You might have noticed the brown color that appears on grilled steaks, chicken or fish when you cook them. Chances are you have seen this without even knowing about all the chemistry behind it.
Because what you might not know is that it comes from a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction, named after the chemist Louis-Camille Maillard who investigated it in the 1910s.
Most popularly known as the “browning reaction”, the Maillard reaction is actually the result of the proteins combined with the reducing sugars present in the meat. It is the combination between both of these ingredients that gives the meat its brown color when grilling. The color we can observe by cooking meat when the Maillard reaction occurs is actually a sign of a perfectly grilled meat. Indeed, until this reaction happens, meat has less flavor. Obviously, it is not the only thing you have to check, but it is a good start.
Temperature is crucial here―around 300°F to 500°F. When your meat is cooked, the surface reaches a much higher temperature than the inside, and that is essentially what creates the Maillard reaction. The other primary reason for this reaction to occur is the lower water content in the meat; it is easier to achieve it with a dry surface. And through this specific process, the meat gets its strongest flavors and aromas.
Now you are ready to cook the perfect steak, or at least you will no longer wonder where that brown color and that wonderful taste and aromas are coming from!