Friday, April 1, 2011

On Grilling Steaks

Just as I write a post about spring meals, it's turned cold and gray here in Nashville.  Instead of sulking, I'm continuing my spring weather sunshine dance.  I'm actually taking off to LA to catch some CA sunshine and warm weather - much needed.

The coming of spring will also mean it's time to dust off that grill and invite friends over for a day full of cold beers and grilled food.  This is probably my happiest time of the year.  Watching raw meat sizzle on a grate over hot coals . . . cold beer in hand . . . perhaps a few Bloodkin tunes in the air . . . and good friends.  Doesn't get much better.

Except for when my steak is not cooked properly!

Call me a food snob, but it is what it is.  A poorly cooked steak is as much of a sin as a beautiful woman who's neglected.  Take care of both of them boys.

Choosing the right cut:
I say it time and time again - your meal will only be as good as your ingredients.  If you buy a poor cut of meat, it will taste like a poor cut of meat.  Yes, there are marinades or techniques which can enhance flavor or texture, but those should only be used on quality cuts. 

I'm not a huge fan of marinades for your most 'popular' cuts of steak: filet, rib-eye, shell/strip, porterhouse, etc.  These cuts should be cooked with minimal ingredients - salt, pepper, butter.  I save my marinades for cheaper cuts like skirt, sirloin, tri-tip, hanger, flat iron, etc. 

Find a good butcher and ask for their best quality cut for the type of steak you are wanting to cook.  Notice I said quality cut - not expensive cut.  You don't need to spend an arm and a leg to get a good piece of meat. 

The method:
It doesn't matter to me whether you utilize a grill or a grill pan.  Of course, the outdoor ambiance I described above is much preferred, but not all of us are so lucky.  If you don't have access to a grill, invest in a cast-iron grill pan.  Trust me - it will change your life.  Just make sure your kitchen is well ventilated.  Trust me on that too.

You should always pull your steaks out of the fridge an hour or so before cooking.  This will bring the steaks back to room temperature and ensure that your steaks cook evenly.  Because I cook my steaks rather quickly, I don't mind seasoning them in advance with salt and pepper.  The purist will tell you to salt your steak only after cooking, as salt will pull out the moisture.  It's up to you - personally, I don't detect a loss in moisture by seasoning my steaks just before hitting the fire.

With regards to marinades, acidity is the key factor to help tenderize some of those tougher cuts of meat described above.  I prefer a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to acidity (vinegar, wine, fruit juice, tomato, etc).  Adding in garlic, herbs, or other ingredients is up to your discretion.  Just don't be the dude who lists off 20 different ingredients to your signature steak.  You'll look like an asshole.  Yeah, you. 

Searing the steak over high heat creates flavor.  Whether it "locks in juices" is up for debate - especially for all of you Alton Brown fans out there.  Either way - I start out by searing the steak over direct heat to create nice grill marks.  Depending on the thickness  and cut, about 2 - 3 minutes will do for a steak that's 1 - 1 1/2 inches thick.  To get that restaurant quality look, you will want to turn the steak 45 degrees and cook for another 2 minutes.  Don't poke and prod.  Just let the steak do it's thing.  After creating that outstanding sear, you will want to flip the steak and move to indirect heat.  Cover the grill to finish cooking, another 4 - 5 minutes depending on the cut and your preference.  Note:  if using a grill pan, sear the steak over medium high heat on the stove top, and insert into an oven heated to 425°F to finish cooking. 

Just as the steaks have reached your desired preference, remove them from the heat and allow to rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes before serving.  This will allow the juices to redistribute.

Is it done?
Do not cut into the steak while it's cooking.  I know you've seen this technique before - it's for amateurs.  Instead, invest in a digital thermometer if you are new to the grilling game.  For the more experienced, you can use the tried and true 'touch' method as a reference.

Rare: Red, cool to warm center and the meat will be soft and spongy.  Final temperature reading should be 120°F.

Medium rare: Red, warm center and the meat will have a springy firmness.  Final temperature reading should be 125°F.

Medium: Hot, pink center and the meat will have a less springy firmness than medium rare.  Final temperature reading should be 135°F.

Medium well: Slight color, cooked throughout and the meat will feel firm.  Final temperature reading should be 145°F.

Well done: The meat is gray-brown throughout and very firm and unyielding.  Final temperature reading should be 160°F.

Happy Grilling!


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