Want The Best Steak Of Your Life? Don't Thaw The Steaks Before Cooking Them
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if you've been thawing your frozen steaks out before cooking them, you've been cooking steak wrong your whole life. According to Cook's Illustrated Senior Editor Dan Souza and the tasting team from Test Kitchen, cooking frozen steaks makes for a "hands down" tastier meal than cooking defrosted ones.
While most recipes and general common sense suggest allowing your frozen food some time to get, you know, un-frozen before throwing them in a hot pan, the team at America's Test Kitchen was a bit more dubious, especially given the time it takes to thaw out a steak. Refrigerator thawing, generally considered the easiest and safest method, requires 24 hours for every five pounds of food, and even a few ounces of meat generally need an overnight visit in the fridge to fully escape their icy harness.
But according to Souza and co, allowing steaks to lose their chill also meant losing a lot of their flavor.
To determine whether frozen or thawed steaks made for a better tasting dinner, Souza took a single strip loin and cut it into quarters. Each steak was weighed and then frozen. Two were allowed to thaw in a refrigerator overnight while the others remained in the freezer. He applied the same cooking method to each steak -- first searing the steaks for 90 seconds per side, then transferring them to a 275 degree oven to finish. They then hit 125 degrees in the center, or as we like to call it, medium rare, they were finished.
While the frozen steaks took longer to hit this magic number (about 18 to 20 minutes as opposed to the thawed steaks' time frame of 10 to 15 minutes), Souza found that the frozen steaks managed to retain more moisture and were less overcooked than their thawed counterparts.
When Souza weighed the cooked steaks, he found that the frozen steaks lost an average of 9 percent less water weight than the thawed steaks. This also meant that there was a much thinner layer of "gray meat," or overcooked meat, in the frozen cuts than the thawed ones. This, in turn, meant that the frozen steaks were juicier, yummier, and just generally better than the thawed steaks.
Why Do Frozen Steaks Taste Better?
Why is this the case, you ask? Well, if you think about it, it really makes a lot of sense. Frozen steaks are cold, much colder than thawed steaks. A lower temperature in the meat means a higher tolerance for cooking time — if the steak is frozen through, it takes much more time and is more difficult to overcook. While a frozen steak will sear and obtain that perfect brown crust just as quickly as a thawed steak, its insides are a different story.
When meat is overcooked, its muscle fibers contract, Souza explains, which forces much of the water content out of the steak.Because the frozen steaks can withstand the heat for a longer period of time without overcooking, they also manage higher water retention rate.
But Don't Go Freeze Your Steak Right Away
Don't go running off to freeze all your steaks before finishing this article — as with all things, there's a right way and a wrong way to go about putting your steaks in sub-zero temperatures.
The worst thing you can do is to actually put your steak in a bag and stick it in the freezer. This causes the moisture on the steak's surface to turn into little ice crystals that instantaneously melt when they come in contact with the hot oil in a skillet. And what happens then? You end up with a not-so-nice grease fire, and a seriously burned steak.
Instead, what you should do is freeze the steaks on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and leave them entirely uncovered. This will allow the steaks' surfaces to dry out and avoid creating a fire hazard when it comes to be cooking time. If you're looking to keep the steaks in the freezer, wrap them in plastic once they're completely frozen, and then place them in a bag.
To cook, Souza suggests filling a pan with oil to a depth of an eight of an inch, which may sound like a lot, but is critical to achieving that perfect browning and staying hot enough to deal with your super cold steak. After a minute and a half on each side, move those babies to a waiting oven at 275, where it should stay for about 20 minutes, depending on how you like your steaks.
But whether it's rare or well done, the best done steak is one straight out of the freezer and into the frying pan.
Images: America's Test Kitchen/Youtube (2); Getty Images