Barbecuing/Grilling: The Secret to Great Steaks

Big Texan SteakhouseIt’s June and some guys are just now dusting off the grill. If you’re like me, grilling is a year-round art form. There is something primal about cooking your food with real fire, and something genius about waving a long-handled wire brush over the grill and proclaiming the dishes done!

Everybody knows that in Greek mythology, Prometheus was the guy who gave fire to mortals, and that was kind of a big deal. What I don’t understand is why there isn’t a statue set up in the Pantheon for the guy who took that fire and put it in a grill and threw some steaks on it. Well, I have one tip for grilling steaks that may be your Prometheus moment in grilling (if you’re not already doing it).

The Secret to Great Steak!

So, what is the secret to great steaks? It’s almost too simple…it’s Kosher salt. If you’re not using it, go down to your grocery store and get a box of Morton’s Kosher salt (or whatever brand you like). The Morton’s variety usually comes in a box as opposed to the cardboard can that their iodized table salt comes in. You’ve probably eaten Kosher salt many times before without even knowing it. Restaurants use it all the time, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, chicken, and yes…steaks.

You might be tempted to use sea salt or some other fanciness. Well, I’m sure they have their uses, but for now, just try the Kosher. Get fancy later if you must.

Steak Grilling 101

Most of this is second nature, even instinctive to most of you grill mongers out there, but just to level the playing field, here are the basics (hey, every guy deserves to be able to grill a decent steak!):

  1. Salt & pepper: basically, all you need to put on your steak is Kosher salt, sprinkle or rub in liberally, but don’t go crazy. Pour a bit into a little cup or bowl and pinch it out and sprinkle or rub on both sides. You can add black pepper too, if you want to.
  2. Temperature: Do not overcook that perfectly good piece of steak! Turn your grill on high, and 6 minutes on each side should be enough. Some purists would say that’s too long. You might go longer if you’ve got a really thick steak or if your grill isn’t very hot. Tip: if you want to sound fancy the next time you order your steak, say, “I’ll have that mid-rare.” That’s fancy talk for medium rare.
  3. Grade: USDA Choice is fine. You don’t have to have Prime graded beef to turn out awesome steak, so don’t feel defeated for using Choice.
  4. Cuts: everybody has their favorites, so here’s my list in order – porter house (really, just a t-bone with more of the filet), t-bone, ribeye, filet. The strip (sometimes NY, sometimes KC depending on where you are), is good too, but I rarely have one. I’m not much on sirloin, but it’ll do in a pinch.
  5. Marbling: marbling (a.k.a. fat shot through the steak and makes it look like marble) is good, but too much is too much. There’s nothing worse than a grisly piece of meat that you keep having to surreptitiously pull your napkin out and spit a chunk of inedible beef into.
  6. Steak sauce: most meat masters condemn steak sauces and their users are unwashed heathens defiling what is holy. I personally like sauce about 2/3 the way through my meal. My brother who is a chef (see below) tells the story of how he came to accept that people will come to his restaurant and pour steak sauce on their $60 steaks. You need to find your zen on this. If people want to use sauce on your steak, let them, and let it go.
  7. Side dishes: if you’ve got a big enough piece of steak and it’s cooked right, you don’t really need them. If there are going to be women at the meal, you may need to bend to tradition and have something there besides just steak. Here are some suggestions:
    1. They’ll probably appreciate a salad
    2. Corn on the cob is great when you grill it! Take a bit of olive oil, rub the shucked and de-silked ear of corn with olive oil and then apply some Kosher salt. Yes, you can use other kinds of salt, but you won’t be sorry for using Kosher. It really makes a difference. Place corn on the grill and keep turning until it’s turned to that “cooked corn” looking color. May have to try it a bit to see if it’s done. A little over cooked is okay…too much and it’s not good at all!
    3. Baking potatoes: slice some baking potatoes into halves, the long way, not through their bellies. Rub with a little olive oil, put a chip of butter, and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Make sure you get salt on the skin. Do all of this while it’s on tin foil. Wrap in said tin foil and throw on the grill. Keep stabbing them to see when they’re done. This works in the oven too (400 degrees).
    4. Saute some mushrooms.
    5. Then, there’s all the healthy stuff, asparagus, broccoli casseroles, green bean casseroles, etc. etc.

That should do it.

A Moment to Brag

Jonathan Bennett, Executive Chef - Red, The SteakhouseFor the record, everything I’ve learned about cooking (and it isn’t much), I’ve learned from my brother, Jonathan. Jonathan is a CIA (not the spooks) grad and is Executive Chef and a partner in Moxie the restaurant and Red the Steakhouse. Red was named one of the top 10 steakhouses in America in the March 2007 (I think it was March) issue of a certain men’s magazine . Should be the first result in this totally benign Google search ;-). Brother or no, I don’t have a copy of the magazine for “reading the articles” or otherwise.

It is awesome to have a brother who is a great chef. I can’t tell you how many times I call him with a question while standing in a grocery aisle. I’ll be sure to post any corrections to my advice if I can get him to read the post!

Happy grilling!

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