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~ Melanie's Top 5 Tips for: Grilling 5 Perfect Steaks ~

PICT2640 At about this time every year (shortly before the Memorial Day holiday), one of my students, a friend or a guest at my house will inevitably ask me:  "How does one cook the perfect steak? The kind that is tender, juicy and pink in the middle.  I can never get mine timed right."  That is a harder question to answer than you might think, because there is no magic formula for me to hand out.  I want to start by saying that grilling in general is a very arbitrary sport and all sorts of things, including the weather, affect the final outcome.  To quote my son, an expert at the grill:

 "It's done when it's done."

PICT2616 It seems that when it comes to grilling, steaks cause people the most angst, so today I'm going to focus on the best tips I can give you for grilling just steak.  You won't find me making mention of the elegant filet mignon on this post because it is so lean that I prefer to pan sear it, where I can add my own fats and flavors to a skillet on the stovetop.

The two most purchased cuts of bone-in steak, which are often lumped together because they are nearly identical, are the Porterhouse and the T-bone.  Both contain a portion of the tenderloin on one side of the bone and a portion of strip loin on the other.  Because of what part of the steer each is cut from,  the Porterhouse contains a larger portion of the tenderloin, while the T-bone contains a larger portion of the strip loin.   The steak on the left in photo is a Porterhouse.  The steak on the right is a T-bone.  The steak in the finished photo at the top of this post is a 1 1/2"-thick Porterhouse, and when properly sliced has enough meat to feed two people.

PICT2605The next two very popular steaks, almost always purchased without the bone, are the rib-eye (sometimes marketed as a Delmonico) and strip loin (sometimes marketed as a NY strip).  The steak in the top of this picture is a rib-eye and the steak on the bottom is a strip loin.  Do you notice the marbling (interior fat) in the rib-eye?  This marbling is what makes this steak particularly user-friendly, meaning:  even if you slightly overcook it to medium, it will still be tender and juicy.  

PICT2678 Rib-eyes can be purchased bone-in, are called bone-in rib-eyes and I just adore them. When still attached to the bone a strip steak becomes a Porterhouse or a T-bone steak.

The steak on the left is my perfectly grilled rib-eye and the steak on the right is my perfectly grilled strip loin.

PICT2726 Lastly, there is flank steak.  It is a large, extremely lean, thin, flat steak cut from the abdominal muscles of the steer.  It is much tougher than other steaks, and fares best cooked for a short period of time over high heat and served rare to medium-rare.  I like to purchase a large one between 1 1/2-2 pounds.

PICT2736To get a flank steak of this size to this doneness, will take about 12-16 minutes, or 6-8 minutes per side, which includes searing time (see Tip #3 below).  ALWAYS, cut a flank steak across the grain, holding the knife at a 30 degree angle.  Very thin slices are melt-in-your-mouth tender.  I adore flank steak.

PICT2763 Like all of the above steaks, flank steak can be served with everything from a green salad and a baked potato, to potato salad, cole slaw and/or baked beans. This being said, flank steak just loves to be marinated or rubbed with spices and makes terrific sandwiches.

Click into Categories 2, 10 or 17 to get my recipe for my spicy ~ Blackened Flank Steak & Bacon Sandwiches ~.

Nothing compares to that first tender, juicy steak of the grill season, and now that we're all seriously hungry, let's move onto:

IMG_7999My top 5 tips for perfectly grilled steak(s):

Tip #1:  All grills are not created equal:  make friends with your heat source.  Joe and I have four different grills and each one of them cooks differently.  Joe has his favorite grill and I have mine.  Purists will tell you to use natural hardwood charcoal started in a chimney without using lighter fluid, but I am a bit more open-minded.  Use the equipment you have, are allowed to have (lots of apartments, etc., have restrictions), can afford or are just plain comfortable with and make the most of it.  The next time you cook a steak on your favorite grill, make a note of the type of steak you cooked, how thick it was and how long it took you to get it to the doneness of your liking, cooking it on both sides, turning/flipping it over once halfway through the grilling time.  (Note:  Giving steak a 45 degree turn on the grill grates, to achieve that pretty crosshatch pattern that everyone likes to see, does not count in terms of turning/flipping it over only once -- do that on each side of the steak as you cook it.)  Before you know it, you'll have a log that will have you cooking perfect steaks for yourself, friends and family every time.

Tip #2:  All steaks are not created equal:  they all contain a different fat content which causes different cuts to cook differently.  Buy the best quality steak you can afford and ask your butcher to cut it fresh and to your specifications.  Start by trimming excess fat from the steak, taking it down to about 1/8"-1/4".  This will help prevent flare-ups, which happen as excess fat melts down into the flames.  Thickness affects cooking time the most and experience has taught me that skinny steaks are too easy to overcook.  For instance: My favorite thickness for a T-bone, and all steaks in general,  is 1 1/2", and I like my steak rare. On my favorite grill, I cook that steak 5-6 minutes per side.  I have also found that allowing all steaks to come to room temperature prior to grilling them contributes a lot to the end result.  Call me crazy, but I think if the fat and meat are at room temp when they go onto the hot grill, the steak comes off tenderer and juicier.

Note:  When it comes to purchasing steak, you'll have two choices:  wet-aged or dry-aged.  Wet-aged meat has been vacuum-packed, in its own juices, in plastic.  It is kept in a controlled environment that allows its enzymes to tenderize it.  Dry-aged meat, while also kept in a controlled environment, involves a more complicated process of exposing the meat to air while controlling temperature, humidity and air circulation for 2-3 weeks.  Dry-aged meat is more expensive, because at the end of the process, up to 20% of the meat (the parts which have been exposed to the air) is removed/discarded/wasted. While dry-aged steaks are my husband's personal favorite, you'll have to try each one, side-by-side and judge for yourself. 

Tip #3:  Always start your steaks over high heat and finish over medium heat.  This is less complicated than it sounds.  You want to sear your steaks, relatively quickly, over high heat, to lock in the juices.  To ensure a good sear, blot the steaks with a paper towel before putting them on the hot grill as moisture prevents a good sear.  For my favorite 1 1/2"-thick T-bone cooked on my favorite grill, I sear that steak for about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side (thinner steaks require less sear time), then I move it to a medium-heat part of the grill to finish grilling.  When I told you I cook that steak for 5-6 minutes per side, that includes searing time.  You'll know it is time to turn a steak when tiny bubbles/puddles of blood start forming on the top.  Also, if a steaks sticks to the grill grids when you try to turn it, it is not ready to be turned.  Try again in another 20-30 seconds. On a side note:  Always use tongs for turning and moving steaks... poking a steak with a fork allows the flavorful juices to flow out of the steak, defeating the purpose of searing.

Tip #4:  Always allow for rest time:  residual/carryover heat will continue to cook a steak for 8-10 minutes after it as been removed from the grill.  Remove the steak when it is slightly undercooked to your liking, cover it with some aluminum foil and let it rest for 8-10 minutes.  This allows all of the flavorful juices to redistribute themselves evenly throughout the steak.  At that point, if it is still undercooked, put it back on the grill for another minute or so.  You can always cook a steak more, but once you've overcooked it there is no going back in time.

Tip #5:  Buy, beg, borrow or steal an instant-read meat thermometer and make it your best friend.  These reliable gadgets are relatively inexpensive and in my opinion no kitchen should be without at least one.  When it comes to steak:  Rare= 115-120 degrees; Medium-Rare= 125-130 degrees; Medium= 135-140 degrees.  In the steak grilling world, anything past medium is referred to as overcooked and even if you personally like your steak overcooked, I don't recommend serving it to anyone other than your twin in that condition.  Check the steak's temperature 2-3 times during the last 1-2 minutes of the estimated cooking time.

PICT2134Melanie's Top 5 Tips for:  Grilling the Perfect Steak(s):  Recipe yields the best tips I can provide for grilling perfect steaks every time.

Cook's Note:  Unless I am following a specific recipe, as far as seasoning steak goes, I like to keep it simple and basic, using just a light sprinkling of coarse sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  I also don't preseason the steak much in advance.  I season the top side about 10 minutes before I place the steak (seasoned side down) on the grill, then immediately season the second side, while the first side is searing.  After the steak has rested and is ready to be served, I like to garnish it with a pat of homemade compound butter (butter which contains herbs and/or seasonings), but a pat of plain butter will do nicely too. 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


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