When it comes to cooking methods, nothing is more squarely in the traditional purview of men than the grill. We gladly volunteer to brave the elements, dirty our hands and huff some smoke – because there’s nothing quite like the primitive joy of cooking raw meat over fire for your own nourishment.
But it actually requires skill and sophistication to master the art of grilling. For advice on grilling the perfect steak we turned to Bob Tappan, who, as culinary director at Sperry’s, has revamped the traditional Nashville steakhouse’s menu with new and interesting recipes.
Picking a steak
If you can afford it, Bob recommends a dry-aged prime steak. Also, “the best grilling steak is the New York strip steak,” he said. Don’t shy away from fatty, marbled steaks, as they are the most flavorful. Bob also cooked us a leaner filet, but bridged the flavor gap by wrapping it in applewood-smoked bacon. Go to a quality grocer or butcher and ask for a steak aged 21 to 35 days.
“I typically like to leave my steaks out at room temperature for an hour or two. That way, you get an even cook,” Bob said. Season evenly with a spice mix, as you’ll lose some as the fat melts. Do all seasoning before grilling.
Wood, charcoal or gas?
If you don’t have a great steak on hand, wood is good for enhancing the flavor. “But,” Bob said, “if you’ve got a great steak, it will mask the flavor.” In which case go with charcoal if you can, and wait until the coals are reduced to glowing embers.
600 degrees is the best surface temperature for grilling a steak, and the best way to measure is by purchasing a thermometer that attaches to the grilling surface itself. Temperature gauges on grill lids tell you how hot the air is on the inside, not the surface. You also can try this trick: See how long you can hold your hand just above the surface. You’re shooting for 4 to 5 seconds.
Once you’ve reached the right temperature, use a good brush and vigorously scrub the grill. Next, use an old, clean towel to rub a high-quality vegetable oil over the surface. If the temperature is right, you should see a light, white smoke – not flames – and a shine. “The whiter and thicker the smoke is, the closer it is to flaming up,” Bob said. “The grilling surface should maintain a sheen from the oil. If it dries out too quickly, it’s probably a little too hot.”
Time to grill
Bob recommends a rare to medium rare steak: “That’s where you’re going to garner the best flavor profiles. Believe it or not, the whole cooking process has diminishing returns. You’ll lose the flavor.”
For a restaurant-style, diamond grill-mark pattern, lay your steak on the grill at a 45-degree angle in relation to the grill grates for the first quarter of your total cooking time. Then, turn the steak 90 degrees until it’s halfway done and it’s time to flip the steak over. Repeat the process on the second side. Cooking times will vary based on steak thickness. Bob cooked his 1¼-inch New York strip for a total of 10 minutes. You can use your finger or tongs to gauge how far along your steak is. The more it feels like the flesh on the back of your hand, the rarer it is. The firmer it is, the more well done.