COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Put some sizzle on your plate, what most redblooded Americans crave: a thick, juicy, grilled steak.
To find out more about how to best serve up that bounty of beefy goodness, we went to Brian Sack, executive chef at The Famous-A Steak House. We also consulted with John Brand, chef at Charles Court, a restaurant at The Broadmoor, a five-star resort. Finally, we checked in with Tami Arnold, director of marketing for the Denver-based Colorado Beef Council, to get her recommendations for cuts that are sure to please.
What are the prime cuts?
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Arnold: "I'd say to stick with any of the steaks that come from the rib and loin area. This is where you'll get the most tender cuts."
Sack: His five top picks are porterhouse (also known as T-bone), bone-in rib-eye (what he calls a cowboy steak), top loin New York strip steak, tenderloin fillet and a flat iron steak from the chuck. "The first four will be more expensive, but the flat iron steak has a great taste and can be very tender, too," he said. "Flat iron steaks should not be overlooked." But if price is no object, go for a goodsize porterhouse. "A thick-cut porterhouse, say about 20 to 28 ounces, would be a great choice. That would be a good-sized, manly steak."
Brand: His favorites for the grill are skirt and flank steaks. Both are reasonably priced but need to be marinated to tenderize them. "These cook quickly on the grill and will maintain their juicy texture."
MAKING THE GRADE
Now that you have some options, let's talk about grade.
There are three grades of beef: prime, choice and select. The grades reflect the amount of marbling (fat within the lean), firmness, color and texture of the beef, and the maturity of the animal.
You probably won't find prime beef (the best grade) at the grocery store. According to Arnold, only about 1 percent to 2 percent of beef is graded prime, and it's mainly sold to restaurants. But grocery stores are awash in choice, the second-best grade.
"For the home cook, buy steaks that are graded choice," Sack said. "Then look for a steak with as much marbling as possible."
Select has the least marbling and is often less juicy and flavorful than the other grades.
Alternatives to grocery stores include butchers and specialty shops. A couple of ranchers take freezers to farmers markets, where you can buy steaks and other meats, but not many markets are open yet.
_For pricey cuts: "If you've spent a bundle on a great steak, keep the seasoning simple," Sack said. "I love English sea salt. It's very light and doesn't add a lot of salty taste. Then use some fresh chopped garlic, fresh herbs and fresh cracked black pepper. Sprinkle this over both sides of the steak, and let it stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes."
_For less-expensive cuts that need a marinade, such as skirt or flank steaks, Brand suggests: "Mix 1/3 each soy sauce, maple syrup and malt vinegar. Place this mixture and the steak in a plastic zipper storage bag. Let the steak marinate 20 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator before grilling."
The hotter, the better.
"The grill should be blistering hot," Brand said. "If you're using a gas grill, get it as hot as you can. If you're using a charcoal grill, the coals need to be completely white and glowing."
When the grill is scorching hot, clean it with a grill scraper.
"Take a clean kitchen rag, and roll it tightly, then tie with a string," Brand said. "Dip the rolled rag in oil and squeeze the excess oil out. Use metal tongs to rub the rag across the grill before cooking."
To get the signature crisscross pattern on the steak, position it so it points to 11 o'clock, Sack said. Let it rest there until it's well-marked, then lift and rotate it to the 2 o'clock position. "Then you'll have nice brown marks on the top side."
Flip the steak over, and move it to a cooler area of the grill to finish cooking. Avoid flipping more than once, and use tongs rather than a fork.
"If you use a fork it will make holes in the steak and let the juice run out," Brand said.
Sack doesn't have much patience with people who like their steaks well-done.
"If people like well-done beef, they should buy a cheaper cut, like a chuck steak, and kill it all they want," he said. "An expensive steak should be served rare to medium-rare."
Don't guess; use a thermometer to gauge the temperature of steaks at least ½-inch thick. Insert it horizontally from the side, so the thermometer penetrates the thickest part or the center of the steak, without touching bone or fat. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association recommends 145 degrees for medium-rare, 160 degrees for medium and 170 degrees for well-done.
After removing the steak from the grill, let it rest 2 to 3 minutes before serving to let the juices flow out from the center. This makes the whole steak nice and juicy.
GRILLED PORTERHOUSE STEAKS WITH GARLIC-HERB PEPPERCORN CRUST
Yield: 4 servings
SEASONING: 2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley and fresh thyme 5 cloves garlic, minced 2 teaspoons coarsely ground mixed peppercorns (black, white, green and pink)
STEAKS: 2 (1-pound) 1-inch-thick beef porterhouse or T-bone steaks 1 teaspoon coarsely ground mixed peppercorns Salt, to taste
1. Combine seasoning ingredients in small bowl. Press evenly onto beef steaks.
2. Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, uncovered, 14-16 minutes for medium-rare to medium doneness, turning occasionally.
3. Remove bones from steaks and carve into slices. Season with ground peppercorns and salt, to taste.
Nutrition data per serving: Calories 618 (64.4 percent from fat); fat 44.2 g (sat 17.9 g, mono 18.9 g, poly 1.5 g); protein 49.8 g; carbohydrates 2 g; fiber .33 g; cholesterol 164.6 mg; sodium 129.2 mg; calcium 55 mg.
CHARRED NEW YORK STEAK
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon each ground cumin, pink peppercorns, black pepper and cinnamon
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup kosher salt
1 (24-ounce) top loin steak
4 tablespoons cold butter
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Grind cumin, pink peppercorns, black pepper and cinnamon in spice grinder or pepper mill. Combine with brown sugar and salt in bowl and mix well.
3. Rub steaks with spice mixture. Sear hard in cast-iron skillet over high heat. Remove to oven and finish cooking, about 4 minutes. Rest 5 minutes, then rub with cold butter. Cut into four portions and serve.
Nutrition data not available.
_Source: John Brand of Charles Court, The Broadmoor