Like it or not, fine steakhouses like Ruth’s Chris, Flemings, Morton’s, Smith and Wollensky all serve great steaks. Granted, they will cost you upwards of $50, but they are indeed great. Once you’ve tasted the “real” thing, any other steak just doesn’t seem to cut it. But you can get really close (and at a fraction of the cost) with just a few tricks. Before you know it, you’ll too be a grillmaster.
First, you have to buy good meat. The better the cut the better the final product. But a good cut of steak can easily be ruined with poor preparation. In my experience, preparation beats meat quality. Ideally though, you have both. Costco and Sam’s Club have surprisingly good beef. Personally I like “T-bone” or “Rib-eye” cuts, as they still have a bone that adds to the flavor and juiciness. When you are selecting which package to buy, always get the meat that has the most fat, also known as marbling. This marbling (sounds better than fat) is one of the Prime reasons why some meat is graded higher than others. Ideally, it should look like this.
This marbling keeps the meat juicy and is responsible for the tenderness and flavor. Generally steaks that look like this are graded USDA Choice or Prime (the best). I recently saw steaks that looked just like this at a local grocery store for $16.99/lb. Not a big savings over going down to Flemings. Buy the steaks that look as close to this as you can find, and plan on spending no less than $5 to $7 per pound.
Cooking steaks doesn’t require alot of planning, but if you can do these simple steps the results will be magical. Read through these before you actually cook, as you might want to choreograph this first.
1. Set a firm dinner time when everything else will be ready. You need to know this time with no less accuracy than plus or minus 2 or 3 minutes. Seriously. Everything else you might be cooking or preparing (or your spouse is preparing) needs to be arranged so that it is all ready to go and on the table at the right time. People should be sitting at the table when you are bringing the steaks in. There is no flexibility here, and it is so important that it is listed first. Got it?
2. About 2 hours before you cook the steaks, get them out of the fridge and leave them on the counter. They need to warm up to room temperature. Don’t worry, you aren’t going to catch a disease.
3. About 1 hour before, open the packages, remove the steaks, and put them on a plate covered with paper towels. Use the towels to pat dry and soak up all the moisture. You want the surface to be dry and possible. Once dry, place the steaks on a large baking sheet or plate.
4. Lightly coat both sides of the steak with melted butter or olive oil. Also, use this time to melt another half a stick of butter. You’ll be using this in the last step. Then, generously season both sides with salt (preferably a sea salt) and pepper (preferably freshly ground). If you purchased high quality meat, then this is all the seasoning you will need to do as the beef flavor will do the rest. The less you spent the more you need to season. You can lightly add onion powder/salt and garlic powder/salt along with any “steak seasoning” or “BBQ rub”. You are essentially ensuring that any bad beef flavor is masked. Remember this step next time you go out to buy steaks.
5. Now you need to really preheat your grill. You want it to be as hot as it can get. This generally means lighting it up to 30 minutes before you cook. My Weber (best brand) will reach over 700° in about 20 minutes. Several times as it is heating up, use a wire brush to scrape off last year’s grilling disaster.
6. Reconfirm the start time of dinner. You will need less than 10 minutes to complete your magic. If you now learn that dinner is 20 minutes later than planned, then just be patient and wait. Do not turn down the grill, or start cooking. If possible, use this time to preheat a serving plate. Use your oven or the top of the grill to heat a large plate, platter, or cookie sheet so that it is hot to the touch. Serving sizzling steaks on a hot platter does wonders for the visual appeal of the steaks. Keep your melted butter and a brush close by, their time is drawing near.
7. Once you are 10 minutes from dinner time, open the lid and put the steaks on the grill. Once they are down, don’t touch them or move them. You want those neat grill/seared lines on your steaks. Close the lid and wait for 3 to 5 minutes. Time it on your watch, there is no guesswork. Here is the deal with the time range. If you bought 1″ thick beauties then you need to push for 5 minutes, but if you bought 1/2″ thick flank steak you need to move to the other end of the range.
8. Open the lid and flip the steak. Don’t use a fork, use a spatula type. The cooked side should be beautiful, with distinct grill marks and be deep brown in color. If by chance the steaks don’t look like this it is very possible that your grill is ready for the landfill. If the cooked side doesn’t look “done” then leave it till it does. This should be the exception, as most grills can get really hot in 30 minutes.
9. Go inside and give everyone a 3 minute warning.
10. Now here is the tricky time. Rare steaks will need to come off relatively quickly. Well-done steaks need to go as long as 3 to 5 minutes. This part of the cooking is more art than science. You can use a meat thermometer (which I love for virtually everything else), but my experience has been that you can “eye it” more accurately than trying to precisely hit with a thermometer the exact middle of a 1″ steak that is cooking over a 700° grill. The vast majority of people want their steak to have a hot pink center, so that the juices run brownish/pink (as opposed to a cool red center with red juices). This means that if you were to check a steak – which I occasionally do- with a knife while on the grill you’ll see that the center is still slightly pink. If you have a guest that likes “Rare”, then you can really take it off the grill about 1 minute after the flip. ”Well-done” means they don’t really care about taste, so I take all the other steaks off, get them inside and then come back for it.
11. Once you are done – and believe me the last 4 steps only take ten minutes- get them off the grill, keeping the great looking first cooked side up, and onto your hot plate. Pour and brush the melted butter over both sides of the steak. (If this step concerns you then you should be eating salad, not steak.) The butter is what makes the meat taste “buttery” (duh), and is what most of the real steak places float their meat on for serving. Trust me and do it. I like to do this step outside by the grill so as not to have a butter discussion with the guests as the meat cools. Beware, don’t do this step while the meat is still on the grill our you might end up in the burn unit and the fire department will visit your home.
12. Bring inside and serve to the guests who are seated and ready to eat.
13. Enjoy; and welcome to the grillmaster’s club.