It’s warm, and we are no longer reduced to the grim expedient of cooking steaks in pans and broilers. Steak has been cooked over fire since the Late Pleistocene and there’s no reason to stop now, not one that I can see. So here, then, are five master tips on grilling steak over wood or coal fires.
1. Steak should be cold. Very cold. For years there has been a myth that steak ought to be brought to room temperature before cooking. One of the reasons you cook over fire is to get a brown, crusty surface. But you also want a nice pink or red interior. The longer you can fire the meat without overcooking it, the better. This means cooking steak cold. Period.
2. Steak should be “scruffed.” Steak, like pork rind, is better when it has more surface area to brown. And one way to get more surface area, and a nicer texture to boot, is to rip the meat up a little bit. Try rubbing it over the fine side of a box grater, but making some shallow random cuts with the best fillet knife will work too.
3. Steak should be cooked asymmetrically. The almost universal advice to cook steak for the same amount of time on both sides is yet another mistake. Why? You have only a short amount of time to crust that meat up. You need to max out one side, and then give the other just enough heat to give the surface some color and to cook the steak all the way through. Otherwise, neither side will get truly brown. And guess what? The bottom surface is going to steam and soften while the steak sits on the cutting board anyway. So for a one-and-a-half-inch steak, I typically hit it for eight or nine minutes over high heat, and then three or four minutes at most on the reverse side. Then it goes over to the cool zone for a few minutes to finish off and absorb smoke.
4. Wood chips aren’t there to smoulder. You may have a bag of hickory chips lying around; if not, you can get one at Home Depot. A lot of people assume these are meant to be soaked in water and then added for smoking. Why? The last time you burned wood, did it fail to release smoke? Was it like a propane-fired yule log? No. It gave smoke, and it burned hot. Wet chips just release steam, which is the last thing you want in a grill. No, I throw a handful of chips over my coals, which gives me a steady heat and the direct wood flavor that no charcoal can ever provide.
5. Make a board dressing. One great innovation needs to be broadcast. Try slathering your steaks with herbs and butter and other good things, and when the meat is ready for slicing, pour that stuff on the cutting board and then use it to dress the steak slices. Every one gets covered in thick, red, sticky myoglobin—a.k.a. juice—and herbs and butter too. Or olive oil. Or whatever else you want to add. This might be the most important steak innovation. Every little piece of steak is flavored on all sides: a mini steak. You may never slice steak nude again! Enjoy.
Source: esquire.com, 5-2-2014