What’s at Steak, Here

Jocelyn Sheffield: I’d like you all to meet Nigel Waters, the Duke of Salisbury.
Fran Fine: Oh, I love your steak.
Nigel Waters: Thank you. Lord Worcestershire and I get together every Sunday for a barbecue.
Maxwell Sheffield: And the Earl of Sandwich pops by for leftovers.

The Nanny, “Stop the Wedding, I Want to Get Off” (3/16/94)


Someone recently invited me to join a cooking enthusiasts’ group on Facebook. I do enjoy cooking, so I accepted the invitation. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was pretty hopelessly outclassed by most of the people in that crowd. But what the heck, I thought: maybe I’ll learn something.

A few weeks ago, someone posed an interesting question to the page:

There’s a line in here that maybe should have provided a big hint.

I thought about this a little bit. What good could confectioner’s sugar possibly do?

Confectioner’s sugar is regular sugar that’s been ground into a fine powder. There are several different levels of grind available, but the most common kind is the “10X”, which means it’s been ground ten times. When you purchase this stuff commercially, however, there’s also a little bit of cornstarch added to the sugar to keep it from clumping. That’s why you can’t just use it in your tea when you’re out of granulated sugar.

So, taking all this into account, I opined that because confectioner’s sugar has some cornstarch in it, there’s the possibility that some of the juices that might drip out would instead stick to the surface. And while most dry rubs contain some (brown) sugar, I really couldn’t see that it would make a ton of difference. Other people said much the same thing, coming down especially hard on any suggestion that searing “seals in the juices”. If you know anything at all about cooking, you know that part’s pretty much a crock.

But stuff like that stays with me, and I got curious enough to actually try it. Would you like to see what happened?

Tonight, both Wife and Wee One were at the ballgame in Aberdeen, so I was on my own for dinner. Originally I was going to stop off at the supermarket and get something extra sad to eat, like a pot pie or a frozen pizza. Something not so complicated that would fill me up. And then the steak thing popped into my head. So I went to the meat department and found some boneless ribeye steaks. Then off to Produce to put a salad together from the salad bar. (I’ve been eating at the stadium the last three nights; there aren’t a lot of vitamins going on around there. Season Tickets can be a pain sometimes.) I got it all home—and it just started to rain. Ugh.

OK, kid, change of plans. Instead of grilling the steak, I’ll have to broil it instead. We’re not letting rain get in the way of Science. Let’s go to the photos:

This is the ribeye steak I chose to work with. It’s got a bit of an odd shape because the Giant puts it in a vacuum pack, and I’ve just cracked it out of there. The steak is about 10-12 ounces (best estimate; it was a three-pack).
Because of the vacuum packing, I gave it a light beating on both sides with my tenderizing mallet.
A light dusting—again on both sides—with the Montreal Seasoning. Not too much because I don’t want it to overwhelm the Experimental Ingredient. I tapped it again with the flat side of the mallet to keep the seasoning from falling off.
And then a dusting with the confectioner’s sugar. There’s a little bit more on the steak than it appears, because some of the sugar has already dissolved.
And now, onto my Teeny Tiny Broiling Pan. Four and a half minutes on one side, then flip it over and cook until the thermometer reads 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
The finished product, resting until it gets up to 140, which only took a couple of minutes. Medium-rare, baby.
The pan, post-broiling. Some of the fat has rendered and most of the color you see in the bottom is bits of the seasoning, rather than “juices”. So maybe the cornstarch retained some of it?
With a cut taken out of it so you can see the color and the juices, again. I hit a nice medium-rare, temperature-wise, but the meat spent more time with this side up than the other side, so you can see that the pink isn’t quite centered but instead is closer to the bottom. And don’t worry, I put it on a different, clean plate.

But the bottom line is in the flavor, yes? Of course. I took a bite. And frankly it didn’t have a lot of effect on the steak as a whole. It’s not as though it had developed a candy shell or anything. What I did notice was that the burned sections were really caramelized sugar, and they followed the thicker fat lines from the steak. Therefore, eating those burned parts wasn’t as unpleasant as it typically would be, because there was a slight element of sweetness behind them.

So…as far as the original question is concerned, I’m going with a big fat No. It doesn’t make the meat juicier or, for that matter, sweeter. It does help a little bit when you get to the burned bits, but then again would they have burned as much had they not been sugared? Eh, probably not.

So it was an interesting experiment but in the end I decided it’s not really worth repeating.