside” even when their cooking is as far from BBQ as a big mac.

Barbecue is a way of cooking that causes flavor to be added to food through smoke from fuel.  When we are smoking wood with charcoal at low temperatures so the food absorbs the smokey flavor of the charcoal and wood smoke this is barbecuing.  We can also cook at higher temperatures and still be barbecuing with charcoal and wood as fuel.  I barbecue as high as 425 degrees sometimes when we’re cooking boneless chicken thighs and the flavor is lighter than when we smoke the meat as 250 for 3 hours.

Broilers.  Most people I speak with are accustomed to broiling but they call it barbecuing and they call it grilling  because they do not know any better.  Broiling outdoors is not terribly different from broiling in your indoor over except most of us allow the barbecue to stay dirty which adds some smells while were cooking.  Also an open flame means the flavor constantly dripping out of the broiling food can land on the burner, flare up aver and over again and cause a texture to the meat in places where the flare-ups burned the edges.  However, no one who knows what they’re doing with their barbecue wants flare-ups to burn small sections of their food.  Most of the outdoor cooking appliances that we’ll encounter at the big retail stores are not capable of being grills and are only capable of barbecuing when we cook with some self-control.  Most of the outdoor “barbecues” cook by building up heat inside the area under a closed hood and hot air surrounds and cooks our food.  This is the same as our indoor oven broilers.

Grilling is cooking with heat localized at the grilling surface like cooking with a griddle.  Grills used to have layers of lava rock, briquettes, porcelain tiles and other conduction materials.  As the heat builds up inside the closed hood like a broiler the conductive layer also gets very hot and radiates heat just below the cooking grates so the temperature at the grids is 800 degrees or hotter.  The basic idea of grilling is to sear the outer layer of the food very quickly so the moisture inside the meat is sealed inside.  Once the meat is sealed we will not get the dripping moisture and loss of natural flavor so common to broiling and barbecuing.  Where barbecuing replaces the natural moisture with a smokey moisture broiling usually just dries the food so we get accustomed to eating our meats barely cooked in order to keep them moist.  Today infrared grill burners (TEC infrared burners were the first) make it very easy to use a grill where the older designs with lava or briquettes needed good timing and cleanliness to grill well.  An infrared burner can exceed 1000 degrees inside a minute so we are able to sear meats very quickly.  Once we have locked the outer layer of the meats we can dial-down the heat to cook the inside slowly secure in the knowledge the flavor is not able to drip out of the food.

Barbecuing and grilling are opposites but are both very useful for making wonderful combinations of flavors.  Broiling is convenient  but not very good for making interesting flavors without complex and interesting recipes just like using the oven indoors.  The idea of appliance companies that bring in products from overseas is to sell commodities and the difference between barbecues, broilers and grills has been purposely blurred by hybrids that are not useful for anything.  For instance a company can make a box with a few burners, copy the flavorizer shield model from weber and use a cast iron grate but the resultant appliance is not a good barbecue, grill or even a broiler although each of the three features can be misleading as all three.  The biggest problem is the cast iron grate because cast iron is a very effective conductor of heat and a lot of old grills used cast iron to build and hold high temperatures.  However, a broiler capable of cooking no hotter than 475 degrees (like most!) may have a cast iron grate that is capable of holding 900 degrees.  With this poorly matched material we end up with grill marks because the cast iron cooking grates are so much hotter than the convectional (heat transferred through air) heat surrounding the food.

Although the grill marks may add some texture this is not very different from never-been-cleaned lava rocks flaring up and burning sections of our food.  Small sections of burnt meat has become symbolic of cooking outdoors without adding flavor to our food.

Beautifully barbecued food absorbs combinations of flavor based on the skill and inventiveness of the chef.  We add different rubs, marinades, bowls of liquid inside the barbecue, different types of wood and charcoal and timed temperatures that allow more or less absorption.  A person could experiment with barbecue their whole life without duplicating a process and cook amazing combinations of flavors by changing the preparation, timing, type of wood, combination of wood, etc.

Grilling is not as diverse and barbecuing but the flavor is inimitable.  Locking the flavor of the food with a combination of dry-rub or marinade always makes for juicy and flavorful eating.  The image above is a New York Strip that was soaked in a marinade after spending some time dusted with a cajun dry rub.  While marinading we used a professional tenderizer that flattens the meat a little but causes deep absorption of the combination of flavors mixed by the liquid marinade and dry rub coating the steaks.  We left the infrared grill heating for 3 minutes and laid the steaks on the grates at 1200 degrees for about 2 minutes on either side.  The meat was just barely pink at the center and very hot and as we cut into the meat moisture starting bleeding all over the plate.  Notice there is not grill mark strips on the surface of the meat?

There are no grill marks on these steaks because the entire outer layer of the meat has been sealed by the intense heat f the infrared burner.  Had we only seared the small stripes where the cooking grates were so hot they burned the meat the areas left unburnt would be dripping and drying the food the whole time we were cooking — and we’d be cooking longer because of the limited heat of the broiler.

Infrared grills and most other kinds of grills cannot usually use cast iron cooking grates because they conduction of heat will damage the material when the grills get too hot.  Moreover the idea that very hot, fast cooking maintains flavor, form and texture is not limited to grilling steaks and seafood.  Grilling vegetables at 1000 degrees keeps veggies hot and crunchy while cooking at lower temperatures usually leaves greens soggy.  Vegetables are also good in extremely hot oil that heats very fast without ruining the crunchy texture of the vegetables.

In short, while we have often been told criss-cross grill marks look like “barbecue” an actual barbecue and an actual grill will not leave lines or criss-cross marks on our food — and that is a good thing if you’d rather have food that tastes good.


kamado smoker with wood and charcoal for flavor

Beer Can chicken smoking combines internal steam marinade flavors with outer rub and smoke penetration.

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