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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: How to grill any steak like a pro.
Some of the best steaks I’ve eaten in my life were not cooked in New York, nor in Chicago but in Italy. Specifically in Tuscany off of the A1. The A1 in this context is not a steak sauce, it’s the autostrada that runs through the center of Italy and through the heart of Tuscany. The most esteemed meat for the grill there is chianina beef. Domestically, the closest cut would be a double-thick porterhouse steak. For seasoning you need nothing more than coarse salt, pepper, and lemons to squeeze at the table.
What is important is that you cook this over real wood charcoal. Propane and briquettes are for sissies, okay? Gas grill? No! In Tuscany they might throw dried vine cuttings on the coals. An alternative is to add wine barrel staves, which you can find at kitchen stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. I don’t want to go all paleo on you but this is all about meat and fire. The smoke is an important part of the flavor. Nothing artificial is used here.
How to Grill Any Steak in 5 Steps
1. For your fire, begin with a chimney starter. For ignition I like to use either a paraffin cube or else natural Big Green Egg “Fire Starters” or at worst crumpled newspaper. You just light a match to the accelerant, below the charcoal. This will flame up vigorously. After 15 or 20 minutes, the flames will die down and the coals will glow grey and red. Pitch those into the bottom of your grill.
The type of grill you have really doesn’t matter as long as you are using real charcoal. Open the vents. If you are using any other soaked wood, like barrel staves or wood chips, add those now. Be prepared for the fact that it’s going to get ridiculously smoky. It should also get really hot. If you have a temperature gauge on the outside, aim for 450° F to 500° F. Add more wood if needed.
2. Your choice of steak is up to you. Talk to your butcher. A really thick bone-in steak is best as in the porterhouse mentioned above. Your steak needs nothing more than a rub with salt and pepper before putting it on the grill. If you want to get fancy you can dip a branch of rosemary in olive oil and lemon juice and brush it with that. But don’t go nuts with your mop sauce or whatever.
3. Lay your steak on the grill, close it, and let that hunk of meat sizzle.
4. Try to turn it only once because I hate “flippers”. Some people don’t think they are cooking if they are not constantly flipping. You want to hold those juices in the meat. How long before the flip will depend on the thickness of the steak and the heat of the fire. Go for it when the lower edges of the steak are looking browned and caramelized -- for the steak pictured it was only a few minutes.
5. To check for doneness I use an instant read probe thermometer. I want it to come to just under 130° F for medium-rare. Some people use the finger poke method, which is okay if you are good at it.
If you've pulled it too early, no big deal. Put it back on the grill (in an area with lower, indirect heat if it's getting close), cover, and check it again soon. When you are satisfied that your steak is done, yank it off and tent with foil, let it rest for at least 10 minutes.
Really the only condiment necessary to serve are lemon wedges. There you go!
Some other thoughts on grilling: the Argentinians are masters at this. I bow down to them. They will bank up their coals at the perimeters of the grill so that you get a hot but indirect source of heat and hot smoke. The grill I use has a “trap” I can open to toss in more charcoal if desired, which is easier than taking everything off and putting it back. But don’t worry, this will still work on your Weber.
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Photos by James Ransom