If there's one thing citizens of the State of Texas do well it's cook beef. We've already talked about two of the standard beef cuts, the rib roast and the brisket, and now it's time to add another meaty staple to our repertoire: Steak.
Cooking a quality steak is a skill that no self respecting Texas should be without. It's a dish that will always impress, and more importantly, it's an incredibly easy piece of meat to cook well. There are a multitude of methods available to produce a quality steak, so the method I lay out should hardly be considered gospel, but as you research alternative methods you'll see one common theme across almost all good steak recipes: very high heat for a short period of time.
Before you begin it's important to decide what cut of steak you'll be eating. I'll discuss a few of the options available at your local butcher.
Top Sirloin: Sirloin is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat, and it's very lean with little marbling throughout. Additionally, I've found sirloin to be a bit of a crapshoot regarding tenderness. As someone who likes a rare steak, there's nothing worse than biting into a tough piece of meat, so when I cook sirloin I always use a decent amount of meat tenderizer in place of salt as an insurance policy. Also, because of the lack of marbling in sirloin, I'm more inclined to experiment with steak rubs and marinades because the base flavor of the meat isn't as decadent as other cuts. If you're looking for a decent steak on a budget, sirloin is the cut for you.
Strip: The strip steak, or New York Strip as it's sometimes called, is very similar to the sirloin and comes from almost the same location on the cow. The difference is that there is generally more marbling and the cut is far more tender than a sirloin, though the strip has less marbling than a rib eye and isn't as tender as a filet. Accordingly, it's usually less expensive than those two cuts. The strip is a good cut if you want to split the difference between richness, tenderness and price.
Filet: The filet is generally regarded as the most tender cut of steak, and the price in restaurants reflects this ideal. I don't like filets; they're dainty and are lacking in the flavor department. While the steak is incredibly tender, there is almost no fat marbled throughout leading to a bland flavor profile, and I can't justify the inflated price on a filet knowing there are tastier cuts on the market. As Bill Simmons once stated, if Vodka is the booze for people who don't really like booze, the filet is the steak for people who don't really like steak.
T-Bone/Porterhouse: The T-Bone is essentially a strip on one side of the bone with remnants of tenderloin on the other while the porterhouse has an entire piece of tenderloin. This is a great steak if you can't decide between a strip and a filet and want the additional flavor the bone will add to the meat.
Rib Eye: The Cadillac of steaks. Tender, marbled, flavorful, rich. The rib eye is cut from the rib roast we talked about a few posts ago and comes in two varieties: bone-in and bone-off. I prefer the bone-in version because I enjoy the nutty flavors the bone adds to the meat, but the bone-off version is certainly more economical. Unless you're averse to the amount of fat and subsequent richness the fat adds to the meat, I highly recommend cooking this cut whenever you can.
When you go to the grocery or the butcher to buy your steaks I recommend getting the choice grade of meat or higher. Prime would be ideal, but it may be difficult to find because most prime beef is reserved for high end steak houses. Some grocery stores advertise that they sell prime beef, but I've always been skeptical. I'm certainly no expert on beef, but the marbling in most of these grocery store "prime" steaks usually appears to be on the high end of choice grade, and I find myself struggling to pay the prime price.
Also, I highly recommend you have the butcher cut the steaks at least 1 ¼" thick, but preferably 1 ½." This may seem entirely too large for some of you, but it greatly helps the cooking process. I like a rare-medium rare steak with a solid sear on the outside, and I've found that thinner steaks reach the desired internal temperature before a good sear has the chance to form on the outside.
Once you have your steaks, season them with a solid coat of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper (or any seasoning of your choice) and let them sit out until they reach room temperature. In the meantime build your fire or light your grill and let the cooking grate pre-heat for at least 20-30 minutes. I can't stress this step enough. If your grill isn't hot enough you won't be able to properly sear your steaks, so be patient and let the grill reach "scorched earth" levels if possible. Many high end steak houses cook their steaks with 1000+ degree broilers, and while you won't be able to reach temperatures that high on a backyard grill, you can certainly mimic the process.
Once your grill is ready, place your steaks on it and set your timer. If you want, you can brush them with melted butter or olive oil which won't affect the taste much but will help form the sear/crust on the outside, but this step certainly isn't necessary. Your cook time will vary depending on how hot your grill is, so try to split the difference and only turn your steaks once during cooking. Obviously, the most accurate method of determining when the steaks are ready is to use a digital meat thermometer and pull them when they reach the desired internal temperature. If you don't a thermometer use this rule of thumb: Lightly pinch your thumb and index finger together and press on the soft spot below your thumb. This is about what a rare steak will feel like when touched. Thumb and middle finger is about medium rare, thumb and ring finger is about medium, and thumb and pinky is about medium well.
Once your steaks reach the desired internal temperature, pull them from the grill and let them rest for ten minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout. You should have perfectly cooked steaks with a great sear and excellent grill marks that will impress your guests.
As I said above, this certainly isn't the only method out there, but I've found it works great for me, and I stand by my product. How do y'all's methods differ, BONizens?