Monday, June 23, 2008

Grilling the perfect steak

Here at Gibby's, like every other suburban household in America (I'm guessing), we continue the quest for the perfect home-cooked steak. And now that restaurant prices are headed for the sky, and gas is more expensive than bottled water (?!?), I thought I'd share my recent experience with cooking the perfect steak.

Historically, we've used either a 22" Weber grill, or a gas grill to cook our steaks. I like the taste of charcoal cooked meat, but honestly, I'm too lazy to fire it up, wait and cook on charcoal, so the Weber is now mostly for "special occasions". Instead I use my gas grill.

Recently, while watching America's Test Kitchen (ATK) on TV, they went through the process of making something they called "Bistro NY Strip Steak". The steak looked very good, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Essentially, the method they used is the opposite of what we home cooks usually use. If you are like me, you crank the grill to high, get the temperature somewhere north of 500 degrees, oil the grill (or the meat), and toss it on. The searing creates that delicious burnt beef taste we crave, and when the steak gets to medium-rare (about 130 deg.), you take if off and let it rest.

On ATK, they kind of reversed the process. Instead of cooking the steak from the outside in, they heated up the oven to 275 degrees, patted the steak dry, seasoned it, and put it on a rack on a cookie sheet in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the steak got to 95 degrees internal temperature. Then they heated up a skillet with a bit of oil in it, until the oil was smoking, and they seared the steak in the pan - bringing the internal temperature up to 130 or medium rare.

The beauty of this process is that you avoid getting that little ring of greyish meat between the tasty seared portion and the reddish juicy portion. By the way, that great taste in the seared portion is the result of something called, the "Maillard reaction". Read more about how that adds flavor to everything from beef to cookies to bread to beer here.

That grey meat ring is what spoils most of our home cooked steaks. And it's caused because basically the meat boils instead of sears or roasts. That's why you pat the steak dry before you cook it...

So back to how to make Gibby's Perfect Grilled Steak.

It's a 4 step process:

  1. Dry the surface of the meat thoroughly, season it with fresh ground pepper and salt or other favorite seasoning.

  2. Bring the internal temperature of the steak up to 95 - 98 degrees by roasting the meat in a 275 deg. oven on a small rack on a cookie sheet for about 20 minutes (use an instant read thermometer to measure the temperature, or a remote thermometer).

  3. Pre-heat your grill (gas or charcoal) to the highest heat you can -- the closer to 500 degrees, the better. Oil the grill and drop the warmed steaks on the grill. Cook them to 130 degrees for rare, 140 for medium rare, and 150 for medium. Flip them when they get to about 118. A remote thermometer works great for this part of the process.

  4. Take the steaks out and let them rest for at least 5 minutes after they finish.

Note: It's a myth that searing seals the juices in. Alton Brown dispelled that on his Good Eats show a long time ago. Searing is all about caramelizing the sugars in the outer layer of the beef and giving it that great beef taste.

By cooking the meat to 95 degrees internally, you will make sure that the surface of the meat is dry as can be before you put it on the grill. And since the meat will be dry, the heat that hits the outer layer of the meat will only sear it -- not boil it.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you...

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