What’s the Flipping Difference?

Traditional wisdom is always a beautiful thing, but sometimes, shaking it up can be pretty cool, too!

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What’s the “Flipping” Difference?

I remember neighborhood cookouts as a kid. I’d stand beside the grill watching with fascination, just wishing I could have a turn at the spatula. The cardinal rule was always emphasized to us want-to-be chefs…, “Only flip the meat once!” Everyone knows that, right?

Well, actually, that’s a fun little debate, and both sides have some pretty strong opinions. Scientific experiments in the grilling world suggest that flipping meat every minute or so actually keeps it juicer, it cooks more evenly, and the crust is better developed with more intense flavor. Not only that, it cooks up to 30% faster. Hummmm….

A Brief Scientific Explanation

Let’s begin with the reason meat, bread, cheese (you know, the crunchy browned cheese on the corners of your favorite mac and cheese), and other scrumptious things turn that tasty golden brown when they’re cooked. It’s called the Maillard reaction. To simplify this complicated scientific process, we’ll stick to the basics. At around 285℉ to 300℉, food proteins begin to break down into amino acids. These amino acids chemically react with sugars, and the results are browning and changes in the aromas and flavors of the food. There are multiple layers of these changes going on at once, and the results are amazing. That’s why fresh bread baking in the oven or a steak sizzling on the grill smells so good, and that’s why their crusty exteriors have so much delicious flavor.

One important thing to know is the Maillard reaction produces water as a byproduct. If you want your food to develop a rich brown crust, you need to limit the moisture on the surface of the food. BTW, caramelization is different than the Maillard reaction. Caramelization is caused only by sugars reacting to heat.

Okay, But What Does This Have to Do With Flipping Meat?

Good question! As you flip meat on the grill, the the bottom side that was against the heat is pulled away from the heat source, so it cools slightly on the surface, and some of the heat goes back into the meat. At the same time, the cooler top side now comes into contact with the heat source, and browning occurs. Ultimately, the outside surfaces are heated up more often, and they develop a beautiful crust. The temperature throughout the meat is consistently distributed during cooking, so you end up with more even edge-to-edge cooking. This is similar to the results of reverse searing discussed in our August 8th blog post. The meat just below the crust doesn’t overcook like it does when the meat is only turned one time (you know, that gray line that develops around just under the exterior), so the meat is juicier.

What Meat Works Best With this Method?

What is the flipping difference?

This “flipping” method is best for meat that is at least an inch thick. It works great with steaks, chops, chicken breasts, and burgers. Several things to keep:

  • Dry the outside of the meat before you place it on the grill. 
  • Grill at a high temperature.
  • Flip the meat every minute or so throughout the grilling process
  • You won’t get those deep colored grill marks, but the meat will have a beautifully crusted exterior all over, and that means flavor!
  • Meat can cook up to 30% faster with this method. We recommend checking doneness a few minutes earlier by using a quick read instant meat thermometer
  • Don’t worry about those nasty looks you get from the nay-sayers as you put your spatula in action. Once they cut into your masterpiece and take a bite, they’ll understand!

Here’s How It Worked for Me

I was a little skeptical, so I decided to try this myself. I started with two prime beef filets about 1¼ inches thick. I salted and peppered them, and let them sit for 40 minutes. Both went on the grill over medium high direct heat. Steak #1 (the top one in the picture) was turned every 60 to 90 seconds, and it was a perfect 140℉ degrees after 11 minutes. Steak #2 (the bottom one in the picture) cooked for 7 straight minutes on the first side, it was flipped, and it had to cook for 7 additional minutes before it reached 140℉. I let both steaks rest for 7 minutes.

What is the flipping difference?

Here’s what I discovered:

Steak #1 cooked faster than Steak #2.
Steak #1 (top) had a more uniform brown than steak #2 (lower one).

What is the flipping difference?

Steak #1 (top) was medium rare right up to the crust, and the interior was uniformly cooked throughout. Steak #2 (lower one) had a little gray line under the crust, but the rest was medium rare.
The most profound difference was in the texture of the meat. My family tasted both steaks, and they didn’t realize there was any difference in the preparation. Everyone said that steak #1(top) was richer, juicier, and more tender than steak #2 (lower one).

What is the flipping difference?

Look how evenly Steak #1 cooked throughout. It was a thing of beauty! The family was surprised when I told them the difference in the grilling methods, but they unanimously agreed that steak #1 was the best.

To Flip or Not To Flip… The Choice Is Yours!

I believe continually flipping the steak results in enough of a textural difference that it’s definitely worth trying. The Grill Beast Team likes to give you lots of information about grilling, and as you experiment with different techniques, you’ll come up with the combination of methods that works best for you!

“Flipping” Good Ribeye Steak

Here’s a great recipe to try with the flipping method. We promise the meat will be delicious!

What You’ll Need
4 ribeye steaks, 1½ inches thick (Angus or Prime grade)
4 slices compound herb butter (recipe follows)

Generously salt and pepper the steaks and let them rest for 40 minutes. Preheat the grill to medium high heat. Place the steaks over direct heat and let them cook for 1 minute. Flip the steaks and let them continue to cook for 1 additional minute. Continue cooking the steaks for 10 to 12 more minutes, flipping them every 60 to 90 seconds. Using an instant read thermometer, (LINK TO BEASTOMETER) check the internal temperature. It should be 140℉ for medium rare. When done, remove the steaks from the grill and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. To serve, top each steak with two pats of compound herb butter.

Compound Herb Butter

½ cup softened butter
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1½ teaspoons finely chopped chives
1 ½ teaspoons fresh basil finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoons fresh ground pepper
Pinch (or two) cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Put the butter in on parchment paper or plastic wrap in a line that resembles the size and length of a stick of butter. Roll the butter up in the wrap and twist the ends. Put butter in the freezer for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, slice the butter in pats and place on warm steak. This butter is also good on rolls, potatoes, other meats, and just about anything else!

One More Thing...

Join the Official Grill Beast VIP-Only Facebook Group

We hope you’ll share your experience with this method of grilling. The Grill Beast’s VIP Facebook group offers the perfect forum to do that! Learn new techniques, find fabulous recipes, and connect with other grilling enthusiasts from all over the map! Go here to sign up. Click “join” and be ready for some great interaction. This group is exclusive to VIP Members, so register to become a VIP if you haven't already by clicking here. We can’t wait to hear from you!