Flip Your Steaks as Often as You Like
“You should only touch your steak three times; once to put it in the pan, once to flip it, and once to take it out of the pan.”
This oft repeated mantra is one of the most frequently peddled bits of advice for the novice steak (or burger) cook. The idea being that in order to develop a good crust—and for the steak (or burger) to cook properly—once you apply heat to your meat you should buzz off; leave it alone until it’s ready to flip thus giving it plenty of time to achieve proper browning and to ensure it cooks evenly from both sides. This makes a certain kind of sense, but there’s just one problem: none of it is true (cue podcast intro music).
I could bore you with theory right off the bat, but let’s just cut to the chase and get to the good stuff: the experiment. What’s that? Experiments are boring, and doing them in one’s free time would be embarrassing if it weren’t so sad? Well the joke’s on you, friend, because I play to my strengths, and being ‘sad’ and ‘embarrassing’ are two of my strongest attributes.
To set up my experiment I cut two 5 cm steaks from the same piece of tenderloin, then seasoned the filets mignon with just some salt, and tempered them on a wire rack for 40 minutes at 83 degrees (yeesh it was hot today).
I cooked them in the same pan which I preheated centered over a high flame with a shallow layer of canola oil until the oil was just barely smoking, after which I added the steaks and turned the burner down to medium-high to prevent excess oil smoke. I cooked both steaks to an internal temperature of 125 (a cool medium-rare), and let them rest for 10 minutes before cutting them in half to check the cook. The only difference between the steaks was technique. For one steak I used the classic method of searing on one side, flipping once, and finishing the cook to my desired doneness, and for the other steak I flipped it every 30 seconds. I also had a stopwatch running to track total cooking time.
Once they were done cooking I could examine my first result: browning. Did one of these steaks achieve superior browning? I can feel your bated breath through this series of tubes, so lets go ahead and take a look: