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Make no Mis-Steak for Father’s Day

UP IN SMOKE
MAKE NO MIS-STEAK FOR FATHER’S DAY
Dear Up in Smoke Subscriber:

Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: Red roses are the “official” flower of Father’s Day. But—no surprise here—it’s red meat that most red-blooded American dads are thinking of on their special day (and most other days, too).

The perfectly cooked steak is one of the holy grails of barbecue—often pursued, rarely achieved. It challenges even the most experienced grillers. I can explain the fundamentals to you in a few minutes. It takes years to master all the fine points.

There are, of course, a lot of steaks to choose from, but in this issue of Up in Smoke, I want to focus on one particular steak, the ultimate steak for many grillmasters and my personal favorite—the mighty T-bone.

The T-bone is actually two steaks in one: a New York strip (a.k.a. Kansas City strip if you happen to come from Missouri), and a portion of filet mignon, both connected by a T-shaped bone. So why a T-bone? Remember, meat on the bone is always the most flavorful—the reason, by the way, so many people love ribs.

Closely related to the T-bone is the Porterhouse, which also consists of a piece of New York strip and a piece of filet mignon. So what’s the difference? The T-bone is cut closer to the center of the steer, which means a tastier New York strip, but a smaller piece of filet mignon. The Porterhouse is cut closer to the hindquarters of the steer, which means a large piece of filet mignon, but a slightly tougher New York strip. Seeing as I prefer the robust, beefy flavor of the New York strip to the mild—some would say bland—taste of the filet mignon, the T-bone is the cut for me. If you happen to prefer filet mignon, go for the Porterhouse. Whichever steak you select, make sure it’s cut thick (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches).

So who else likes T-bones besides American dads? Grillmasters in Tuscany, where the T-bone reaches its apotheosis in the form of Italy’s legendary bistecca alla fiorentina, also known as Florentine-style steak (see The Barbecue! Bible for a recipe).

In Argentina, a country obsessed by beef, this noble cut goes by the name of bife de costilla. And of course, there’s the Texas T-bone, sometimes called a “cowboy steak”—rubbed with chili powder and spices and seared over a wood fire.

But when it comes to seasoning a great T-bone, there, the consensus ends. Italians usually use only salt for seasoning and a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil as a sauce. Argentineans serve their T-bones with a vibrant and addictive condiment called chimichurri. (There’s a great recipe in The Barbecue! Bible). Brazilians use veritable fistfuls of sea salt so coarse you could use it for salting your sidewalk or driveway. In the U.S., upscale steakhouses often anoint their grilled steaks with butter or melted beef fat.

This summer, you may have seen me grilling T-bones my new favorite way—directly on the embers “caveman style”. The micro-charring gives you an unbelievable crust and smoke flavor, and of course, the process looks extreme and ultra-cool. Click here for the recipe.

 

THE SIX MYTHS ABOUT GRILLING STEAK

There are a number of myths concerning how to cook a great steak, T-bones included. So let’s separate fact from fiction.

Myth number 1: Let the steak warm to room temperature before grilling.

Bad idea. Meat at room temperature is a formula for microbial disaster. Steakhouse pros keep their meats ice-cold and bacteria-free until the moment of grilling.

Myth number 2: Salt toughens steak, so don’t salt before grilling.

On the contrary, a generous dusting of salt (kosher or coarse sea salt) and cracked black peppercorns right before grilling gives you the rich flavor and savory crust characteristic of a great steakhouse steak. So, season the steak right before it goes on the grill. Do not, however, season a steak hours ahead, or the salt will draw out the juices and make the steak dry.

Myth number 3: A barbecue fork is the proper tool for turning a steak.

Wrong. The only purpose served by puncturing a steak with a fork is to drain out the flavorful juices. Always use tongs when turning a steak.

Myth number 4: Turn the steaks often.

False. Most of the world’s meat masters turn the steaks only once. Why? This helps achieve a better crust.

Myth number 5: The best way to check for doneness is to cut into the steak with a knife.

False. Again, the last thing you want to do is cut or puncture the meat. For the same reason, don’t buy Dad one of those temperature-reading barbecue forks for Father’s Day. The best way to check for doneness is to use the poke test: Press the thickest part of the steak with your finger. When the meat is rare, it will feel soft and squishy. When medium-rare, the meat will feel semi-soft and yielding. When medium, the meat will yield just a little, while when well-done, the meat will feel hard and springy. Not that we advocate serving a T-bone (or any steak) well done.

For really thick steaks, use an instant-read meat thermometer. Insert it through the side of the steak to get an accurate reading. Here are the temperatures that define varying degrees of doneness:

Rare: 125 degrees F

Medium-rare: 145 degrees F

Medium: 160 degrees F

Well-done: 180 degrees F

Myth number 6: Steak tastes best sizzling hot off the grill.

False: A steak hot off the grill will be dry and leathery. You should let all grilled steaks (all meats, actually) “rest” for a couple of minutes on a hot platter. This allows the meat to “relax,” redistributing the juices. The result: a more tender, succulent steak

So get out there, Dad (or moms and kids who want to wait on him hand and foot). By dispelling these widely-circulated untruths, I hope I’ve helped you ascend the ladder of grilling enlightenment.

SALT-CRUSTED T-BONES

Source: Steven Raichlen

Method: Direct grilling

Serves: 4 generously

4 T-bone steaks, each about 12 ounces and cut 1-1/4 inches thick
2 cups rock salt or very coarse sea salt

Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high. Brush and oil the grill grate.

Arrange the steaks on the grate and sprinkle the top with a 1/4-inch layer of salt. Grill the steak until the bottom is darkly browned and beads of blood start to form on the top, about 5 minutes.

Turn the steak over (some of the salt will fall into the fire—it’s supposed to). Sprinkle another 1/4-inch layer salt on top of the steak. Continue grilling until the bottom is again darkly browned and the steak is cooked to taste—4 to 5 minutes more.

Turn the steak on its side with tongs and whack it with the back of a knife to knock off the excess salt.

To serve, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest for 2 minutes. Cut the meat off the bone. (Return the bone to the fire to char it, then serve it separately.) Cut the now boneless steak crosswise and slightly on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick
strips. Serve with a well-aged Rioj a and get ready for some of the best steak you’ve ever tasted.

T-BONES WITH WALNUT-ROQUEFORT BUTTER

Source: Adapted from How to Grill by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 2001)

Method: Direct grilling

Serves: 4 generously

Advance preparation: 1 to 2 hours for chilling the butter

4 T-bone steaks, each about 12 ounces and cut 1-1/4 inches thick
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
Coarsely ground black pepper
Walnut-Roquefort Butter for serving (see recipe below)

Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high. Brush and oil the grill grate.

Sprinkle the steaks on both sides with the salt and pepper.

Arrange the steaks on the hot grate at a 45-degree angle to the bars of the grate. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium-rare (about 145 degrees F on an instant-read meat thermometer), rotating the steaks after 3 minutes to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks. Transfer the st eaks to plates or a platter and top each with a pat of Walnut-Roquefort Butter.

WALNUT-ROQUEFORT BUTTER

Makes about 2/3 cup

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the butter, cheese, walnuts, parsley, and salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy.

Lay a 12-inch square piece of plastic wrap, waxed paper, or parchment paper on your work surface and mound the flavored butter in the center. Roll it up into a cylinder, twisting the ends to compact the butter. Chill until firm. The flavored butter will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer. To use, unwrap the roll and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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