How To Grill

Our textbook
Season 1

Show 103: Much at Steak

Steak is the ultimate test of a grill master's mettle. In this show you'll learn how to grill a slab of meat that's crusty on the outside and juicy inside-in short the perfect steak. The show begins with a primer on all the cuts of steak, including those that are best for grilling and those cuts that should never be grilled. You'll also learn eight secrets to great steak.

On the menu:
(page numbers refer to recipes in How to Grill):

  • New York strip steak with tarragon butter (page 65)
  • Tuscan steak (page 59)
  • Wine and gin marinated, wood grilled filet mignon (page 69)

The various types of steaks and how to grill them

Not every cut of beef is good for grilling. Some, positively triumph when exposed to the high searing heat of the grill. Others, like blade steak or chuck, require the slow, moist, gentle heat of braising to make them palatable. Choosing the right cut is the first step in grilling the perfect steak. Here's scorecard to help you identify the players.

Rib-eye (also known as Delmonico steak or shell steak): This is one of my favorite steaks. It's cut from the center of the rib roast and it's about the juiciest, most well marbled steak money can buy. Some people may complain that it's too well-marbled, but remember, the fat is what gives beef its flavor. And thanks to this generous marbling, it's almost impossible to ruin a rib-eye by overcooking. You do, however, need to watch for fat fires when grilling a rib-eye.
Rib Eye Steak
Strip steak: The sheer multiplicity of names for this steak reflects its popularity: depending on where you are, it will be called strip steak, New York strip, Kansas City strip, or top sirloin. Strip steak is basically the short loin, without the T bone and tenderloin. Lean, meaty, and firm-textured, it's the sort of steak a carnivore loves to sink his teeth into. Strip steaks should be cut at least _ to 1 inch thick and grilled over a high heat.
Strip Steak
Porterhouse: When you can't decide what sort of steak you want, order a porterhouse. This two fisted cut is actually two steaks in one: a firm, meaty strip sirloin and a soft, succulent tenderloin attached by a T-bone. The porterhouse was immortalized by the legendary steakhouse, Peter Luger's in Brooklyn, New York. It's also the cut of choice in Tuscany, where it's sine qua non for Florentine steak (recipe follows). Porterhouses are thick steaks-1-1/2 to 3 inches. Sear them over a hot fire, then move them over a more moderate heat to finish cooking
Porterhouse Steak
T-bone: Similar to a porterhouse, but cut closer to the center of the steer. The good news is that this makes the strip sirloin portion of the steak more tender than that of a porterhouse. The bad news is that the tenderloin section will be smaller. (The tenderloin tapers as it runs towards the center of the steer.) T-bone steaks are generally cut thinner than porterhouses, so you can serve one per person. Grill over high heat.
T-Bone Steak
Filet mignon: A handsome, relatively small, thick, round steak cut from the beef tenderloin. Its enthusiasts praise its leanness and tenderness: it's no exaggeration that you can lcut it with the side of a fork. Depending on your perspective, the flavor is subtle or downright bland. Grill over high heat.
Filet Mignon
Flank steak: Flank steak is a broad flat muscle from the underbelly of the steer. It's a highly flavorful cut, but tough and stringy, so you'd expect it to be a poor candidate for grilling. However, by thinly slicing the steak across the grain, you produce meltingly tender slices of beef that are richly flavored. Flank steak lends itself to marinating (soy sauce and ginger are naturals) and it's best served medium-rare. Grill over high heat.
Flank Steak
Skirt steak: Latin Americans (especially Mexicans) have long prized, this long, thin, fibrous steak cut from the steer's underbelly. The flavor is rich and beefy; the meat, moist; and the stringiness can be moderated by thinly slicing the steak across the grain, as you would a flank steak. The belt-like skirt-steak goes by the name fajita ("little girdle") in Spanish. Skirt steaks were once a poor person's food, but the price has soared with their popularity. Still, skirt steak costs less half or a third of what a strip steak costs-which makes it a winner in my book.
Skirt Steak

The best way to test a steak for doneness is to use the "poke test." Gently push the top of the steak with your finger. The resilience will tell you the degree of doneness. A soft squishy steak will be rare or raw in the center. A firm springy steak will be well done. For medium-rare, look for a steak that feels gently yielding; for medium, a steak that's semi-firm.

Here are the various degrees of doneness:

very rare steak | rare steak | medium-rare steak | medium steak | medium-well steak | well-done steak

For more tips on grilling steaks, see pages 51-90 in How to Grill.

Tuscan-Style Porterhouse Steak (Florentine Porterhouse)
printer-ready version

Serves 3 to 4 and can be multiplied as desired.

  • 1 porterhouse steak, cut 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick (about 2 pounds)
  • coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 6 whole fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup of the best cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil you can find
1. Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. (Ideally you'll be using wood or charcoal.) Brush and grease the grill grate.

2. Generously season the steak with salt and pepper. Place it on the grate and grill until cooked to taste, 6 to 8 minutes per side for medium-rare.

3. Meanwhile, strew the garlic, rosemary, and sage leaves over the bottom of a deep dish or platter. Arrange the grilled steak on top. Pour the olive oil over it. Turn the steak a few times to coat with the garlic, herbs, and oil. Spoon the oil that gathers in the bottom of the dish over the steak. Marinate the steak in this fashion for 3 to 5 minutes.

4. To carve and serve, cut the tenderloin and strip off the bone. Cut each crosswise into 1 1/2 inch thick slices. Baste with oil one final time and serve at once.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort