August 3rd, 2009

Homer Mmmmmm...

Best steak in the universe

The best steak in the universe isn't found at a fancy steakhouse, or at any restaurant, for that matter.  No, the best steak you've ever tasted comes from your very own backyard grill.

Great steak starts with great meat.  Forget about T-bones, sirloin, strip steak or even filet mignon, no, the real king of beef is the rib eye (Scotch fillet for those readers Down Under).  Rib eye is heavily marbled so it's extremely juicy and flavorful.  It's also rather more expensive than most other cuts, but the money you save by cooking it yourself more than offsets the extra cost.  There are several grades of beef available: USDA Prime is the highest quality and has the greatest amount of marbling (which means the best flavor).  USDA Choice is second best, USDA Select is third.  (There are 5 lower grades, USDA Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner, but they are rarely seen at the grocery store).  Most of what you'll see in the grocery store is Choice or Select.  If you can find it, buy USDA Prime rib eyes; they are more expensive but they are much juicier and more flavorful.

I've had a lot of steaks from a lot of different steakhouses, and some of them have used some really exotic spice blends, but I've found the one spice that really brings out the flavor of rib eye steak is Lawry's Seasoned Salt.  It's very mild and doesn't overwhelm the meat.  The hard part is figuring out how much to use, too much will make the steak too salty, but too little and it will be bland.

Cooking the steaks on a grill really adds to the flavor of the meat, a boiler or frying pan just won't cut it.  A charcoal grill will probably taste better, but a gas grill is much easier to control.  You don't want the grill to be too hot because then you'll end up burning the outside while the inside is still raw.  A lower temperature will allow for better heat penetration.  You also don't want to crowd the grill.  Because these steaks have such high fat content, they will drip fat onto the coals/burners which will cause flareups.  If this happens, just move the affected steaks to another part of the grill.

Ideally, you'll want to aim for medium rare; you can check for doneness by sticking an instant read thermometer into one of the steaks.  When it reaches about 150°F, it's ready.  If you prefer your steak drier more well done, 160° will get you medium, 170° gets you medium well and 180° gets you charcoal well done.  Remove the steaks from the grill (to a CLEAN plate, don't use the plate the raw steaks were on!), cover loosely with foil and let them rest for about 5 minutes.  This lets them finish cooking and helps seal in the juices.

Costco has USDA Choice rib eye steaks for $6.99 a pound, in packages of about 4 pounds.  That sounds like a lot of money, but when you consider a similar steak from Sizzler (nowhere near as good) runs about $20 a pound, up to $50-100 or more a pound from higher end steakhouses like Outback, it's a real bargain.  1 pound of steak is about 5 servings (or 2 if you eat real-life-sized portions), so that's just $1.40 ($3.50) per person.  You can freeze steak pretty much indefinitely without any loss of flavor.  Just repackage the steaks into freezer bags and squeeze out the air (I use one bag for each meal-sized chunk).  Defrost the steak by placing the bag in the refrigerator the night before; do not use the microwave.