The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Time vs. Temperature

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The other day while making a flank steak, I made an interesting observation about cooking it by time versus by temperature. This blog entry will discuss how the flank steak would've turned out if I’d cooked it by time versus by temperature. What happened at the very ed of the cook really surprised me and may surprise you too. It is also making me think I should use a remote read temperature probe even more than I already do.

Flank steak can be rather difficult to cook. It must have just the right prep in the form of a marinade, the right cooking temperature, the right cooking time, a long rest, and when it comes time to slice it, you must slice across the grain and on the bias to get the most tender slices possible. I was home alone and this recipe was a bit of an experiment for me. Where I didn't have to worry about keeping any guests waiting, I was taking time to do everything by the book. I decided when the grill got up to temperature, that I would shoot the grill grates with my infrared thermometer to make sure that I was hitting the exact cooking temperature called for in the recipe. Since I was being so precise, I decided I would also try and put a remote read temperature probe inside the flank steak to measure the doneness temperature. I often do this with thick steaks and they always come out perfectly cooked. For the flank steak this was a bit easier said than done, because the steak was less than an inch thick and I'd have to be pretty precise positioning my temperature probe. I decided I would always have the cooking time to fall back on if I failed to position the probe properly.

When it came time to place the probe in the flank steak, I didn't do too well. My first attempt went in, and I thought it went straight, but when I flipped the steak over I noticed the probe was poking out the bottom of the piece of steak. I then used a trick that I often use with thin cuts of meat and temperature probes. I picked the meat up off the cutting board and let it hang straight down via gravity and then I put the probe in by inserting it vertically from above. I was pretty sure I had a winner with the second attempt, but I would know right away when I put the steak on the grill. If the temperatures rose too quickly then I would know that I had missed with the probe and I would fall back to the cooking time of 10 minutes given in the recipe. By precisely setting the cooking temperature of the grill to 550 F (288 C) as called for in the recipe, the cooking time should be reasonably close.

The steak went on the grill and the temperature seem to be rising normally, so I felt that I could rely on the accuracy of the readings from the temperature probe. When it got close to the 10 minute mark, the temperatures were rising rapidly but it looked like I was going to miss the 130 F (54 C) target temperature I was shooting for to achieve medium rare. At the 10 minute mark, the temperature was reading 124 F (51 C), or 6 F (3.33 C) low. I decided to let the meat stay on the grill and hit the 130 F (54 C) I was shooting for. This is where the surprise factor came in. I decided to grab a quick picture of the time and temperature of the finished piece of meat. I often do this so that when I do the cook again in the future, I have a reference that is far more reliable than my memory. As you can hopefully see from the picture at the top of this blog, less than 30 seconds elapsed and the meat rose 7 F (4 C) additional degrees. it was right at 130 F (54 C) ( when I went to snap the picture, and in the time it took to focus and shoot it rose an additional degree. I was rather amazed at what a small increment of time went by for such a large temperature rise. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it.

When it came time to cut the meat it was indeed a perfect medium rare. it was not too bloody but was still nice and juicy. as I found out when working out my ideal doneness temperature for tri-tip, the difference between 125F (52C) and 130F (54C) can make all the difference in the world in the appearance, taste and texture of the meat. For me 125F (52C) is slightly under cooked and 130F (54C) is just about perfect. The funny thing is, my original purpose in using the temperature probe was to make sure I didn’t OVER cook the meat. This real world demonstration reinforced several old lessons and taught me several new ones too.

  • The only way to get truly accurate doneness on a new recipe is to use a temperature probe. (Old)
  • This was particularly true of this flank steak which had an herb paste on the surface which prevented you from seeing some of the visible signs like blood pooling on the surface when it is time to flip the steak. Also I am not sure how the poke test would have worked on this more muscular piece of meat. (New)
  • So yes there are certain dishes that have physical signs when they are done, translucent vs. opaque color, flaking scales, exposed bone ends lose joints between bones. But lacking these signs a remote read temperature probe is the best way to go. (Old)
  • After you have done a recipe several times and the times have worked out consistently, then you can use a total time. But it can still be off by a wide margin on a thin piece of meat. (New)
  • The only way to accurately use time to grill a meal is if you start off with the same temperature every time. (Old)
  • A thin piece of meat, like this 1” steak, can change rapidly. In this case rising 7 degrees (4C) in under 30 seconds. Now that I am aware of how much change can happen is so little time, I am going to be more inclined to use my temperature probe. (New)
  • Knowing about this large temperature change is going to make me take the extra time to use a remote read probe and get the temperature probe into the food correctly. (New)
  • One advantage to using a temperature probe is you will never overcook something. Even if you place the probe incorrectly, that will only result in an undercooked piece of meat. This can be corrected for and you can still get a piece of meat just the way you like it by repositioning the probe and returning the food to the grill.

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