30 Apr Raising the Steaks
There are so many ways of cooking steak al fresco, we sometimes go on autopilot and stick with the same method we are used to. This article will hopefully remind you that there are plenty of ways of cooking a steak and that it’s fun to experiment and change things up every so often.
Some techniques will be obvious to you, others might be new, either way, give them a try as the results are great and since when did anyone need an excuse to go cook steak?
I had the rather fantastic task of cooking 7 steaks, 7 different ways and photographing the results to cover the next handful of pages. This beautiful meat was sourced from James at JL Butchers and the quality of the 31 day dry-aged Limousine was obvious from the moment he delivered it.
Some of the steaks were cooked in slightly similar ways, so they’ve been covered under the same category, but you can look forward to: dirty sirloin, dirty afterburner ribeye, afterburner fillet, grilled T-Bone, reverse seared rump and finally griddled hangar and flank.
Grilling is the classic way to cook meat outdoors. It only requires the most common of all pieces of BBQ equipment (a grill) and most people will already have had plenty of practice with this technique.
Try to have a two or three heat-zone setup. Blistering hot, hot and warm and move the steak between them depending on how the cook goes.
Be wary of flare-ups, the odd lick of a flame won’t hurt the steak, but prolonged contact will burn and result in a bitter flavour.
Whether you judge the doneness of a steak by temperature probe, feel or pure experience, grilling must be the most used technique in the UK.
“Dirty” cooking involves placing the meat directly onto the coal and it will help release your inner caveman. To start you need to build a bed of hot coals, either by burning untreated hardwood or good quality lumpwood charcoal. When the coals are burning well, give them a quick blow to remove the ash and then you are ready for the steak.
The initial fear most people have when wanting to try dirty cooking is that the food will be covered in ash and, providing a wet marinade isn’t used, this fear is unfounded. Occasionally the odd coal can stick to the meat when flipping it, but this is easily removed by flicking or picking it off with tongs.
Cooking dirty enhances the smoky flavour you’d normally associate with grilled meat. For the thicker cuts of meat, it’s worth flipping a few times and moving the meat around as occasionally the coals can be starved of oxygen and lose heat once meat is placed on top in a campfire scenario. This is less of a problem when the airflow is from the bottom; for instance, if you are using a fire basket and outdoor cooking equipment (like a ceramic or grill) to hold your coals.
Temperature control is achieved solely through fire management (read: poking the fire with a stick whilst staring into the flames and reminding yourself that this is nature’s television).
This style of cooking meat is simplistic and rewarding. You don’t need to lug around any equipment other than a set of tongs or asbestos hands to cook like this, so you can do it anywhere you can start a fire. So go on, give it a try!
For a fun and extreme version of this technique, try using a small leaf blower to turn the coals red hot like a blacksmith’s forge to achieve a “dirty afterburner” style cook.
The afterburner cooking technique uses a grill on top of a chimney starter to cook things at very hot temperatures. The nature of the chimney starter, with the relatively large amount of fuel to cooking space ratio, combined with the draw the chimney generates – results in an intense heat, focused in a small area.
Since this technique has started to get more prominent, there are some grills which have been manufactured specifically to fit onto chimney starters of varying brands and sizes. Something like a rocket stove would also work instead of a chimney starter.
The downsides to this method can be the intense heat and the reduced cooking space: some cuts of meat would be great with this technique, but unfortunately are generally too big for one chimney starter; equally, it’s not the best for thicker cuts of meat unless you’ve used another technique to ensure the middle is cooked to your liking.
This is great for the smaller sized sirloins, ribeyes, and up to 1 ½” fillet. An added benefit to this technique is you can cook something whilst starting your BBQ and stave off the munchies whilst you cook for others.
The reverse sear method involves cooking a steak indirectly, usually at low temperatures and often with the aid of a temperature probe to ensure the meat is cooked to perfection inside.
Once the desired internal temperature is reached (or, more usually a few degrees less), the steak is then seared. This method is perfect for those indulgent, thickly sliced steaks. The combination of indirect and finish over direct heat ensures desired doneness throughout the entirety of the steak and a great Maillard crust, considered essential for a good steak.
To start, set up an indirect environment on your BBQ to a temperature of approximately 120C / 250F (although, there’s lots of play here, given you won’t generally be cooking indirect for hours). You could opt to add some wood to the coals to give the meat a quick wisp of smoke.
Place the steak onto the indirect zone and monitor the internal temperature, ideally with a wired probe placed inside the meat, or occasionally with something like a Thermapen until a couple of degrees shy of your desired doneness. Once there, transfer immediately to a finishing method of choice (grill, cast iron, dirty etc) to quickly sear the outside. The couple of degrees leeway will allow for the heat gained whilst searing and resting.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of all things cast iron, it provides a fantastic surface to sear meat. When pre-heated, the heavy, near indestructible cookware will give one of the best steak crusts you can get.
There are generally three sorts of cast iron equipment relevant for cooking a steak: a flat surface, such as a skillet, hot plate or chapa; a ridged griddle (sometimes they are referred to as just a griddle, but technically that can be flat or ridged) which have raised grills throughout the surface; lastly there is the cast iron grill offering a mix between the retained heat benefits of cast iron and the direct exposure to the heat source – an upgrade on thin chrome grills that come standard with most BBQs. Thick grill marks left on meat by either a ridged griddle or grill look great, but personally I prefer the fully flat surface of a skillet so I can get a sear all over the steak.
Cast iron can be used with virtually any heat source, on a grill, in a smoker, in the embers of a fire, a chimenea, a log burner, on the hob, in a pizza oven…you get the idea. You can cook any steak in cast iron, but it pairs perfectly with a reverse sear, getting the smoky flavour into the meat first before the raging hot iron seals the outside.