I get asked time and again, “What is the secret to your steak? It’s great!”
After blushing and dissembling, I generally make a smart‑alecky comment and change the subject, but a few months back, I really dug deep into the meat of the subject and wrote an extensive blog post at Fluffy Chix Cook about the 6 steps to a great steak experience. Since Father’s Day approaches, it seems useful to revisit the subject.
The number one rule of great steak is “Start with great meat.” What defines great meat? Is it grass‑fed, is it local, is it natural, is it grain finished? Yes. But, let your pocket‑book and monthly food budget answer that question. And even disregarding the 3 USDA meat grades: prime (prime‑aged), choice, and select, I maintain great meat (aka great steak) is available across all grades and in all budgets. You may have to chew a bit more for select than you would for prime aged, but you can still have a great tasting select‑grade steak.
Here are a few helpful rules for choosing a great steak
- Buy your meat from a store/shop that has a high turn‑over. This means fresh meat (let’s assume we’re not talking about prime-aged). For un‑aged meat, fresh is best. For aged meat, look for a vendor with proper storage techniques – usually a room or chamber specific solely to dry aged beef and usually within view of the clientele.
- Look for well-marbled cuts. “Marbling” is the striations of white fat in the interior of the meat. Look for a little hard fat around the edge, about ⅛ and ¼ inch. The exterior fat is more saturated and the internal marbled fat actually has a great mono‑unsaturated fat content, but it’s the internal fat that will really give the hit of flavor and tenderness to a cut of meat.
- Avoid gristle and gristle lines. No matter how long you cook it, gristle will never play well with steak. That means it will detract from your enjoyment. You mostly find gristle at the junction of muscle groups and where the meat connects to bone. A New York strip will generally have more gristle than rib eye or porterhouse. Tenderloin has the least gristle of all the premium steak cuts—but it’s also one of the leanest cuts and among the most expensive.
- Choose thicker steaks, they’re more forgiving on the grill. We love 1½ to 2 inch thick steaks.
- Smell the meat if possible. It should smell sweet and meaty and have a deep, rich color. If it smells sour, don’t buy it – walk away. Aged beef has a nutty, funky smell. It’s fantastic (and expensive), but it will never smell sour unless it’s going bad. And when good beef goes bad – well, don’t be that guy or gal, ok?
Here are cuts of beef perfect for using as steaks in order of my preference:
- Rib Eye
- Chuck Eye
- Flank Or Skirt
(there are others, but these are the top cuts). We tend to like the cuts with the most internal marbling (the fattier cuts).
You might ask, if you buy great meat to begin with (and, by the way, that’s not equated to price – I buy great rib eye on sale for $3.98 per pound), what more do you need? Well, salt is nice. And a really hot fire. Those two things will get you to great. But let’s put lipstick on that angus for a second, ok?
I’m going to share my time‑tested favorite steak spices and grilling technique. I might even give you a recipe for chef butter, just for lagniappe (a little something extra).
Great Steak Recipe
This is our house seasoning and grilling technique for great steak. We get rave reviews every time and people always want to know our secret.
Serving Size: ~6‑8 ounces cooked steak
Yield: 4 Servings
Preparation Time: 10 Minutes
Marinate: 30 Minutes to 24 Hours
Grilling Time: 6‑8 Minutes
Resting Time: 10 Minutes
Start to Finish: 26 Minutes
- 2 pounds rib eye
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
- 1 tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Preparation Before Grilling
- Wash and dry meat.
- Rub minced or pressed garlic on all surfaces of rib eye.
- Season generously with cracked black pepper (we use freshly ground) and sea salt.
- Sprinkle both sides with Worcestershire sauce and drizzle with olive oil.
- Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
- Leave the steaks in the ice box until ready to grill.
Propane or Gas Grill Method
7 minutes before cooking, clean and pre‑heat grill on ignite. You’ll be cooking on ignite! Close lid and heat until rippingly hot. Have tongs and a timer standing by the grill.
Place steaks on grill. Use tongs. DO NOT PIERCE THE MEAT! (Sorry for screaming). Repeat here, but do not turn the grill temperature down. You will cook on Ignite! Begin timing – 2 minutes. Close lid and cook for 1 minute. Open lid and cook for a second minute. Flip meat. Repeat your 2 minute cycle of lid down, lid up. Turn steaks 45° and cook for 1 minute lid down. Flip steak and rotate 45° to make cross hatches, close lid and cook for 1 minute. That’s 6 minutes total. Remove steaks from fire, and rest meat for 10 minutes before slicing. Slice thinly and serve.
6 Minutes on Ignite with steaks fresh from the ice box, about 1 to 1½ inches thick gets you “Pittsburgh”, which is charred/rare (my favorite – charred on the outside and rare in the middle).
8 Minutes on Ignite with steak fresh from the ice box, 1 to 1½ inches thick gets you “Pittsburgh/Med‑Rare”.
For anything beyond medium‑rare, I cannot in good conscience give advice. You’re on your own.
Charcoal Grill Method
Prepare a blazingly hot fire using chunk charcoal and a natural method of starting the fire. No lighter fluid, please! Build the fire on one side of the grill and spread the coals to form a vertical line or cone of heat on that one side. Follow the instructions for propane and gas grill method. You will need to be slightly more vigilant about fire flare‑ups when cooking with charcoal which means you may have to utilize the side without the fire built under it until flare‑ups quiet down – moving on and briefly, off the direct fire during the cooking process. To control flare‑ups (because there will be flare‑ups), simply move the meat. Pick it up with tongs and reposition it in a hot area, still over the coals, but where there is no flare. Flip when moving it if necessary. Brief or low flares aren’t a problem, but intense, high flames, will give a petroleum flavor to the meat.
Per Serving: 700 Calories; 59g Fat (76.5% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; .5g Dietary Fiber; 1.5g Net Carbohydrate.
Serve with a side salad and hearty appetite! Grill butter and horseradish sauce are delicious but unnecessary.
This is a very simple list of ingredients. You must use a timer – you should not try to wing making “great steak.” Great steak is all about timing.
You don’t have to own an expensive piece of equipment for great steaks, although you must have tongs. Tongs will keep you from piercing the meat, which is death to great steak. I’ve make completely awesome steak on a hibachi, an Old Smokey, a Weber, and many cheap to expensive propane and gas grills. I’ve even made incredible steak cooked directly on top of untreated, natural oak logs, cooked directly inside a fire! So it isn’t the equipment, or even the seasonings that makes great steak. It all begins with the meat.
How to Top a Great Steak?
Think about serving your steak with chef butter (also known as Maître d’ Hotel Butter or Compound Butter), delicious – or horseradish sauce – not that it needs anything other than a plate and a fork and knife!