Choosing Steaks for Grilling
Most steaks are tender enough to grill over direct heat, which produces a caramelized crust and juicy interior. Less tender steaks like skirt, flank and hanger benefit from a marinade before grilling to increase their tenderness.
Porterhouse and T-bone steaks: These tender cuts are ideally suited for grilling over direct heat. They need little adornment beyond coarse salt and freshly cracked pepper or a flavored butter.
Rib-eye and strip steaks: These beefy-flavored cuts are delicious on their own but also stand up to zesty marinades and robust sauces.
Filets mignons: Lean and mild-flavored, the filet mignon is a versatile steak that is delicious with assertive spice rubs and herb or olive pastes as well as with simple compound butters. Serve filets mignons whole or sliced.
Skirt, flank and hanger steaks: Although less tender than other cuts, these steaks have a "beefier" flavor and are wonderful when soaked in a tangy marinade or coated with a bold dry rub. Grill the steaks over high, direct heat, then thinly slice them across the grain. These steaks pair especially well with spicy Latin or Asian accompaniments.
Sirloin and flatiron steaks: These steaks are perfect for international flavorings, from Southeast Asian-style sauces to assertive Japanese wasabi to bold Italian-style wine-based marinades.
When buying steaks, seek out bright red meat with light marbling (internal fat), a fine texture and nearly white outer fat. The more marbling, the more tender and juicy the beef will be. The exterior fat should be minimal, although you can always trim it later.
Preparing the Meat
Before grilling the steaks, trim off most of the external fat and discard it; otherwise, the fat can cause flare-ups as it melts and drips into the fire.
One of the keys to successful grilling is to add flavor by seasoning the meat with salt, pepper, herbs and spices. This is contrary to the old thinking that salting before cooking draws out juices and produces dried-out meat. These seasonings not only contribute flavor but also form a savory caramelized crust that keeps the steaks juicy and tender.
Clean grill grates before each use with a brush designed for the purpose. Oil the grill rack to help prevent the steaks from sticking.
Most steaks can be grilled directly over medium-high to high heat, although you should follow the specific directions in your recipe.
Turn the steaks with tongs, rather than with a fork, to avoid piercing the meat and allowing the flavorful juices to escape.
If flare-ups occur, move the steaks to a cooler part of the grill or reduce the heat. Avoid dousing the fire with water from a spray bottle as this can cause steam.
Testing for Doneness
To test for doneness, cut into the steak at the thickest part. Rare beef will look reddish in the center, medium-rare will be rosy pink in the center, and medium will have a trace of pink. Cooking steaks beyond medium may cause them to dry out and become tough.
You can also use an instant-read thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the steak away from the bone. It should register 125°F for very rare to rare, 130°F for medium-rare and 135°F for medium.
Let the steaks rest for about 5 minutes after grilling to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, which will enhance the juiciness and flavor. The internal temperature can rise 5° to 10°F as the meat sits, so remove it from the grill a few degrees below the desired temperature.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Grilling, by Denis Kelly, Melanie Barnard, Barbara Grunes & Michael McLaughlin (Oxmoor House, 2003).
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