Texas experts share tips for making the best grilled steaks for Memorial Day

For most of the country, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of barbecue and grilling season. While Texans enjoy the thrill of the grill year-round, there’s no harm in joining in the holiday festivities for a practice near and dear to the heart of Lone Star.

A big burger, a shiny rack of pork ribs and browned bits of chicken is all well and good, but a steak is the ultimate measure of backyard grilling skill – well-seasoned, charry-crusted, wearing sexy and abundantly juicy grill marks.

“Steak is always the central jewel in the crown when inviting someone to dinner,” said Austin-based Jess Pryles, the butcher/cookbook author/live-shot authority known as Hardcore. Carnivorous. “At the end of the day, you’re not going to make anyone happier than a big, juicy grilled rib eye.”

Indeed, Texans love their beef, consuming 1.5 to 1.8 beef meals a week compared to a national average of 1.2, said Russell Woodward, senior director of the Texas Beef Council. Livestock, he adds, bring more than $13 billion a year to the Texas economy. While ground beef is predominant and finds its way into many meal preparations, steaks such as rib eye, striploin and sirloin cuts remain popular center-of-the-plate options for beef connoisseurs at supermarket and restaurant level.

But how to properly cook these steaks can be a source of anxiety for the grilling novice.

“A lot of people are scared because we’ve been told it takes some kind of special magical equipment or technique,” Pryles said.

Bullshit. Using a simple grill with a hot charcoal fire (charcoal adds flavor, said Pryles, who is a spokeswoman for Kingsford), good cutting, simple seasoning and cooking at the right time can make a homemade steak “as good as or better than a steakhouse.

Myths prevail in the home grilling world – let the steak rest at room temperature before the fire; the harsh burning locks in flavor; flip steaks only once – and always will. But if you follow a few simple steps, you can achieve a perfectly grilled steak.

Here’s what the experts recommend.

Meat selection

A good steak can be an expensive proposition. But if you’re engaged, make your cook count. “Buy the best quality beef you can afford,” Pryles said.

For many Texans, the prized cuts of beef are usually New York rib eye or strip loin. And wagyu beef is considered by many to be the ultimate steak experience. RC Ranch in Angleton breeds American wagyu cattle and in December opened its first butcher shop selling its premium beef at the Houston Farmers Market up high. Known for its abundant intramuscular fat, also known as marbling, the tender flesh of wagyu beef is cut through with a lower melting point fat that gives the meat increased richness and flavor.

RC Ranch, owned by Blake Robertson and Ryan Cade, offers rib-eye wagyu (about $60 for a 14-ounce steak) and New York strip wagyu (about $64 or a 12-14 ounce steak). The company’s beef can also be found at restaurants such as Bludorn and Georgia James steakhouse.

“Sirloins have the best beef flavor,” Cade said. For the money, the best grilled beef experience is the wagyu flank steak (sirloin flank steak), sold in a 3-4 pound size for around $140. Cade calls it a “death row meal” cut for its buttery, beefy flavor that loves cooking over open heat. Rarely seen at the grocery store, flank steak is Cade’s choice if you want to impress Texas carnivores.

Pryles adds that when cooking for a group, use a large format steak instead of individual steaks. She recommends a flat iron steak for a crowd, or skirt steaks for fajitas that feed a lot.

meat seasoning

One of the benefits of sourcing beef from an independent butcher is talking directly to a butcher. Beyond meat selection, they can answer questions about cooking methods (high heat, grilling, oven finish, sous vide, reverse searing) and even heat sources (gas, pellet, stick burner) .

Felix Florez, heritage pig farmer and butcher/owner of Cherry Block Craft Butcher & Texas Market in Katy, is full of tips for seasoning steaks.

“Salt and pepper are like the primer for a good paint job,” he said. “Then you build from that.” Its perfect seasoning ratio is 45% salt and pepper, plus 5% granulated garlic and onion. This building block can be enhanced with small amounts of other spices. Example: If you’re trying to achieve a Latin flavor, add paprika, chili powder, coriander, and cumin to your spice blend.

While seasoning steaks just before cooking is crucial, don’t forget about seasoning after cooking, Florez said. Her favorite finishing seasoning is compound butter. Cherry Block offers Bayou City Butter products – small-batch, handcrafted flavored butters that include finishing butters with flavors such as Chipotle Lime, Creole, and Lemon Garlic. But Florez said her favorite fat finisher is homemade whipped suet flavored with salt, pepper, garlic, onion, Worcestershire sauce and parsley. Go to a butcher and ask for tallow (beef fat); grind it and then cook it in a slow cooker to make it completely. Remove the solids and pour the fat into a bowl to let it solidify. This fat can then be whipped with seasonings for the perfect finish to your grilled steaks.

Fire

Getting a good sear on a steak is important. “Fire is one of the key pieces of the puzzle. It must be hot,” said Ryan Zboril, owner of Pitts & Spitts, the Houston maker of charcoal grills, smokers and pellet grills. “If it’s not hot, you won’t get that nice burn.”

While gas grills are convenient, a brisk fire built with charcoal, briquettes, or chunks of wood produces smoke, which adds flavor to grilled steaks. Zboril recommends using lump charcoal, which is easy to light and heats up faster. If you opt for charcoal or briquettes, wood chips can be added to the fire for extra flavor. The HE-B website has instructions for building a good fire. You want your embers to be orange and white before you put the meat on the grill. “You shouldn’t be able to hold your hand for more than a few seconds,” Zboril said. He added that making a good fire takes practice. “The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it,” he said.

Rest

Let your steaks rest for about 3-5 minutes before slicing. Weber, the grill maker, suggests a standing time of 30-40% of the total cooking time. Pryles recommends investing in a meat thermometer to reach your perfect level of doneness. Meat recorded at 135 degrees will be perfectly medium-rare with a hot red center, she said.

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Dino S. Williams