How to grill a steak

April 15, 2008

Now that you have your grill, it’s time to buy a steak and cook it. But before you preheat the grill, peruse these tips I’ve picked up during my years as a professional chef. After all with the price of steaks, don’t you want to ensure that every grilled steak is a wonderful meal?

• Steaks for the grill need to be tender cuts. Choose rib eye, filet mignon (tenderloin), strip loin, T-bone and porterhouse varieties.
• For optimum tenderness, choose steaks that have plenty of marbled fat (don’t worry, most of this fat renders out as the steak cooks leaving only flavor and moisture behind, not extra calories) in the flesh and a modest amount of white fat (known as leaf fat) surrounding the flesh.
• Avoid buying steaks that are cut thinner than 3/4-inch (1.5 cm) thick since they are often dry and difficult to sear without overcooking.
• If steaks are very thick (more than 1 1/2 inches/4 cm) cut notches in the surrounding fat so that the steak doesn’t curl as it cooks.
• Bring steak to room temperature before cooking.
• Although marinating tender steaks is optional, all steaks taste better if lightly brushed with oil and sprinkled generously with salt and pepper just before cooking.
• Preheat the grill on high before adding meat.
• Place a 1-inch (2.5 cm) rib eye, porterhouse or T-bone steak on your hot grill. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, turning only once, for 6 to 7 minutes for rare (135F/57C), 9 to 12 minutes for medium (155 F/68C) and (I’m cringing, but if you must), 12 to 15 minutes for well-done (166 F/72C).
• Still worried about cooking to the perfect doneness? Use an instant read thermometer. I’ll be talking more about them tomorrow so if that term just confused you, check back in 24 hours.
• Flank steaks benefit from being marinated overnight and should never be cooked beyond medium. Place a flank steak on a preheated grill and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, turning once. After resting, cut across the grain into thin strips.
• Tenderloin or filet steaks should not be marinated for longer than 1 hour and, because they are so lean, should not be cooked beyond medium doneness. Place a 1-inch (2.5 cm) medallion of tenderloin on a preheated pan and cook, turning once, for about 5 minutes for rare or 6 to 7 minutes for medium.

Celebrate spring by grilling!

April 14, 2008

All across this great nation spring is, if not in full bloom, at least in the air at last. That means that many of us will be turning our thoughts to grilling once again. The first flush of grilling euphoria is usually happily satisfied with a juicy burger or a competently cooked steak. To ensure that our first efforts this year are as enjoyable as the practiced ones were at the end of the season last year, I thought we should revisit the basics this week. This week I promise to share my grilling wisdom, such as it is. Whether you use this info this week or wait one or two or a few more, I hope this series of posts will put you in to a warm weather state of mind.

But, before we get cooking, let’s kick off the grilling season with some tips about buying a grill:

I find shopping (except for food and throw cushions – don’t ask, I know it’s weird) generally daunting but buying a barbecue can be a truly overwhelming experience for anyone. How do you choose between the copious number of models available within the staggering price range out there? It’s not easy my friends, so take a moment and read these few points. They might help you when you get to the store:

