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Food: Charcoal vs. Gas, How To Make The Perfect Grilled Steak


By Josh Widdowson

Summer is the time of year when cooks across the country will head outdoors and light up the grills to cook items ranging from chicken and veggies to burgers and dogs.  But if there was a food that was made for grilling, it is steak.  But grilling steak can be confusing.  What cut of meat do you want to use?

How do you keep the steak from turning into shoe leather?  Do you use gas, charcoal or something else?

Do I need to slather sauce on it?

Let us here at The Inscriber cut through the confusion and help you to a perfect steak.  Follow these steps, and you will have the best steak dinner in your life.

GREAT MEALS START WITH GREAT INGREDIENTS

Use the above statement as your mantra when going to pick your steak.  You want to find a steak that has some intra-muscular fat, or marbling, to it.  That fat will melt inside the meat and keep the steak moist.

The cut of steak that you get is important.  Probably everyone thinks that you see the word “steak” in the description on the type of cut means it’s good for the grill.  That is not the case.  The cuts you want to go with are T-Bones, New York Strips, Tenderloins and Filets.

But Tenderloins and Filets, to me, are on the pricey side, and they need a lot of help in the flavor department.

I remember getting a gift of Omaha Steaks Filet Mignions, and they were wrapped in bacon.  It’s becasue the filets and tenderloins did not have a lot of intra-muscular fat in it.  T-Bones and New York Strips seem to have the perfect ammount of fat so that you still get a great beefy taste, but they don’t have so much fat that you can’t chew through it.

I actually prefer the New York Strips, because cooking a steak with the bone in can cause uneven cooking temperatures.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR EQUIPMENT AND IT WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU

Another mantra, but it works out well.  I prefer grilling my steaks in a small kettle-style grill over charcoal.  Gas is okay, and clean burning, but you do not get the smokey flavor that you get from a live charcoal fire.  Since most grills are stored outside, please protect them from the elements when you can.  If you have a small grill, you can keep it in the garage until you are ready.  If it’s a big one, invest in a cover.

If you are using a charcoal grill, you should also have in your possession what is called a chimney starter.  It looks like a big coffee can with a handle, but this will light all your charcoal efficiently and without the use of lighter fluid.  These can be picked up at your local hardware store in the grilling section.  I would also recommend having a stick-lighter, several pieces of newspaper, a pair of tongs, and a fire extinguisher.  (Things could go wrong, ya know!)

Before you grill, you will want to clean your grill grate.

If it’s the first time for the grill, light your charcoal and let the grill grate heat up 15 minutes before you use it.  This way, it gets rid of all the chemicals.  After that, make sure your grill grate is CLEAN.  That means washing your grill grates before use.  You wash your pans before you use them, right?

Also, before you start heating the grill, oil the grill grates with either non-stick spray or use a wadded up paper towel soaked with olive oil and lightly coat the grill grates.

IT’S ALL IN THE PREP AND THE TIMING

Before you light the grill, you need to prep the steaks, and they do not take much.  Before you season the steaks, let the steaks sit out and come up a little bit to room temperature.  I know this is putting raw meat in a dangerous temperature zone, but you will be cooking all the germs out of it, plus the seasoning you will put on it include salt, so it will knock out the bacteria as well.

First, lightly coat the steaks with olive oil.  I usually pour a tiny bit on the steak, and slather it across the steak using my (clean) hand.

Then sprinkle salt and pepper on the steak.  Do NOT use what many companies sell as “Meat Tenderizer” on your steaks as the directions require you to use a fork to pierce the meat and sprinkle the stuff on it.  It also adds a lot of salt flavor that you are already doing using regular salt.  Season as you see fit.

There are some seasoning mixes out there that do add some good flavors to steak, (some spicy, some savory).  If you use these mixes, this should be the ONLY seasoning you should use.  But really, you should let the steak speak for itself, so salt and pepper is preferable.

After your steaks come up in temperature, bring them out to your grill, along with all your equipment, a comfy seat and a drink for yourself.  Because from the second you put the match to the charcoal or turn on the gas, you will not leave until the fire is in a safe position.  (You are planning on eating outside, right?)

For a chimney starter, use three pieces of wadded up newspaper in the underside of your chimney starter, take out the cooking grate and set the whole chimney starter on the bottom of your grill.  Fill with charcoal and then light with your stick lighter.  When the charcoal on top of the starts turning grey, you can dump the charcoal, spreading evenly across the bottom of your grill, put the cooking grill back on and get ready.  If you are using a gas grill, light per directions and let the grill get hot.

It should be hot enough so that if you hold your hand about three inches above the grill, you should feel intense heat before you count three. (Be careful!)

Use your tongs to put the steaks on the grill, always laying the steaks away from you.  Leave the steaks where they are for 60 seconds.

Then pick the steaks up with your tongs and rotate them 90 degrees, and set them on a part of the grill that has not had steak on it.  This will give your steaks that criss-cross grill-marks that make it look incredible.  (This is good for presentation, because another maxim I live by is “You eat with your eyes before you eat with your stomach”)  After another 60 seconds, flip the steaks over onto an open space of grill and repeat the process, rotating the steak after 60 seconds, and removing the steaks after the final minute is up.

(Editor’s Note: This is for a medium steak.  If you want a medium well steak, loosely wrap the steak in plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to roll the steak before hand, and add an additional 30 seconds of cook time at the start and at the end of the cooking process.  If you want your steak rare, decrease cooking times as you see fit)

The final step is important.  You may want to dig into your steaks right away.  Don’t do it!  By cutting into a steak just off the grill, the juices will spill out and your steak will become tough and dry.  Let your steak rest for five minutes before cutting into it.  That way, the juices redistribute into the meat and will keep the meat moist and tender.

Serve your steak with some grilled vegetables (I like draining a can of sweet corn kernels and heating them in a foil pack with butter, or finding a recipe to roast potatoes in a foil pack.  Even Asparagus is good when grilled properly and in season.  The point is, when your steak is grilled perfectly, just about any accoutrement will do.

The steak will speak for itself, and you will be viewed as the new grill master in your family or neighborhood.

Author Bio: Josh Widdowson, a longtime contributor on several topics for The Inscriber, is a Western Pennsylvanian who loves food, sports, life and his girlfriend, but not necessarily in that order.


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]