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Before you ruin another perfectly good porterhouse by charring it à la Fred Flintstone, take our refresher course on the basics of buying and grilling steak. Let’s be honest. Most civilians can’t make a steak come out exactly the way a high-end steakhouse does, because most civilians probably don’t own an infrared broiler packing 20,000 BTUs of heat. So, before you fire up, take our tips from the steak experts. Armed with the right equipment and the basics of grilling technique, you need never embarrass yourself by producing another overcooked, rubbery rib-eye.
Is it worthwhile for the average backyard griller to spend big bucks (say, $70 a pound) on fancy USDA Prime steak? Short answer: No, unless you really know what you’re doing. And what is USDA Prime beef, anyhow? Basically, it’s the best of breed: the tenderest, most flavorful beef you can buy. It’s also the fattiest beef, being chock-full of marbling — those little flecks of visceral fat that create flavor. In fact, Richard Chamberlain, executive chef and owner of Chamberlain’s Steak and Chop House in Addison, Texas, and author of “The Healthy Beef Cookbook” (John Wiley & Sons, $21.95), says some consumers are put off by an untrimmed USDA Prime rib-eye, with its pronounced marbling and large interior kernel of fat left intact. “They think, ‘Whoa, that’s way too much fat,’” he says. Only 2 percent of the American beef supply is graded prime by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA Prime beef has about 15 percent more visceral fat than the more widely
EMILY RASINSKI/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/MCT
USDA Choice beef is leaner than USDA Prime.
available USDA Choice. (Be aware that filets, which are tenderer by definition, are always cut from choice rather than prime beef.) Though genuine USDA Prime is scarce and costly, “High-end choice beef is nearly as good” as prime, says chef Klaus Fritsch, co-founder of Morton’s, the Steakhouse, in his new “Morton’s Steak Bible” (Clarkson Potter, $30). “So don’t be disappointed if you can’t get prime.” Most of the steak at your local supermarket is on the lean side,
which makes beef healthier to eat. The better cuts will be labeled USDA Choice. A supermarket shopper generally splurges on a quality Black Angus Certified USDA Choice steak, a loin or rib cut with an attractive amount of marbling. USDA Select is a less-expensive, middling grade of meat that’s OK for many everyday, budget family meals. But for home-grilling purposes, a cheaper steak won’t be nearly as tasty or as tender as USDA Choice. You definitely wouldn’t serve it to anyone you want to impress. Cookbook author and USA Weekend food columnist Pam Anderson prefers buying steaks that are 11/4 to 11/2 inches thick. Such steaks can easily weigh a pound or more and thus can be split between two people, unless you have very hearty eaters. If a trusted butcher cuts your steaks, chef Fritsch advises: “Ask for center cuts. These tend to be the tenderest and are less apt to have any tough veins.”
R O N B O R R E S E N / B R A D E N TO N HERALD/MCT
EVANS CAGLAGE/THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS/MCT
Searing a steak in a preheated cast-iron skillet before cooking in an oven is an alternative method to preparing steak.
Cooking steak needn’t involve a grill at all. For this oldfashioned “cowboy steak” method, you need only a burner, an oven, a heavy-bottomed, castiron skillet, a little olive oil and seasonings, and a lot of preheating. Steaks should be at least 1 inch thick. It’s ideal if you’re cooking for a crowd. The steaks are seared in a skillet, then finished in the oven. “The cooking surface should be piping hot,” says food writer Pam Anderson. Put your skillet on the burner and turn it on high until fully preheated, 10 to 15 minutes. A gas burner is preferable to electric. Unless you’re cooking outdoors, make sure your vent-hood is going fullblast. DIRECTIONS: 1. Preheat your oven to 325 F. Rub steak with olive oil; coat with
a salt-and-pepper seasoning mix. Anderson adds a small amount of sugar to her mixture to speed up browning. 2. Sear in hot skillet for 2 minutes per side until you have “an impressive crust.” 3. Rest seared steaks on wire rack over shallow baking pan. 4. Baste seared steak with a garlic-infused, extra-virgin olive oil. Place baking pan with rack of steaks in oven. 5. Finish steaks in 325 F oven for up to 25-30 minutes “to reach a rosy pink medium.” Steaks are done “when an instant-read thermometer, plunged deep into the steak from the side, registers 140 degrees, but it will not hurt steaks, especially filets, to cook to an even higher internal temperature,” Anderson says. “If they’re ready, but you’re not, simply turn off the oven and crack the door. That’ll buy you at least another 10 minutes.”
