Summer is almost ready to take its bow, allowing for autumn to take the stage. And while fall is my favorite time of the year, I can’t quite let go of summer just yet.
Summer isn’t just a feeling; it’s a state of being. Summer is standing in the warm rays of sun that filter through the glass windows while I wait for my coffee to brew. Summer is tossing a sundress over my head and being dressed within seconds. Summer is grilling on the back deck with friends while you wait for the sun to sink below the tree line.
Grilling steak is much simpler than people think. Yes, it’s hard to gauge temperature, and no, there is no way to tell how cooked it is until you cut into it, but that is all part of the mystery. You have to throw away your fears and forget about how good or bad that it may come out. This isn’t just a meal: this is the final curtain call for summer.
The first thing to look for when cooking steak is the right cut of steak. Steak comes from cows, and cows are big, with each cut of meat serving a different purpose. The shank is a tough piece of meat, and is usually sold with the bones in and is excellent for stews; the tenderloin is the most versatile cut. You can slice it into medallions for fillet minion, or you could cut closer to the front and have a nice, thick T-bone and reenact the scene from Law Abiding Citizen.
For grilling, a good cut would be rib-eye. This comes from the rib area, and is most often served without the bone. If you had it served bone-in, then it would get the nickname “cowboy rib-eye”. Make sure that your rib-eye is about 1” thick, with lots of good marbling. Marbling refers to all the little veins of fat running through the meat. As the steak is cooked, the fat renders and provides flavor and moisture.
If you are cooking on a gas grill, turn the burners up to high, making sure that the racks are scraped clean of debris that may catch fire or alter the flavor of your steaks. If you are using a charcoal grill, make a small pile of about one to two quarts of hard lump charcoal, or a pile of around 100 charcoal briquettes. Yes, there is a difference, but that’s for another post! 😉
About 20 to 30 minutes before you start grilling, take your steaks out of the fridge to get room temperature. Make sure that they are dry, and pat them with a paper towel if they seem damp. Liberally season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides of the meat, and brush some oil or butter on your grill.
Once you lay your steak down, DON’T TOUCH IT! Let it sit on the grill for at least 90 seconds so that grill marks appear and the seasoning forms a crust. After another 15 to 20 seconds, rotate the steak 90 degrees so that you will get that legendary crisscross grill mark that is only attainable at restaurants and Food Network. Not anymore, Grill Master!
Once you do this to both sides of your steak, move it to the cool side if it needs further cooking. Any more time over the direct heat could cause overcharring and blackening, which you don’t always want. The internal temp for medium-rare is around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, with medium-well landing at 150° or higher.
A good way to tell how far your meat is cooked is to firmly poke it. And I don’t mean jabbing at it with your tongs—which better be spring loaded stainless steel—I mean pressing your finger into the meat to gauge its firmness. The best way to learn is to check the temp of the meat once it’s to your liking, then press your finger into it once it’s cool.
The firmness of meat will correspond to the fleshy part of your hand right below your thumb. For raw meat, the easy give of when your hand is flat will give the best feel. For rare, touch your index finger to your thumb and press on the round part of where your thumb meets your palm. For each next finger, that is a further cooking step. The more cooked your meat is, the firmer to the touch it will feel.
After taking the meat off the grill and putting it on a platter, place a pat of butter onto each steak that you cooked, no more than a tablespoon each. Then, wrap the whole platter in aluminum foil and let stand to rest. Resting allows the juices to ‘settle’ within the meat, so that when you cut into it, the juices don’t spill out onto the plate; they stay inside and keep your steak nice and moist.
This is a pretty fool-proof way to grill meat, so now you can eat like a king (or queen!) any night of the year. Now, gather all your friends around, pour the wine and open the beers, because summer just got an encore.