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Special Labor Day Edition: 11 Tips for Grilling the Perfect Steak
For many in the US, this coming Labor Day weekend marks the end of Summer, especially for those with children in school. Since 1882 Americans have enjoyed the first Monday of September off from work. We celebrate this national, annual tribute to the contributions workers have made that add to the strength and prosperity of America.
A Master Chef Shares 11 Tips for Grilling the Perfect Steak @ Home
by Daniel Goodman
There is nothing better than a steak done the right way.
He showed us how to select the right piece of meat, how long to cook it for, and how to take care of your grill.
Chef Lomonaco walked us through some of the important terms and concepts you need to understand to cook delicious steaks right at home.
The terms “prime meat” and “dry-aged” really do matter when it comes to quality.
Prime meat has a “great deal of marble or fat within the beef, the fattiness makes it so delicious,” says Chef Lomonaco. It serves as a natural source of flavoring when it cooks.
Dry-aged meat is kept in a specially controlled locker.
By controlling the temperature and humidity of the space, the meat’s enzymes are able to develop and interact creating more complex favors.
Specifically, Chef Lomonaco explains, “dry-aged beef has a particular flavor, a nutty aroma, and pronounced beef flavor.”
In addition to the flavor, aged-beef is firmer than non-aged and has less moisture content. The reduced moisture helps tenderize the meat and concentrate the flavor.
Because the meat is more tender is feels firmer than regular beef and this can affect the “finger test” when trying to gauge doneness. More on the “finger test” later.
You don’t always need to get the most expensive cut to get a great steak.
Sure when you go to a steak house you want to get the prime, dry-aged rib-eye that you only find at the finest restaurants. But when cooking at home, a simpler cut can still get stunning results.
Chef Lomonaco recommends skirt steaks or hanger steaks for home cooking because these cuts have a great flavor and quality and can be cooked easily on the grill or in a cast iron pan. They are also a lot cheaper than the pricier prime cuts.
This can even be true at restaurants. New York Magazine gave its coveted top 2012 steak award to a modest $15 hanger steak in Brooklyn.
And this goes for chicken and fish too! The meat will cook more evenly if it is the same temperature throughout.
Professional kitchens that have super high-powered grills, like Porter House NY’s 1800º F grill, can cook a frozen piece of meat just fine.
But if you are cooking on your home grill (which probably maxes out at around 500-600º F) letting the meat reach an even room temp will help you control the temperature of your meat better as you cook it.
Heat is the key to cooking your steak right. A hot grill will char the meat and seal in the flavor. It will also enable you to cook your meat quickly and properly.
You also want to avoid flipping meat over and over again.
Top quality, well-marbled meat needs no additions.
Oil can cause fire flare ups and change flavor. If the cooking surface is hot, the steak should have enough fat in it to do the rest and won’t stick.
Just before cooking, thoroughly season your meat with coarse or kosher salt. That’s it!
Pepper can be a nice addition, but add it after cooking. The taste of pepper can turn bitter if placed on high heat so add to taste after the meat is cooked.
Most grills have different heat levels at different spots and depending on the cut of steak different parts might cook differently. So it is important to rotate the meat to ensure that every part gets cooked evenly.
This is particularly true for bone-in steaks, because the meat near the bone takes longer to cook than the meat in the middle or at the edges. Chef Lomonaco explains, “the rarest part of a steak is always along the bone.”
Chef Lomonaco, along with just about every other chef we’ve spoken to, recommends that you eat a good cut of prime meat at “medium-rare” doneness. This means it is warm but pink or red in the center so it is cooked all the way through but retains the ideal level of tenderness.
But don’t worry you can cook your meat to whatever doneness you desire.
The meat will get tougher as you cook it longer.
Touching the meat regularly will help you feel how the tenderness changes over time and eventually you will learn what rare, medium-rare, medium, etc feel like.
For a simple way to tell, make a fist and feel the skin between your thumb and your forefinger. When the fist is clenched tight, this is like medium-well or well-done. Half-clenched will feel closer to medium-rare.
If you’ve followed the advice provided you now have a perfectly cooked, tender, and moist steak coming off the grill. The last thing you want to do is let that juice out. So don’t.
Let your steak sit for about 5-10 minutes after it comes off the grill and before you cut into it. This will allow the juices to settle and the meat to reach its final tenderness as the temperature evens.
A clean grill is another key to success according to Chef Lomonaco.
He even recommends cleaning the grill while you are grilling.
In addition to just being good general practice, a clean grill will heat better and therefore cook better, it will prevent the meat from sticking to the grill, and it will ensure a clean and fresh taste (unaffected by residue).
He most recently spent a year in Hong Kong pursuing a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
A New Jersey native, he moved to China shortly after obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University in 2006. In China, Daniel worked in teaching, furniture sales, PR, research consulting, and large-scale concert promotion.
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