Let raw steak come to room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. If the kitchen’s hot or humid, make it no more than a half-hour. Season with a mixture of kosher or sea salt and coarse, fresh-ground pepper. Press gently into the meat’s surface on both sides and around the edges.
indirect heat. Move the meat over on the grill so the flame is not under the meat, but next to it. Keep the lid down for an oven effect with an air temp of around 300400 degrees F. Steak firms up quickly as it cooks. An experienced chef can tell how done a steak is just by pressing it with a fingertip.
Turn up those flames to 500 degrees or more, preheat the grill until it’s smokin’ hot, and sear that sucker to form a nice crust. Ideally, you’ll achieve caramelization: an even, light-brown color sealing in the steak juices. Some steakhouses use infrared broilers, which can cook a thick steak to rare perfection in two minutes flat. Unfortunately, infrared broilers are very expensive options on a handful of outdoor grills and upscale kitchen ranges. Most home equipment simply can’t get hot enough to sear a steak the way a steakhouse can. Don’t worry about trying to get both sides evenly brown. “As long as one side is beautifully browned, the other side doesn’t matter so much,” chef Richard Chamberlain says. “You don’t want to overcook it in an attempt to brown both sides.”
WHAT NOT TO DO
Steaks shrink as they cook because they lose moisture. So avoid buying thin cuts, steaks under 1 inch thick; they overcook much too easily. Do not mess with the meat, chef Chamberlain says. Don’t move it around on the grill. Don’t turn it over more than absolutely necessary. And no grilling forks ... ever! Always use a long-handled spatula, or better yet, a pair of tongs. And wear a grilling mitt. Don’t let steak stay on the grill to reach the requested doneness, or it will overcook. Instead, take it off the heat just before it gets to the desired stage, and let it “rest” on a plate for 3 to 5 minutes. Meat continues cooking internally after you take it off the grill. A steak removed from the grill at the rare stage will be medium-rare by the time it’s served. A short rest allows the interior’s remaining blood and juices to flow from the center back toward the surfaces of the steak. Tip: The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recommends turning steaks on the grill with a sturdy pair of tongs. Don’t pierce or press on the steak, or you’ll lose juices.
SPICY PEPPERCORN STEAK SAUCE
Here is chef Richard Chamberlain’s recipe for spicy peppercorn steak sauce from his book “The Healthy Beef Cookbook”:
INGREDIENTS: 3. Reduce heat; simmer gently 10 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. Sauce will thicken slightly. 4. Place sauce in blender or food processor. Cover. Pulse on and off for slightly chunky texture. For thinner sauce, additional broth may be added 1 tablespoon at a time; pulse on and off after each addition. 5. Return sauce to saucepan; keep warm until ready to use. Makes 2 servings. Five-pepper seasoning blend:
Follow searing by properly finishing the steak. The usual way is simply to turn down the heat so the meat will cook through without burning. Another way (preferred for thick or big cuts) is to cook with
■ 2 teaspoons vegetable oil ■ 1/4 cup finely chopped onion ■ 1 teaspoon minced garlic ■ 1 cup ketchup ■ 1/2 cup ready-to-serve beef broth ■ 1/3 cup raisins ■ 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar ■ 1 tablespoon molasses ■ 1 tablespoon soy sauce ■ 2 teaspoons five-pepper seasoning blend (recipe follows)
DIRECTIONS: 1. Heat oil in small saucepan over medium
heat until hot. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until tender, but not browned. 2. Stir in ketchup, broth, raisins, vinegar, molasses and soy sauce, plus 2 teaspoons peppercorn season mixture; bring to a boil.
Mix 3 tablespoons coarsely ground mixed peppercorns (black, white, green and pink) with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper. Use 2 teaspoons of the mixture for the steak sauce. Use the rest to season steaks. Note: The steak sauce may be prepared ahead and frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months. To reheat, heat from frozen in a saucepan over medium heat until hot, stirring occasionally.
V I C K I VA L E R I O / P H I L A D E L P H I A I N Q U I R E R / M C T
Make sure your grill is hot before cooking your steak.
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