The Science Of Grilling: How Heat Transforms Steak

Why does cooked steak look and taste so different from raw meat?

Unless you’re a vampire or enjoy tartare, you most likely prefer cooked steak over raw meat. Continuing on with our series ‘The Science Of Grilling,’ Popular Science and Saveur teamed up to learn about the science behind browning a steak.

Meat goes through a number of complex processes after it hits the grill. Raw beef gets its reddish hue from a protein called myoglobin. Cows have slow twitch muscles, which are used for a long period of time and require a lot of energy. Myoglobin proteins are especially high in these types of muscles because they can provide cows a consistent supply of oxygen. When the meat reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius), the myoglobin begins to oxidize and the beef will turn brown.

Another big transformation happens as the Maillard reactions start to occur. When you sear your meat, proteins and sugars within the meat break down, creating the Maillard reaction. About 3,000 to 4,000 new chemical compounds are formed during this process, giving the meat a more complex flavor.

Sorry vegetarians, you’re really missing out.