• BTU’s (British thermal units) measure a grill’s maximum heat output. More doesn’t mean better, just hotter. Plus, the more BTU’s, the more gas the grill burns and the more expensive it is to operate.
• Assess your needs. For most families a 400 square inch grill is sufficient and will allow you to grill more than one recipe at a time. Remember that you only need a space about the size of one hand to cook enough food for one person.
• Buy a grill with a rotisserie spit attachment if you like to cook whole chickens or large cuts of meat. Rotisserie cooking bastes foods continuously with natural juices and prevents food from scorching. It’s one of the summertime pleasures I look forward to all winter long.
• Manufacturers say modern stainless steel grates are better than cast iron or porcelain grates found on less expensive grills since the convex shape of today’s stainless steel grates traps heat, making up for the fact stainless steel is a poor conductor. Stainless steel and porcelain also won’t rust and don’t need to be seasoned the way cast iron does. That said, professional chefs stand by their cast iron grills for durability, even heat distribution and great grill marks. Whatever the material, grates should be thick enough to sear meat nicely.
• Natural gas grills cost significantly less to operate than propane grills and you never have to worry about running out of fuel. That said, the cost of having an outdoor natural gas hook-up installed is at least $125 and it cuts down on the flexibility of moving your grill. This is a consideration since more of us are barbecuing year round and most people like to move the barbecue to a more sheltered spot once fall arrives.
• Check for wobbling. If the stand wobbles on the showroom floor just imagine what cooking will be like when it’s sitting on interlocking brick.
• What’s under the grill? Good gas grills have ceramic briquettes or heat deflector plates that disperse heat evenly, create smoke when juices dribble down, and act as a buffer between the heat source and the food to prevent flare-ups.
• Ignition switches help to light the grill safely and quickly without using lighter fluid or matches.
• Domed lids reduce cooking time, conserve fuel and trap in the smoke that makes food tasty. High domes mean larger foods like turkeys and roasts can be cooked. Best quality grill lids are coated in porcelain to create a thermal convection style-cooking chamber.
• Consider how difficult the unit will be to assemble and transport home. Average assembly times for gas grills is 2 1/2 hours so you may want to buy from a store that offers assembly and local delivery (usually about $50 extra).
• Charcoal grills have the advantage of being portable but require patience and finesse to create a good fire. They are less expensive at the outset but over time cost more to fuel than gas grills. Good charcoal grills have a steady base, a firebox that is easy to empty, good flow through ventilation, an easily raised or lowered heavy-duty grate and a domed lid with adjustable vent holes in the top.

And that is what I have to say about buying a grill. May the force be with you as you shop!

Chimichurri’s the new ketchup

February 29, 2008

Chimichurri and steakChimichurri is an Argentine basting and dipping sauce that is served with grilled meats; it’s as common in Argentina as ketchup is in North America. Fresh, tangy and utterly terrific tasting, chimichurri is appearing more and more often on steakhouse and fine dining menus here in Canada.

Although there are a couple of bottled chimichurri sauce mixtures on the market, none of them compare to the taste of one made with fresh parsley.

Steak is the number one meat served with Chimichurri sauce in Argentina; my favourite steak to use with chimichurri is a rib steak, which is a well-marbled, flavourful cut that truly appreciates the astringency of this sauce (the picture today is a rib steak with chimichurri sauce from my latest book Dana’s Top Ten Table). That said, this sauce is also terrific brushed over shrimp as they come off the grill or used as a marinade for black cod or monkfish. In summer, I also like to barbecue a chicken over low coals or on the rotisserie and then serve chimichurri as a dipping sauce.

Fresh and Fabulous Chimichurri Sauce:

3 tbsp (45 mL) red-wine vinegar
2 tbsp (30 mL) water
4 cloves minced garlic
3/4 tsp (4 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp (2 mL) coarsely ground black pepper
1 small bay leaf
1/4 cup (50 mL) olive oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 rib, T-bone or porterhouse steak, about 2 lb (1 kg)
1 tsp (5 mL) salt

Stir vinegar with water, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, black pepper and bay leaf until salt is dissolved. Whisk in oil and stir in parsley. Divide in half. Brush the half without the bay leaf evenly over the steak. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Onions offer layers of possibility

January 28, 2008

pizza.jpgEven when the pantry is empty, there are usually onions in most kitchens. And believe it or not, the humble onion — when caramelized — can come to dinner’s rescue.

Caramelized onions are incredibly versatile. I always have a container ready and waiting for me in the freezer and the ingredients to make more are always on my shopping list. Saucy, soft slow-cooked onions can be added to mashed potatoes for a chef-style twist or used as a topper for a steak or a baked potato.

One of my favourite uses for caramelized onions is as a topper for pizza (I make the one pictured above often). Likewise, pork chops sautéed with apples also love caramelized onions and adding them to a juicy grilled burger is blissful, indeed!

The basic steps required to caramelize onions are simple:
-Toss sliced onions with melted butter in a heavy skillet set over medium-low heat.
-Add a clove of minced garlic and a little dried or fresh thyme leaves.
-Partially cover the pan and cook, stirring often, for about 20 minutes.
-When the onions are very soft, remove the lid and increase the heat to medium. Brown slightly.
-Sprinkle the onions with a little granulated sugar and sauté, stirring constantly, until well-browned and very soft.
-Deglaze the pan (loosen the cooked-on brown bits) with a few tablespoons of dry sherry or chicken broth.
-Stir in a splash of cider vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Check out my recipe for Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Lasagna at

How do you use caramelized onions?