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From my grill to yours — the perfect steak

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By Brad Bowman

Cooking engages our most primal instincts.

The elaborate dance of flame and smoke with glowing coals incites memories of family cookouts, holidays and seasonal nostalgia.

In my 15 years of working as a professional chef, writing too many menus and standing on my feet for long hours, I never lost the joy from creating and cooking.

Summer and grilling will never be separated and I always get asked how to grill the best steak—so here it is. What I am going to share will dispel many myths surrounding grilling. I dissuade you from using the techniques I sometimes combatively drilled into my line cooks over 15 years of Friday night rushes in a 110-degree kitchen. Trust me, this will give you exactly the same steak you have enjoyed at your favorite restaurant, but you will get there in the comfort of your own backyard with less than half of the price. Take your savings and spend it on a nice wine or dessert to accompany your culinary creation.

Selection

Your expertise at the grill can only go so far. You must start with the right cut of meat.

Cheap cuts of meat perform nicely when it comes to preparing them in a pressure cooker, braising or sous-vide (a fancy term for cooking ingredients in a sealed bag of temperature regulated water).

Look for nicely marbled cuts. Rib-eye will never let you down and is my favorite. You want marbled fat throughout the cut of meat. More small threads of fat equals more flavor when you cook it down. I don’t chastise anyone for wanting a strip steak instead. They can be tender as well, but don’t usually have the marbling a rib-eye possesses. When you go to the grocery store you will most likely find choice or select beef grades. Unless you find a butcher who holds on to the prime grade of beef, you will only find choice and select grades. These grades typically have to do with marbling and age. Always go choice.

Myths

Please share this section. Some will refute them, but they have no science to back up their claims. Grilling myths spread like viruses and old wives tales. I learned from a fifth-generation Austrian chef who was the alcoholic equivalent of Gordon Ramsey. He beat these practices into his line cooks’ heads and I invite you to do the same for those that spread such disinformation.

Room temperature meat

Preparation does not require you let the meat rest at room temperature. No it doesn’t help it cook more evenly. The core temperature of the meat will be the same whether you wait 10 minutes or an hour. The only thing that will change is the chance for bacteria growth. Pat down the steak and dry it so it doesn’t have any moisture on it. Season your steak with spices and salt to let the meat pores absorb the flavor. I do this sometimes one hour before grilling.

Searing the meat first to lock in the juices

That myth is completely false. If you want to have an evenly cooked piece of meat from end to center, you don’t sear it first. Searing should happen at the end of the grilling process, otherwise you will have cooked the ends of your cut, have a layer of cooked meat and the center will be the temperature you were aiming for.

Start the steak away from your coals. Just like smoking meat is done over low heat for extended periods, think of your steak the same way. It will give the entire cut time to cook to the temperature you desire. After it is close, place your steak over the heat for the brown, crispy sear you want.  I must add, too, that you can flip the meat as much as you desire. Temperature and slow cooking makes it even. Flipping it doesn’t harm anything unless you leave it longer on one side than the other.

Depending on the heat of your coals, flipping time can vary. In a restaurant, they flip a steak four times for those pretty grill marks everyone wants and expects. Don’t fall victim to that at home. Your grill isn’t as constant as a restaurant grill.

Judging temperature by feel

Feeling the meat for temperature is absolutely a myth for the home cook that should be denounced immediately. If someone spouts that in your presence grab a spatula and threaten them.

In a restaurant, a cook or chef works with typically the same cuts of meat day in and day out. They will develop a sense of ‘feeling’ by resistance of what temperature that meat is.

In the grocery store, you get an endless variety of cuts that would make it impossible to guess their temperature. Despite the most faithful of crystal balls, use a thermometer. Yes a thermometer. You can buy a cheap bio-thermometer that will save you looking at tea leaves, crystal balls or the famed finger touch to know when your choice steak is ready.

Poking it in one spot with a thermometer doesn’t release all of the juices like a balloon. The steak will still be juicy unless you cook your steak well done, which should only be reserved for hamburger not steak.

Medium rare is 130 degrees, 140 degrees for medium and 150 degrees for medium well. The poke or cut and peek method is not accurate because is doesn’t account for the entire cut and should be used as a last resort. 

Finishing

If you have done everything correctly and followed my advice, I congratulate you. The finishing of a steak is just as important as the beginning. Just as heat makes things expand, so does the tissue inside a steak. If you take it off the grill and immediately serve it all those precious juices will leak on to the plate in the first cut. Let the meat rest. This goes for lamb, goat, pork or beef.

If you cooked your steak medium rare to 130 degrees let it rest a third of the time it took to cook it. With a thermometer, let it rest till it is 127 degrees. You give the tissue time to stop expanding and lock in its juices. Wait and finish it properly and you and your guests won’t be disappointed.