What better time than now could there be to review the fundamental rules of grilling beefsteaks? I’m sure I cannot imagine.
Like most types of cooking, your belief of how a steak should look and taste determines how you grill and how easy it will be. If you like your steaks black, dried out and crisp, then grilling is pretty easy. All you need to do is light a fire, slather on some barbecue sauce, toss the meat on the fire and let oxidation take care of the rest . But if you like nice grill marks and an evenly browned exterior juxtaposed against a moist interior -all of it tasting like beef- it’s a bit trickier.
Let’s assume that you are like me and prefer grilled meat that does not taste like it’s been cooked behind a PW 4000 turbine (or worse, steamed and burned in flaccid wet heat) here are a few things to keep in mind as we enter the prime days of outdoor cookery for the year 2007.
There are three grades of beef that are commonly available in supermarkets: Select, Choice and Prime. Of the three, Select is the cheapest and most inferior. It has very little interior fat, its muscles are relatively tough, and it contains proportionally more tough connective tissue than the other grades. The only type of Select-grade meat that I use for grilling is tenderloin, otherwise I avoid the lot altogether. Prime is the most expensive, has the highest interior fat content and is generally the tenderest. But frankly, I never buy it because the best of it does not find its way into supermarkets and butcher shops. High end restaurants buy up most of the best prime beef before retailers ever get a chance to bid on it. So that leaves “Choice” as the beef of choice.
I don’t marinate good meat, but if you want to (god pity you), don’t use anything acidic in the marinade. Acidic ingredients like vinegar, lime and lemon juice will cause the surface of the meat to dry out and will make it harder to brown unless you add lots of (Ugh!) sugar. The best way to treat a good steak is to sprinkle it with coarse salt one to two hours prior to cooking to season it throughout and keep the inside moist. If there is fat on the outside-and there damn well should be- rub extra salt on to season it and to dry out the surface so it gets nice and crispy, and if there’s a bone, salt that too. When you are ready to grill, rub the meat with oil ( I usually use olive.) and give it a heavy grinding of fresh black pepper, remembering that some of the pepper will fall off during grilling.
Whether you are cooking on charcoal or gas, get the grill surface really hot. Make it scream like angry death. This is an important step if you want good grill marks and even browning. When the grill is up to temperature, brush off the surface with a wire brush to remove any debris that might cause the meat to stick or sully the exterior. Some people like to rub the grill with oil, but I’ve never found this to be necessary unless the grill is brand new.
Lay the steaks on the grill, wait a couple of minutes, then turn them 45-90⁰ to create a lattice pattern on the service side of the meat. Wait a few minutes, then turn down the heat (if you are on coal raise the grill) then flip the meat to finish it. Don’t turn it over again or you will mess up your grill marks.
It’s terribly important for the meat to finish cooking slowly. Simply put, if the heat is too high the muscle fibers will coagulate too fast, toughen and dry out. Cooked on moderate heat the opposite will happen, and it’ll be tender and juicy.