Why you should flip grilled meats more than once

Published 11:46 am Wednesday, June 2, 2021

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Many people are familiar with the conventional grilling wisdom that, when cooking meats, it’s best to “only flip once.” This has led backyard grillers to resist the urge to flip their foods in the name of flavor. But that conventional wisdom may not actually be that wise.

According to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, a Serious Eats blogger who has taken it upon himself to test the theory on both burgers and steaks, flipping the meat multiple times produced food that was more evenly cooked (40 percent less overcooked meat in a burger flipped every 15 seconds versus one flipped once). The meat browned just as well, and the food cooked in about two-thirds of the time.

Serious Eats, which is dedicated to teaching proper food techniques and recipes to food enthusiasts, indicates that some people claim that by flipping a steak or other grilled meats repeatedly, one ends up reducing the amount of browning that occurs, thus reducing flavor. This can be true in some instances, but it’s normally due to moisture on thin, wet steaks rather than constant flipping. To avoid the scenario, choose thicker cuts (at least an inch thick), and be sure the surface of the meat has been dried sufficiently. You can dry steaks by wrapping them in paper towels and giving them a few hard presses; salting them 40 minutes in advance of cooking; or salting and letting them air-dry overnight in the refrigerator.

Food scientist Harold McGee, author of “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” says that flipping a steak as often as every 30 seconds can result in a cooking time about 30 percent faster than flipping once. The theory is that with repeated flips, each surface of the meat is exposed to heat relatively evenly, with very little time for it to cool down as it faces upwards. The faster the flip, the closer one comes to imitating a cooking device that would sear the meat from both sides simultaneously.

For those grillers who are concerned about hash marks on their steaks, burgers and more, careful flipping in the same direction can help retain those marks. However, most foodies would say that evenly cooked, moist food is much more important than a cut of meat that looks pretty.

Those who flip their grilled foods often can rest assured that they are probably doing little damage to the taste of the meat and may actually be improving cooking times and doneness.