Meat Methodology 101: Wet vs. Dry Heat

There are only two ways to cook beef: with liquid and without. As the name implies, wet cooking involves adding moisture to the meat, like water, flavorful broth or steam. This method works well for larger cuts that benefit from the tenderizing effect of the liquid.

Dry cooking, as you may guess, forgoes the moisture for an arid heating environment. We generally recommend dry heat for all Snake River Farms American Wagyu steaks. Cooking without added water develops a unique flavor profile in meat, bread and other food items because of a scientific concept known as the Maillard Reaction.

HOT SCIENCE: THE MAILLARD REACTION

French chemist Louis Camille Maillard first described the rapid non-enzymatic browning of food at the 280° to 330° F mark in 1912 while researching protein reactions. That’s why his name is attached to it now, despite the fact that humans have known intuitively for thousands of years that cooking meat dry over a fire smells and tastes better than, well, anything else.

At its most basic, the Maillard reaction is a complex series of chemical reactions between proteins and sugars that occur when they are heated. Those chemical interactions transform the proteins and sugars to create new flavors, aromas and colors. Toasty brown bread crusts, charred burgers, malty beer and robust roasted coffee are all examples of delightfully delicious Maillard reactions.

MEAT METHODOLOGY 102: TECHNIQUE IS EVERYTHING

Here’s a handful of dry and wet cooking methods to fill out your culinary toolbox.

Dry Methods

  • Grilling - America’s favorite summer pastime is best for smaller cuts, like an American Wagyu filet mignon or ribeye filet. Rich flavor arises from the reaction of fat on the coals, and this high heat environment creates a good sear. The Direct Grill Method is often combined with a final cook in the oven or in a heated environment.
  • Pan Searing - A cast iron or carbon steel skillet or griddle works best for this year-round cooking method, as these pans provide an optimal full-surface sear and allow the opportunity to baste the meat. Choose this method for smaller cuts, like a filet mignon or Manhattan NY filet. We recommend two similar but opposite pan sear variations:
    • The Steakhouse Method - Watch Hugh Acheson demonstrate how easy this traditional restaurant method can be with a quick pan sear followed by a gentle basting.
    • The Reverse Sear Method - Larger cuts, like the Tomahawk steak, benefit from a slower rise to preferred internal temp, followed by a pan sear to elevate the rich flavors.
  • Oven Roasting - To fully brown and perfectly cook larger cuts like American Wagyu Prime Rib roasts, the dry heat of an oven is essential. This is a tender, highly marbled cut so the idea is to give it plenty of time to reach optimal temperature for both the Maillard reaction and your preferred level of doneness.
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Wet Methods

  • Braising - This method begins with a brief pan sear. Then the beef is placed in a pan with an inch or so of liquid, like stock or wine. As the meat continues to cook in the oven, the moist environment tenderizes connective tissue and adds flavor.
  • Stewing - Braising’s cousin involves fully or almost fully immersing the meat in liquid, then enclosing it with a lid and cooking it slowly over moderate heat. This is a great method for leaner cuts that need a lot of tenderizing.