10 Steps to Grilling the Perfect Porterhouse, T-Bone or Any Really Thick Steak
Photo by _BuBBy_ on Flickr via Creative Commons.
In our last blog post, we explained the difference between a porterhouse and a T-bone steak. Today we cover the 10 steps to grilling the perfect T-bone or porterhouse—no matter how thick.
- Use a combo grilling method for a combo steak: If cooking over charcoal (and I hope you are), set up a three-zone fire. Dump a chimney of lit coals into the grill. With a grill hoe or garden hoe, spread the coals into a double layer at the far side and a single layer in the center. Leave the section closest to you coal-free. Replace the grill grate. If using a gas grill, set it up for three-zone grilling.
- Keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated: When the grill grate is hot, clean it with a grill brush, then lubricate it with a grill oiler or a folded paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. Tip: You can also impale a chunk of beef fat on a fork and run it over the bars of the grill grate.
- Season like you mean it: Place the steak(s) on a rimmed baking sheet and season generously—and I mean generously—on both sides with coarse sea salt (like Maldon) or kosher salt and coarsely ground or cracked black pepper. Tip: Hold your hand at least 10 inches above the meat when seasoning for more even distribution. Season steaks just before grilling.
- Sear fearlessly: Place the steak on a diagonal directly on the grill grate over the hottest part of the fire (the double layer of coals) to sear the bottom. You’re looking for a deep brown color on the outside of the meat—not blackened char. Next, move the steak over the medium zone, giving it a quarter turn if you like a crosshatch of grill marks. (Use long-handled tongs.) Grill until you start to see beads of blood on the top of the meat. Now invert the steak, place it back over the hottest part of the fire and sear the other side the same way. Once it’s browned, move the steak over the moderate part of the fire, giving it a quarter turn, and finish cooking it. If you get flare-ups, move the meat to the safety zone until the flames die down.
- Go vertical: For really thick steaks (2 inches or more), sear as described above, then upend the steak so it rests on the flat T-bone. Grill it in this vertical position until you reach the desired temperature (see below). The T-bone will conduct the heat through the meat. Tip: Make sure you have enough clearance between the grill grate and the grill lid before standing the steak upright. If your steak won’t stand up straight by itself, prop it between two firebricks.
- Smoking is legal: You can infuse your steak with smoke flavor by adding a handful of wood chips or a couple of wood chunks to the fire before cooking the steaks. Tip: If you own a cold smoker, you can also smoke the steak at temperatures below 100 degrees in advance of cooking. If you don’t own a cold smoker, use the technique for hay-smoking. (Learn more about hay smoking in Episode 112 of my new show, Project Smoke.
- Take its temperature: Use an accurate instant-read meat thermometer to check for doneness. There’s dissention—even among professionals—about what internal temperatures correspond to rare, medium-rare, etc. Generally speaking, rare is anything below 125 degrees (I shoot for 120), medium-rare is 125 to 135 (I shoot for 130), medium is 135 to 145, and anything above 150 is well-done. Insert the probe through the side of the steak. Guide it toward the center, but make sure you don’t touch bone or you will get a false reading. Note: If cooking multiple steaks with different target temperatures, steak buttons are very helpful. Remember: the steak will continue cooking another 5 degrees or so after it comes off the fire. Tip: If one of your dinner companions prefers meat that is more well-done, slice their portion of steak off the bone and return it to the grill until it’s cooked as desired.
- Rack it up: Transfer the steak(s) to a wire rack on a sheet pan. The rack keeps the bottom crust from getting soggy.
- Give it a rest: Let the steak rest 3 to 5 minutes before serving: this gives the juices in the meat an opportunity to redistribute themselves, resulting in a juicier, more tender steak. Tip: Loosely lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the meat (don’t bunch it up or the steak will steam) to prevent heat loss while it rests.
- Slice before serving: Some old-school types still expect an entire T-bone or porterhouse to themselves. In many cultures on Planet Barbecue (Italy and Spain for example), it’s common to carve the steaks off the bone, then slice the strip and the tenderloin into 1/4-inch slices, keeping them in order. Lay the reserved bone in the center of the platter (or return to the grill if it’s too rare), then rearrange the meat slices on either side of the bone to replicate the original form of the steak. Call dibs on the bone as your reward for grilling. Tip: Pour warmed olive oil or clarified butter over the steak slices before serving. Or serve my Best of Barbecue Steak Sauce on the side.