Barbecue Bible!

Our textbook
Season 2

Show 202: World of Steak

The professor takes viewers on an around-the-world tour of ways to cook steak. He begins with a Cuban recipe for thin steaks grilled with adobo, a garlic-lime marinade; next, from Mexico, a fiery recipe for Steak from Hell which features a fire-roasted salsa served over a perfectly grilled T-bone. The lesson ends with Steven's take on Vietnamese bo bun, with grilled strips of sirloin are served in lettuce bundles with fresh herbs and a spicy sauce.

On the menu (page numbers indicate page in the Barbecue! Bible, unless otherwise noted):

  • Palomilla (page 118, recipe follows)
  • Steak from Hell (page 121)
  • Lettuce Bundles with Grilled Beef (page 142)


When Americans are polled about their favorite foods for grilling, steak always heads the list. A slab of beef is the perfect food for grilling: its broad surface area soaks up charcoal and smoke flavors; it's relative thinness allows for quick cooking, so you can take maximum advantage of the flavor-producing virtues of high heat.

The most common mistake made in grilling steak is overcooking it. The second most common mistake is undercooking it. Here's how to do it just right.

1. Pick the right kind of steak. Tender cuts, like sirloin, tenderloin, porterhouse, New York strip, and shell steak, are the best for high grilling. Fibrous steaks, like skirt and flank, also taste great grilled--especially when thinly sliced on the diagonal. Save tough cuts, like chuck and blade steak, for a long, slow, moist cooking method, like braising.

2. It's not necessary to let the steak warm to room temperature, but the cooking time will be longer if you don't. Add 1 to 2 minutes per side when cooking steaks just out of the refrigerator.

3. Preheat your grill to high. If cooking a very thick steak (say a 2 inch thick strip steak), build a two-tiered fire (one side very hot, one side medium hot.) On a gas grill, preheat one side to hot, one side to medium. Otherwise, a single tiered very hot fire will do.

4. Generously season the steaks with salt and pepper. Use a coarse grain salt, like kosher or sea salt. (Coarse grain salt crystals dissolve more slowly than fine table salt, so they hold up better during cooking.) Trust me on this: steak pros all over the world use coarse salt. Brazilian churrascarias go so far as to use rock salt. I always use freshly ground or freshly cracked black pepper and I apply it generously both before and after grilling.

5. Brush and oil the grate. The easiest way to do this for steak is to use a piece of steak fat held in tongs or at the end of a carving fork. Rub it over the bars of the grate. An oiled rag works fine, too.

6. Place the steaks on the grill, all lined up in the same direction. After 2 minutes, rotate each steak 45 degrees. This creates an attractive crosshatch of grill marks on the steak. Cook the steak until beads of blood appear on the surface, 1 to 2 minutes for a 1/2-inch thick steak, 3 to 5 minutes for a 1-inch thick steak, 6 to 9 minutes for a bible thick steak. Turn the steak with tongs or a spatula. Never use a fork.

7. Continue cooking the steaks on the other side, rotating them 45 degrees after 2 minutes. You'll need slightly less time on the second side. The best test for doneness is feel: press the top with your index finger. A rare steak will be softly yielding; a medium steak will be firmly yielding; a well-done steak will be firm. Never cut into a steak to test for doneness. You'll drain out all the juices.

8. Transfer the steaks to plates or a platter and reseason with salt and pepper. At this stage, I like to brush my steaks with extra virgin olive oil (a la Tuscany) or with melted butter (a la Peter Luger's Steak House in Brooklyn). This is optional, but it sure rounds out the flavor.

9. The last step is usually overlooked, but it's the most important. Let the steaks rest for 2 to 3 minutes before you serve them. This allows the juices to flow back from the center of the meat to the exterior, giving you a moister, juicier steak.

Palomilla printer-ready version

Serves 4


  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice or sour orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 6-8 ounce steaks, each cut 1/2 inch thin
  • 2 large onions, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a mortar and pestle or blender and puree until smooth. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste: the mixture should be highly seasoned.

2. Preheat the grill to high. Brush the steaks with adobo mixture and place on the grill. Brush the onion slices with olive oil and place on the grill. Grill the steaks to taste, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare, basting with adobo. (Rotate the steaks 90 degrees after 1 minute to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks.) Grill the onions until nicely charred, 2 to 3 minutes per side, seasoning with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer the steaks to plates or a platter and brush 1 final time with adobo. Serve the grilled onions on the side. Serve with grilled polenta or the beans and rice.

Note: To give the steaks a richer garlic, cumin, lime flavor, marinate them in the adobo in a non-reactive baking dish for 10 minutes before grilling.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort