On this Labor Day weekend, grills are fired up around the country in celebration of summer’s last gasp. While burgers are the most popular food item to hit the grill, a perfectly done steak is worthy of a celebration all its own, but can be the hardest to achieve. How many of us have dealt with flavorless, dehydrated cow flesh just for lack of a good seasoning and cooking technique?
While I am not the grilling expert in the family (that distinction belongs to my beloved partner, Grillmaster D), I have been around the culinary caveman fire enough to know which techniques are successful for grilling steak and which ones are not.
The secret to getting that crusty steakhouse char is to make sure the surface of the steak is as dry as possible using a dehydrating agent (cornstarch) and cold temperatures, searing them at a very high heat and then finishing the cooking at a lower temperature (and it goes without saying that organic, grass-fed beef is far preferable than the supermarket stuff). Follow the tips below for perfect grilled steak, every time.
PERFECT GRILLED STEAK
1. Use Two Heat Zones
We are charcoal aficionados (Grillmaster D is from North Carolina and has only disdain for any pig or cow that is not cooked with “real heat”), so if you have a gas grill, you will have to improvise. Cooking the steaks over two levels of heat will ensure a crusty exterior and a tender, juicy interior.
Pile the charcoal on one side of the grill and light it (and please, please, please tell me you don’t use lighter fluid to get your coals going. A modest $15 investment in a chimney starter is worth its weight in gold). Put the grate in place and let the coals burn until they are super-hot and covered with ash. Do NOT spread them over the entire bottom of the grill when done—leave them in a pile on one side of the grill so that you have both a “hot zone” and a “cool zone.”
It is worth it to note that lump charcoal will burn much hotter than charcoal briquettes and you want this sucker HOT.
2. Prepare the Steaks
Make sure the steaks are well-trimmed (leaving a little bit of fat is recommended, but too much fat will cause flame flare-ups and might burn your steak) and dry them well. Mix equal parts of kosher salt and cornstarch and rub the mixture all over the steaks, coating the whole surface evenly. Then stick the steaks in the freezer for 30 minutes. Do not cover.
3. Sear the Steaks
Oil the grill grate (paper towels dipped in oil and gripped with long-handled tongs work great and keep you from burning yourself. Please do NOT aim an aerosol can of cooking spray directly at the flames #facepalm).
Put the cold, partially frozen steaks on the grate directly over the blazing hot coals of the hot zone and DO NOT MOVE THEM for about 2-3 minutes. Let them sear and form that beautiful crust. Flip them when the steaks can be released easily from the cooking grate with long-handled tongs (if they are resistant, it means they are not seared enough yet) and sear the second side.
4. Cook the Steaks
When the steaks are seared, move them to the cool zone of the grill and cook them until they have reached the desired degree of doneness. They will register 120 degrees for rare, 125 degrees for medium-rare, and 135 degrees for medium on an instant-read thermometer (and if you are cooking them past this stage, you should ignore this blog post and just go to your local all-you-can-eat buffet with the gray, overdone steak steaming in warming trays and be done with it).
5. Remove the Steaks and Let Them Rest
Remove the steaks from the grill and put them on a plate. Cover them loosely with a disposable aluminum foil pan and let them rest for five minutes (if you cut into the steaks right away, the juices will run out).
If you’d like, at this point you could put a scoop of a compound butter over the hot steaks, which will form its own delicious sauce (just whip some organic butter with chopped chives, thyme, sage and/or rosemary until blended). Serve.
Happy Labor Day!