Has the perfect steak eluded you? Has the taste of grandma’s grilled pork chops stayed in the back of your mind all these years yet you just can’t figure out how to duplicate that crisp, yet tender texture?
The old folks didn’t know Wolf, or Viking, or Champion. They didn’t have convection ovens, infrared temperature control. Grandma didn’t know what her BTU rating was, or how to operate her pilot ignition system. She had a cast-iron stove, some black iron pots, and a stack of wood, and knew how to turn out the perfect steak.
The ability to grill over an open flame is instinctive in all of us. What may be missing is the experience or the intuition. Here’s how it’s done.
Lets start with the grill. Any cast-iron grate set over hot coals will do. You can set the grill… or iron skillet…over blocks, stones, or fireplace bricks. Grills come in all sizes but it should be at least 30 by 30 inches. A grill this size will not only handle the steaks for a large crowd but other foods as well, and gives you the ability to move the steaks around, away from or toward the hot coals…adjusting the heat. The grill should be between 10-12 inches from the ground. Prepare a bed of coals at least four inches deep.
Using the aged hardwoods of oak, hickory, pecan, or like they do in Texas, mesquite, begin starting your fire about forty-five minutes before you want to put the steaks on the grill. Be careful not to use pine or other soft woods as they contain a large amount of sap which will make your food taste like lighter fluid.
The cut of steak you choose is a personal choice from sirloin, porterhouse or ribeye and should be 1 ½” thick. I love a sizzling, seared rib-eye. The meat should be seasoned simply with coarse sea-salt and freshly ground coarse black pepper. A properly seasoned and correctly cooked steak should have a salty crust outside and juicy red center. The meat should be left out of the refrigerator until it reaches room temperature.
Grease the grill grate with a paper towel or paint brush (I always buy cheap wide paint brushes and keep handy for basting purposes) using olive oil or any quality cooking oil. The coals should be covered over with a white ash.
Place the meat on the grill using tongs. Never use a fork. Don’t touch for five minutes, then turn over rotating the steak 90 degrees to create a cross-hatch marking. Cook for another five to seven minutes, again not touching. The steak should be medium rare. If it’s cooking too fast or not fast enough simply move further or closer to the fire.
I remember once when I was about fourteen, a group of men came into my Father’s restaurant. One ordered his steak well done. My Father came out of the kitchen and directed the man to a Western Sizzlin down the street. The point being…fine, well-aged meats should not be overcooked.
Remove from the grill and let rest for five minutes before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout, keeping each bite moist.
This is perfection but as with many things that seem simple it requires some practice to get your sense of timing… of heat, of fire, and learning the different cuts of meat.
The time of day, the wind, the air temperature, the fattiness of the meat all come into play and can only be dealt with comfortably after some experimenting.
The fun is in the learning…and eating.