It’s National Steakhouse Month. And because grilling and steak go hand-in-hand, Mike Bouwens, executive chef of Scottsdale’s MODERN OYSTERBAR CHOPHOUSE, gives us the know-how for grilling the perfect one (hello, Fourth of July barbecue!)
For me, the process always starts with selecting my steak. I like fatty cuts of meat for grilling, like a New York or a ribeye. The marbling (or intermuscular fat) helps keep the steak moist and juicy as it renders and releases a lot of flavor into the meat. Cuts like a filet tend to be better for searing in a pan or under the broiler. Another thing to consider when picking a steak is the thickness. I find that steaks grill better when they are one to two inches thick. Steaks under this tend to cook a little too fast to get a good render on that marbling.
Don’t be afraid to pull your steak out, and let it rest up to room temperature prior to putting it on the grill. I suggest pulling it out at least half an hour before kissing it with a flame. This will help in the cooking process and give you an even doneness throughout. It will prevent any cold red line through the middle. I recommend simple seasoning with just salt and pepper if you have a good quality steak. All those extra spices people put on steaks or marinades for steaks just hide the natural deliciousness of the meat. Make sure to season ahead of time. One old myth is that salt will draw the moisture out of the steak, which is true if seasoning it hours in advance. Season 15 minutes ahead of time, and you will be good. Salt will also help with the tenderness of the steak. The little moisture that is drawn out of the steak in that time period will mix with the salt and when the steak hits the hot grill all the natural sugars in the protein will help to caramelize the meat for a tasty crust.
Let’s talk about that crust. Chefs spend a lot of time perfecting the sear on a steak. This sear, or crust, develops hundreds of different flavors in the steak. I recommend preheating your grill on high with the lid closed until the grill hits at least 500 degrees. Start the steak over direct heat and develop a nice dark char on the steak. The idea is to get a dark brown color with a little black in it but not turn the steak into charcoal. This helps develop the many layers of flavor from the salt and pepper and the natural sugars and enzymes in the meat. Most steaks grill beautiful on their own over direct heat. This is where all the factors come in to play. Thickness, raw steak temperature, marbling and seasoning are all crucial components in a perfect steak experience. If the cut of meat is too thick, it will require some time cooking on indirect heat, so it gets to the correct temperature with out burning the outside. If a steak is too cold when it is put on, it could take extra time to get that internal temperature to where it needs to be, and the steak will overcook. Additionally, if the steak is too cold, all that beautiful intermuscular fat won’t properly render and you will be left with a rather dry flavorless steak.
So now that you have cooked your steak to the perfect temperature for you, it is time to NOT eat your steak!! That’s right; you must let it rest before you can enjoy it. Also, don’t turn that grill off yet. Let your beautiful steak rest for at least five minutes as this will allow all the juices that you locked into the steak with that sear to redistribute back into the meat. Cutting to soon will make all that juice run out of the steak and onto you plate and overcook the steak. One other thing to consider is that the steak will continue cooking after you take it off the heat. This is known as carry-over cooking. I suggest pulling your steak off half a temperature before it is perfect, and it will carry over to where it should be. A lot of professionals will cook steaks by feel or even how it looks at a certain temperature. I suggest investing in a good digital thermometer.
Once your steak is rested it will be slightly colder than you want it so throw it back on the hot grill for about 30 seconds per side to take the chill off. Now it is time to eat that piece of meat and enjoy it. I like mine with a nice neat glass of whiskey.