A great steak is the result of three things coming together.
First you need a quality piece of meat. Make sure to get a high grade cut and choose a steak that is meant to be grilled such as a New York Strip, T-Bone or Rib Eye. You should look for a well marbled steak (marbling is the fat that runs through the entire steak). This marbling will baste the steak helping to keep it moist and will add flavor.
Below are two steaks. The image on the left has very little marbling and the steak will not be as good as the one on the right which has excellent marbling throughout.
So, where do I get the best steaks?, you may ask… Well, if you live in Calgary then you’re already spoiled by some of the best beef in the known universe. However even here you can be forced to run around looking for that perfect example of Alberta’s best. Rather than going to the nearest butcher shop and hoping for good luck I would offer up two options that are well known and consistent. One would be Bon Ton Meat Market at 1941 Uxbridge Dr NW in the Stadium Shopping centre, and the other would be Second to None Meats which has 3 locations.
Second. Your steak, whatever cut you choose needs to be properly aged. The process of aging meat has been around for a long time and there are two ways to do it, dry aging and wet aging. Until the sixties the only method used was dry aging. Dry aged meat has been hung in a temperature and humidity controlled room for anywhere from 7 -35 days. When beef is dry aged two things happen. First, some of the moisture evaporates from the meat creating a greater concentration of flavor. Secondly, the meat’s natural enzymes break down the fibers and connective tissue, tenderizing it. Most of the tenderizing activity occurs in the the first 10 to 14 days. Dry aged beef has a distinct flavor and is generally what will be most looked for by steak lovers.
Wet aged beef is the second method. Wet aging or aging-in-the-bag has become the industry standard over the past 40 years, 90% of aged beef is prepared this way. The beef is first vacuum packed in plastic and then sits in controlled temperatures for 7-28 days. Inside the plastic, the meat ages and becomes more tender but unlike dry aging there is no flavor development since there is not the concentrating of flavor that occurs with a loss of moisture.
Wet aging became more popular because it is cheaper and more profitable. Dry aging is more costly due to the approximately 18% loss in shrinkage and extra trim required as well as time, storage, refrigerator space, and labor. In a mass produced commercial environment where all attention is given to the profit margin, dry aging is being done only for a few discriminating customers and unfortunately in today’s modern processing plants, the meat is cut and vacuum-sealed in plastic bags within 24 hours. Much of this beef will show up in a grocery store meat case within 2 to 4 days after harvest. Because of the expense only the best cuts of meat are usually aged at all.
The third part of the perfect steak trifecta is the grilling. First of all you don’t want to start with cold meat. Remove the steaks from the fridge about a half hour prior to cooking so they can be near room temperature when you grill them.
Preheat the grill for about 10 minutes so that it is good and hot when you put the steaks on. As far as whether searing the meat locks the juices in, let’s just say that while it seems to make sense to do this the reality is that you sear the meat so that you can caramelize the outside, also known as the Maillard reaction, which will add a rich sweet flavor to the seared meat. So you sear for the flavor, not the juices.
Follow the chart below to determine grilling times
And to get that great set of grill marks use this technique. Note: You may want to flip to a different part of the grill depending on the grates your grill has. Thicker grates retain heat better and will produce better grill marks when using the same area than thin grates.
To check if your steak is cooked the way you want it use the rule of thumb. loosely cup your hand and feel the area of muscle just under your thumb. this is what raw meat feels like. Now by gently touching first your index finger and then each other finger to your thumb you will have an idea of what the different degrees of doneness should feel like when you press the center of the steak.
When your done grilling the steak it’s important to not serve it right away. Let the steak “rest” for about 5 to 8 minutes depending on it’s thickness. This allows the juices to move back into the meat and for the fibers to relax. Resting should be done at about room temperature and with only a loose cover over the meat. If you don’t believe me, try cutting a steak in half right off the grill, now let a second steak rest for five minutes, and then cut into it. See which one is juicier.
Use this guide and your week-ends this summer can include the perfect steak.