Grilling Tips from Executive Chef Matt King.
Summer is upon us – Prime time for grilling and entertaining with steaks in your own home. But, before you fire up the grill this season, plan ahead for the right steak selection and grilling preparation – a few details can make a big difference for the perfect steaks. Smith & Wollensky Executive Chef Matt King shares his tips for choosing and grilling your steaks for the ultimate backyard barbecue this summer:
USDA Prime Meat Selection. When purchasing your beef, choose USDA Prime whenever possible. This grade of meat is distinguished by its heavy marbling, which makes the steak more juicy and flavorful. USDA Prime represents less than 2% of the beef produced in the US, and it’s the grade of steaks that we offer on our menu and available through Prime Steaks Online.
The Breed. Understand the breed and where your meat came from. In the US, there are many breeds of cattle raised, but the four most common types are Angus, Hereford, Texas Long Horn and Holstein. Some “certified” breed branding can be deceiving, as almost all cattle are a cross between multiple breeds. The most recommended breeds are the Angus, Hereford or a cross-breed between both.
Wet-Aged or Dry-Aged? Most beef is either wet-aged or dry-aged, an essential process that tenderizes the meat over time through the breakdown of muscle and connective tissue. The exact length of aging is a great debate among butchers and chefs alike, but it is a most common belief that 21 days is the minimum length of time needed to age and achieve the ideal flavor and tenderization. Whether you choose wet-aged or dry-aged beef is a matter of your own preference, as they have significant differences in taste and texture. At Smith & Wollensky, we dry-age many of our cuts, in a 28-day process of controlled temperature and humidity. As it rests and dry-ages, the steak loses nearly 15% of its water weight and the fibers within the meat break down, which seals in an intense, savory flavor that can only result from dry-aging. Think of it in the same way as a sauce reduction – as it reduces, flavor is intensified. The same effect happens with a steak’s reduction.
Preparing your Steak and your Grill. As you are getting ready to grill, take the meat out of the fridge and let it rest for about a half an hour. Season with salt and pepper, but not too much, and not too far ahead of time – it will take away from its flavor. Get your grill as hot as you can get it, then brush the grates with a steel brush, removing any carbon. Once cleaned, take a towel with a small amount of oil and rub the grates. The oil will burn, flavor and create the charring – the best part of a grilled steak!
The Perfect Charring. As you begin to grill, start on the hottest grill spot and maintain a full flame. It is important to resist the urge to turn your steak too early, as the natural sugars in the meat need to fully caramelize. When turning your steaks, use tongs, not forks, so that you don’t penetrate the crust as much. Once you have charred both sides of the steak, you can then move to a cooler spot on your grill, or if working with a gas grill, you can reduce your flame.
For Marinated Steaks. When marinating steaks, the length of time is important. It will take 2 days for the full benefit of marinating to take effect, so plan ahead and allow time for the marinating process. When grilling your marinated steaks, keep in mind that the more sugar the marinade contains, the faster it will char, so you will need to turn your steak and reduce the heat earlier – keep in mind that it will look cooked on the outside far before it cooks on the inside. If you are using a marinade that is oil based, make sure you allow the steak to drain off the oil before it hits the grill – oil will reach the smoking point sooner than the natural fats, and will leave you with the flavor of the burnt oil.
Just the Right Temperature. For perfectly grilling specific cuts, take note that the more fat on the steak cut (such as a Rib Eye) the more you’ll want to cook it, and the less fat, the less you’ll want to cook it (such as a Filet). We suggest removing the steak one full temperature below your ideal level of doneness. If you want it medium rare, take it off when it’s rare. And most importantly, let it rest for ten minutes after taking it off the grill. The steak will continue to cook and the juices will redistribute, and you’ll have the perfect doneness and flavor throughout.
Enjoy a Good Beer. To keep cool and sip while the steaks are cooking!
– Executive Chef Matt King