Written By Chef Peter Martin
In Part I of this article I discussed how to choose the perfect steak for grilling, now it is time to discuss what to do once you are home and ready to cook. From preparation to plating, I will cover all you need to know to Grill the Perfect Steak.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook you need to light your charcoal. Sure you could use a gas grill and skip this step, but gas doesn’t provide as much flavor as charcoal, in my opinion. That is why I own 2 grills. A gas grill for convenience when I want to quickly grill up some burgers or cheap steaks and a charcoal grill for when I want to barbeque or grill up things the proper way. Immediately after lighting the charcoal pull your steaks out of the refrigerator. You want to let your steaks come to room temperature for even grilling. This is also the time to do an initial seasoning. Liberally season each side of your steak with salt and black pepper. This will give the seasonings time to dissipate across the surface of the steak resulting in a better seasoned piece of meat. After this is done, place 1 clove of garlic in a blender, add ¼ cup vegetable oil and the leaves from a ¼ bunch of parsley and blend.
After 20 minutes the charcoal should have turned ash white indicating that they are ready. Spread the coals out and place the grill grate over them, allowing the grate to heat up for 10 minutes. It is important that the grate be very hot to avoid sticking and help develop the desired crust on the outside of the steak. Brush the steaks with the garlic oil you just made and then season with salt and pepper again. Before placing the steaks on the grill, clean the grate with a wire brush and then wipe down with a rag lightly dampened with vegetable oil.
Now you are ready to grill! Allow any excess oil to drip off of the steaks and place on the grill directly over the coals and then let them sit. Don’t touch them. A common problem that many home cooks have is they want to “play” with their food. They want to turn it, check it, flip it the minute it goes on the grill. Let the steak sit for 3-4 minutes. It needs that time for the sugars to start to caramelize producing a flavorful crust. After 3-4 minutes turn the steak using tongs. To achieve nice diamond marks like they do in restaurants come at the steak, with your tongs, at 4 o’clock and rotate the steak clockwise until your tongs are at 7 o’clock. And remember always use tongs, never a meat fork which will penetrate the meat releasing juices. After another 3-4 minutes flip the steak over and repeat. Keep a spray bottle, filled with water, with you at all times. Use it to douse all flame ups. Flames licking at your steaks will deposit carbon on them giving your steaks a bitter, off flavor.
After about 7 minutes on each side a 1 – 1 ¼ inch steak should be about medium rare. To cook the steak further move the steak to a cooler part of the grill but still over direct heat and continue to flip the steak every 3-4 minutes until you reach the desired doneness. This brings up the question of doneness and temperatures. The only really accurate way to tell the temperature of a steak is to stick a thermometer into it, but that releases juices so I prefer to test by feel. This takes a little practice and steaks from different cuts feel different, but here is a general guideline to how steaks should feel. Using the large fleshy part of your hand, at the base of your thumb, press on it when you bring your thumb and forefinger together. That’s rare. When you bring your thumb and middle finger together, medium and when you bring your thumb and pinky together, well. Due to the cuts of meat that steaks are taken from medium rare to medium is the perfect temperature to serve steaks at, with their relatively low fat content steaks cooked beyond medium start to get tough and dry.
The final and one of the most important, steps is to allow the steaks to rest. Remove the steaks from the grill and allow to sit for 5 minutes. This allows the juices to disperse throughout the steak again. During grilling, as the meat cooked, the muscle fibers tightened forcing many of the juices in towards the center. Resting allows the muscles to relax again allowing the juices to redistribute. Without this time to rest, when you cut into the steak all the juices would flow out and onto your plate instead of staying where they belong, in your steak.
That’s it. That’s all there is to cooking the perfect steak. Start with the right cut of meat, season it generously, grill it to the proper temperature, and let it rest before you serve it. Follow these simple rules and you can cook steaks as tasty as some of the best steakhouses. As for what to serve with your steak, to me a steak simply served with a baked potato and a salad is perfection in itself, but many people like to top their steaks so I offer these 2 recipes. One is a crust for your steak, the other, a take on the traditional topping of sautéed mushrooms and onions.
Blue Cheese Crust (enough for 6-8 steaks)
Spicy Mushroom Sauté (serves 4)