Photograph by Clayton Hauck
By John Carruthers
After slogging through what was apparently Spring and circling our work calendars for a glorious long weekend, it’s finally the 4th of July, arguably the greatest grilling day of the year and a celebration of our great nation. There’s nothing more American than a fat cut of prime American beef cooked to a perfect rare (or medium-rare, if you like). Things are exploding, summer is cresting, and there’s plenty of beer in the cooler. It’s time to finish that perfect American scene with the perfect steak. But just how do you make exactly the steak you’re hoping for?
People talk in rapturous tones about that one perfect steakhouse meal from years ago. At home, they’re typically just trying not to fuck it up. But there’s more to life than worrying about failure. We at ManBQue, in honor of our nation’s independence, are not giving you a recipe to slavishly follow, but a set of tips to provide freedom from staring alarmed at the coals and Googling “what happen if steak grey and fire happen.” Also, your Google syntax needs work.
And if you do need a bit more instruction, I’ll just point out that we do indeed have a recipe in the book I continue to shamelessly hawk – ManBQue: Meat. Beer. Rock & Roll – 120 Essential Recipes for the Modern Man.
You’re about to be as American as Tim Howard sucker-punching a German-accented Alan Rickman. Ready for action, Meat Patriot?
1. You’re going to need meat. Good meat. Choice beef? That’s great. Prime beef? Perfect. You’re eating a (mostly) unadorned piece of meat. Buy cheap and it’ll taste cheap. Get it cut to a nice 1”-1 1/2” thick if you can. And no matter what you read on the Internet, there’s no way you can “dry age” a steak by leaving it in your fridge a few night beforehand.
2. If you buy this perfect piece of meat and proceed to light the grill with lighter fluid I’m coming after your family. Use a chimney starter, an electric loop starter, or literally anything that won’t leave the taste of burning chemicals as the dominant flavor.
3. Don’t forget to salt the steaks. Salt the hell out of them, right before they’re going on the grill. This is all they need for right now. Since the salt is going to dissolve into the meat, don’t break out the expensive artisan salt harvested from crying hippies. Cheap Kosher salt like Morton’s works great.
4. Acquire a variety of antique doorknobs (two dozen should do) and a sturdy sack. Place the doorknobs in the sack and twist the sack closed. The first one to claim that searing “seals in the juices” gets hit with a sack of doorknobs.
5. Build at least a two-zone fire and oil the grate. Get part of the grill as white-hot as my contempt for the person in my old office who still did Borat quotes in 2014. Get a good sear over the hot side and finish it to doneness over the cooler side of the grill. If you’re one of those reverse-sear evangelists (roast to near-doneness, finish with sear), then you’re exhausting, but free to do things that way.
6. Don’t listen to old wives (husbands?) tales about only flipping a steak once. It’s been scientifically disproven. With science. Flipping it more often will cause your diamond-pattern grill marks to suffer, but the steak will cook more evenly.
7. Chances are, you’re not going to be great at telling how done your steak is by touch. Strange as it may seem, reading a 200 word About.com guide about how different stages of cooking feel like different body parts does not qualify you as an expert on internal cooking mechanics. Get a thermometer. Any thermometer. Bonus points for a kickass instant-read, but those are probably going to cost more than the steaks.
8. Serve steak on a real plate. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just not plastic or paper. Your mother’s Dale Earnhardt “God Needed a Driver” commemorative plates will be just fine. Keep the plates in a warm oven while you cook – it’s the little details the steakhouses get right. Do not, on the other hand, try to do that screaming-hot skin-removing sizzle plate thing at home. That never ends well.
9. For the love of god, rest the steaks. Five minutes, at least, for the protein strands to relax away from direct heat and reabsorb some of the juices squeezed out during the grilling process. Otherwise you lose all the juices, which is a tragedy. There’s actually a website out there that advocates not resting meat. I believe they also advocate eating Vaseline on toast, so I’m not linking to them. When you’ve patiently waited, slice them against the grain for maximum tenderness.
10. While the steaks are still hot, finish them with some herb butter or a small drizzle of good olive oil. If you’re worried about a bit of extra fat at this juncture, I worry for your decision-making skills. If you like to finish with a little salt, then it’s finally time to break out the expensive stuff with the giant crystals.
11. While you and your fellow Beef Lincolns are eating, don’t talk about the best steak you’ve ever had at this or that place. Talk about this steak, and why it’s the greatest of all time. The best steak is the one you’re eating now, with the people you hate the least.
Happy America, ManBQue community. Make it a good 4th, because there’s no better country for Meat, Beer, and Rock n’ Roll.