Extreme Grilling: Steak Six Ways
Photo by Forres Meadows.
You’re a confident griller of steaks. You’ve mastered New York strips, you can handle flank steak, and on several occasions, have produced magazine centerfold-worthy porterhouses.
Now it’s time to tackle extreme steak grilling: That means on a shovel, grilled over spruce branches, wrapped in hay, in a salt and cloth crust, on a pitchfork, and my favorite—grilled directly on the embers.
For obvious reasons, we’re going to have to leave out steaks grilled over a trough of molten lava—a cooking stunt sponsored by “Lava Project” at Syracuse University and shared on Twitter and Facebook by Popular Mechanics.
Why extreme grilling? It takes you out of your comfort zone and adds a dimension of flavor you simply cannot achieve through conventional grilling. Besides, there’s nothing more theatrical (not to mention fun) than grilling a steak without the one piece of equipment most people consider indispensable for grilling: a grill grate.
Here are six variations on the theme, all of which produce great steaks.
- In the embers: Somewhere around 1.8 million years ago, a human ancestor called Homo erectus became the first animal to cook his dinner. What I call “Caveman T-bones”—steaks grilled directly on the embers—pays homage to that first caveman barbecue. I’ve amazed more than a few people when I’ve demonstrated Caveman T-Bones at Barbecue University and on Primal Grill. Roasting the steaks on the embers gives the meat a surface charring and smoke flavor you just can’t duplicate on a conventional grill. Add pan-fried jalapeños, cilantro, and garlic, and the “wow” factor is off the charts. Get the recipe.
- In the hay: Maybe it’s the result of inhaling too many charcoal fumes, but grilling seems to bring out eccentricity in its practitioners. One of the most outlandish grill masters I know is Toronto-based Ted Reader. Consider his steak wrapped in hay and seared on the grill. The hay actually catches fire, creating a charred crust and imparting an irresistible smoke flavor. See the recipe here.
- In cloth and a salt crust: When I heard that Colombian grill masters had found a way to give expensive but often boring beef tenderloin drama and taste, I couldn’t board an Avianca flight fast enough. Lomo al trapo (literally, “tenderloin in cloth”) is beef tenderloin wrapped in a salt-packed cotton cloth and roasted in the embers. It’s cool as all get out and is ridiculously quick and easy to make. A guaranteed showstopper. Get the recipe.
- Flavored with spruce branches: You’ve heard me say, “Never use pine or resinous woods on your fire.” Well, here’s the exception to the rule. Credit for this recipe goes to my friend and the editor of my French-Canadian books, Pierre Bourdon. You grill steaks the conventional way, then lay some spruce branches under the almost cooked meat to perfume the steak with spruce oils. Way cool to look at and incredibly rich in flavor. Click here for the recipe.
- On a shovel: Here’s a technique used by generations of Australians living in the bush: grilling steak and other meats on a shovel over an open campfire. The meat sizzles and chars on the shovel blade, perfumed by fragrant swirls of wood smoke. Season with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, and a picturesque outdoor setting. Substitute rib eye steaks for lamb in this recipe.
- On a pitchfork: Medora, North Dakota, may not spring to mind as a dining destination, but there’s at least one reason to put it on your culinary bucket list: pitchfork steak. From June through September, a crew of Stetson-hat-and-bandanna-clad chefs from the TR Medora Foundation impale rib eye steaks on clean pitchforks and plunge them into huge kettles of scalding oil to make a cowboy version of beef fondue. Cook the grilled version on a pitchfork over a campfire. See the recipe.
Do YOU have an extreme method for cooking steaks? Please share it with us on the Barbecue Board.