For those that know me, most will agree that I'm a bit of a mess. Already divorced in my thirties, with a couple of kids, my work involves talking to dorks and nerds when I'm not dealing with a bunch of sleazy pols, and I can be a slob of epic proportions. But I do take pride in one aspect of my life, and that's grilling. So with deference to this master of the roast meats, I've decided to impart my not unsubstantial wisdom as to grilling a steak. Plus, I'm putting off all the difficult decisions I need to make for tonight's LeBron-fest. Moet or Clicquot? Beluga or Sevruga? Stilton or Cabrales? Blonde or Brunette? Ah well, I digress....
A properly grilled steak is one of life's great pleasures. Glorious when done right, it is often butchered by both the naive and the inattentive. Like a good risotto, it must be fussed and fretted over. This is not your standard post college bbq, where you throw the meat on a salvaged gas grill that came with the rent house, then trundle off to do a couple of beer bongs and play some grab ass while the meat cooks to the consistency of an Aggie's Redwings. I once attended a dinner on the fourth of July where I was greeted at the door, handed a microbrew, and proceeded to nibble on apps and make small talk for about 30 minutes, when the host excused him self to "check on the steak", which apparently had been put on the grill prior to my arrival. I developed a visual facial tick when he reappeared in the living room to declare the rib-eyes would need about 10 more minutes, then should be done. Luckily, the rooftop fireworks salvaged the evening, but dinner was an unmitigated disaster.
We're hoping to avoid this
About a month ago, I found myself sans kids and my girlfriend, so I had an evening of me time, which boils down to making a cocktail, grilling a steak, and playing Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 2 until my eyes burn out of their sockets. If I was Scip, I probably would reread Ulysses; Huck? Run some regressions. Trips? Bore a local Houston bartender with analysis of Jai Lucas. For me, a warm evening with a slab of meat and some fire is heaven. Which is similar to how HenryJames spends his weekends as well, but in a far less work safe way.
I use the Weber One Touch Gold 22.5 inch, which I generally consider to be the greatest cooking device known to man. The One Touch system basically makes ash disposal a snap, which the giant maple tree on the back corner of my lot loves.
The Charcoal vs. Gas debate is straight forward and simple: Gas is easy, and unless you have a fancy infrared burner, you can't properly char meat without overcooking unless you add sugar of some variety to your meat. Charcoal fires can be built surface of the sun hot, allowing proper charring of a steak, but they can be an absolute pain in the ass on a weeknight when you just want to grill a couple of chicken breasts or hot dogs, and don't want to bother with a fire.
While charcoal does impart a mild "woodgrill" taste to plain meats, if you want steak to taste like it was grilled over wood coals, you'll need to use woodchips of some variety. I prefer oak for steak.
The only other tools you need are a good long pair of tongs (not those chintzy kind from some stupid backyard bbq set you got at father's day a couple of year's ago, but real, heavy duty kitchen tongs), and a way to start your fire. I use a chimney starter, because it's cheaper than lighter fluid in the long run and faster. I personally never found lighter fluid to leave an after flavor as long as you properly burned it off and allowed the coals to ash over, I just got sick of running out of it at inopportune moments.
I find if you build your fire properly, the whole "hotspot" charcoal grill discussion is moot. Just don't be afraid to use enough fuel, and take some time moving a few pieces around with tongs, and the fire is actually far more consistent than you'll get on a cheap gas grill from Depot. You'll notice in the above photograph, that I've crowded all the coals from my last grilling session over to one side. When the chimney's has the coals good and roaring, dump the lit coals on top of the leftovers to build a two layer deep fire on ONLY ONE SIDE.
As far as fuel, I used Kingsford Hickory Briquets on this eve. In an ideal world, I prefer to build a base fire with briquets, then throw a layer of unburned hardwood lump charcoal on top to really get the fire thrumming, but I was out of lump, and it was decidely cocktail hour, so I had decisions to make. Regardless, you want a blazing, can barely stand near it fire. Many cookbooks talk about a hand count test (how long you can hold your hand over the fire). You've got the right temperature when you won't even risk putting your hand over the fire.
For this evening, I grilled a USDA Prime Strip Loin I froze a couple of weeks prior. One of the benefits of the recession is steakhouses are doing way less business, and Prime, once unobtainable from anywhere other than gourmet markets and mail order at absurd prices, can now be found at your local Costco and occasionally the neighborhood grocery market (which is where I got mine). I prefer a bone-in strip, but that's hard to get at the grocery store, which typically does not receive a side of beef, but prepackaged boneless strip loins.
I personally almost never do Ribeyes, as I find them too greasy and they will curl on the grill occasionally as the sinew and fat cook differently than the meat, but almost all my friends prefer ribeye to strip. Filet should be pan seared and roasted, as the high dry heat of the grill tends to brutalize the lean tenderloin.
I also highly recommend some of the less known, "butcher cuts", such as hanger steak or flatiron. Both are delicious on the grill, especially hanger, which looks a bit like a pork tenderloin and will cook similarily (sear and roast). Flatiron cooks much more like skirt or flank, in that the searing process will also effectively cook the meat since the cut is thin and flat.
