Cooking a steak sounds like a simple process: 1) Take raw meat, 2) apply to heat, 3) cook until done. But anyone who’s picky about a particular steak doneness knows that grilling acts along a continuum, where different things happen to a piece of meat at different temperatures. If you want a perfectly cooked steak, it helps to know what’s going on beneath the crust; we’ve partnered with our friends at Popular Science to do just that.

Here’s what’s happening: At 140 degrees, the myoglobin that turns red meat red starts to brown. And as the temperature climbs, sugars and proteins in the meat break down into a whopping 3,000 to 4,000 compounds in a series of processes called the Maillard reaction. The higher the heat, the faster your deeply browned crust will form. The best way to get there? A charcoal-powered grill.

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