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The Effect of Flipping on a Crisp Burger and Steak Crust

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2011

Conventional wisdom dictates that hamburgers or steaks should be flipped just once halfway through the cooking period. Some experts, however, suggest that multiple turns yield a better crust.

To test this notion, we pan-seared two batches of steaks and burgers, flipping one batch of each only once during cooking and the other batch every minute. In both cases, the repeatedly flipped sample boasted a crispier crust and more evenly cooked meat than its single-flipped counterpart. Recurrent turns mean that the developing crust alternates between direct contact with the pan and exposure to air, maximizing evaporation and allowing a drier, crispier coating to form. And because the meat is heated from both sides at the same time—residual heat continues cooking on the top surface—it also cooks more evenly, resulting in a narrower “gray band” of overdone meat on the exterior. 

As fond as we are of this method, we don’t recommend it for hamburgers, since repeated manipulation causes the patties to crumble in the pan by the time they are fully cooked. But if your primary goal for steaks is the ultimate golden brown, crisp crust, then start flipping.