Any traditional steak cut (Ribeye, Strip, Porterhouse/T-bone) should be at least 1.5 inches thick. Anything less tends to cook too rapidly and requires a very deft hand to prevent overcooking. If you do a Porterhouse, remember that you are effectively cooking two different cuts of steak, virtually guaranteeing a rare strip side will have a medium tenderloin side, unless you are clever about moving the steak around the grill to keep the filet away from heat after the initial sear.
How you prep the meat prior to putting it on the grill engenders debates as ardent as whether A&M should get pounded in the PAC-16 or the SEC. I generally do not marinate traditional steak cuts, as I prefer a dry rub, but if you do go with a marinade you should add a hint of sugar (honey, molasses, brown suger, etc.) to the marinade, as the sugar will caramelize on the grill and provide some crusty goodness to offset the wet that prevents charring. You must be hyper vigilant when using a marinade or rub with sugar (and paprika) as both will burn very, very quickly over a hot fire, long before the meat has even begun to approach rare.
This evening, I patted the steak with paper towels and applied a generous coating of kosher salt and black pepper just prior to putting the meat on the grill. I don't like to salt more than a minute or two before grilling, as it tends to draw moisture out of the meat. There are various theories, some of which I've tried and had good success, to heavily salting the meat well in advance of putting the steak on the grill in order to draw out moisture, then draw the salty moisture back in via osmosis to effectively tenderize the steak. But that requires forethought I was unwilling to engage in prior to making a gin and tonic.
Moisten a paper towel with a neutral vegetable oil and wipe the grill down just prior to dropping the meat on. You SHOULD have good grill maintenance technique and clean your grill after each use while still hot, but if not, use a wire brush to clean it off, then oil it up. The homoerotic metaphors in this post are overwhelming at this point.
Since I only used salt and pepper, I don't have to worry as much about the meat burning, but over a well built fire, even a simple steak such as this will torch if left unwatched. Don't go back into the kitchen to prep the vegetables. Don't go refill your wine. Don't go take a piss. Stand there and remain vigilant over your grill. I've destroyed more 16.99 a pound meat than I care to admit by going into the kitchen to check the potato's.
Let it sear for two minutes. If you want, you can give it a half twist after the first minute to try and get cross hatching. After two full minutes (assuming a nice crust has developed), flip it over.
The fire is crowded to one side, because we want to sear the steak hard, then move it off the fire, throw on some chips, and lid the grill to let the steak roast to the desired degree of doneness. An oft overlooked part of using the Weber kettle grill, and really any grill with the possibility of flame ups, is the lid is meant to be used in almost every grilling occasion. Webers will burn like Sizzlechest's urine if left unlidded as the fat begins to cook off. So while it may not fit the media ideal of a man standing over a smokey grill, poking and prodding the meat, tuck your dick between your legs and cover the grill. Just remember, once you cover the grill, it just went from behaving like a skillet to a very, very hot oven. If during the searing process, the grill flames, cover it. It's way more effective than using a spray bottle or pouring beer on the coals, which will just put them out.
Let the steak roast about 6-7 (for a steak this thickness, about 1.5 inches) minutes off the fire, but under the lid before checking the internal temp or doing the touch test. Always err on the side of undercooking, because you can put it back on for a minute or two if it's still gelatinous inside. Over the years, as I've fought my cigarette habit, I've learned one lazily smoked Camel Light is about the perfect roasting time. But hopefully you've not picked that up.
DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, CUT YOUR MEAT. You MUST let it rest for at least 10 minutes after coming off the grill, or the plate will look like a trench at the Battle of the Somme. This is when you cook the veggies.
If I'm doing a big steak night at my buddy Don's house, we'll drink until 2-3 in the morning and play poker or video games, and one should ingest a fair amount of starchy carbs to soak up the booze. But as this was a decidedly quieter evening, I elected to go with early summer corn and asparagus. I season with the olive oil and salt and pepper, and grill them directly over the coals. Shuck or pull back the corn husk and grill the corn itself, as it will sweeten and intensify in flavor. If you soak the ears and put them on the grill with husks still up, you're just steaming it. If you wrap it in foil, you're steaming it. Only grilling the kernals themselves will give that smokey-sweet flavor. The corn will take longer than the asparagus, which was thin, so start it first.
Our work here is now done. I put a pat of herb butter I made earlier in the evening from the garden on the steak as it was resting, which just adds to the overall richness of the meal.
I've been enjoying a lot of good inexpensive Malbec this summer, and that's what I had with the meal. Like California Merlot, Australian Shiraz, and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Argentinian Malbec is about to get overdone and insipid, but right now there are a ton of good cheap ones to be found. If beer is your deal, I recommend a good, hoppy ale.
Well, there you have it. Medium Rare. Hopefully this post will inspire my fellow barkers to do some grilling and chilling this weekend.
Sailor, um, where do I drop off the reimbursement form?