Preparing the perfect steak is, frankly, not all that hard. Which raises the issue of just why it is so hard to find one, or persuade someone to cook you one.
Some restaurants manage. But if a backyard chef insists he knows how it’s done, and then prepares to go into action with some pink, sad and undistinguished beef which he plans to cook on a dodgy barbecue – possibly rusty and probably Chinese in manufacture – with a hot plate and a lid he never lowers, run for your life…
Instead, take matters into your own hands:
1. Choose your steaks
Buy two of those monstrous rib-eye steaks on the bone that premium butchers sell these days – sometimes vacuum-sealed.
You are looking for examples weighing close to 600g each. If you have to settle for slightly smaller steaks, remember to scale back the cooking time. Also, with vacuum-sealed meat, remember to take it out of the package at least four hours before you intend to cook it.
The other matter to consider in choosing your steak is whether to buy grass fed or grain fed, and here is the deal: grain fed beef will be tender and have more marbling but, inevitably, less flavour. It may feel a bit flabby.
Grass fed beef will offer a bit of resistance to the bite: in short, it can be a tiny bit tough. But in terms of flavour? There’s no contest. The grass fed gets my vote every time and if you have all your own teeth and remember how to use them, go the grass!
2. Prepare your steaks
Rinse them and dry them, and place them on a metal rack over a shallow dish in the refrigerator until about two hours before you plan to grill them.
If your butcher has cut you fresh steaks – ideally from a dark, dry-aged cote de boeuf – still rest them, uncovered, on a rack in the fridge until two hours before grill time.
3. Make the special rub
This is a fairly ferocious one, and I would not suggest that you ever use it on a single, one-person steak, such as a porterhouse.
However, it’s perfect for this recipe as you slice the steak before serving, meaning each slice has a crusting of the caramelised rub, rather than a complete coating.
Using a mortar and pestle, pound together 50g of a smoked sea salt (Maldon make an excellent one, or use plain sea salt if you can’t find smoked), 2tbs fresh, black peppercorns, 1tbs chilli flakes and 1tbs of freshly picked rosemary needles, removed from the stems. Pound this mixture thoroughly, grinding against the sides of the mortar, to create a well-blended rub.
4. Fire up the barbie
Use a powerful gas barbecue or a charcoal barbecue such as a Weber kettle or a kamado-type barbecue such as a Primo Grill or a Saffire Grillo for direct cooking.
Grill bars are essential, of course – hot plates should never be used for cooking steak, or anything else for that matter.
The inside temperature of, say, a three-burner barbecue such as a Weber Genesis will soon hit the 250 C mark. Lower all the levels to about three quarters. Ensure your grill is clean and oiled, as well as being very, very hot.
5. Cook the steaks
Drizzle your two steaks with extra-virgin olive oil to coat all sides and sprinkle all over with the rub.
Place the steaks on the grill at an angle of 45 degrees to the grill bars and drop the hood.
After three minutes, lift the lid and turn the steaks through 90 degrees and, again, drop the hood. After a little less than three more minutes, flip the steaks over and repeat the process on the second side.
Then, lift the steaks from the grill, place them on a warmed rack over a baking dish, loosely tent with foil and rest, somewhere warm (but not hot!), for 6-10 minutes.
The steaks should now be on the rare side of medium rare, depending on the heat and efficiency of your grill. If you must have them cooked more than that, add half a minute to each position. But don’t invite me!
6. Add the finishing touches
Finish them with a squeeze of lemon and slice them, thickly, from the outside of the meat, in towards, and parallel to, the bone.
Divide the meat between four plates – I like to serve it with mashed sweet potato.
To make the mash, peel, cube and slowly cook the potatoes before and covered in a generous splash of cream and plenty of unsalted butter, salt and pepper. When it is soft (45 min), add more cream, a splash of maple syrup and mash well) and a couple of oiled, seasoned and quickly grilled spring onions with each serving.
The perfect steak? You tell me…
This recipe is a slightly updated version of The Perfect Steak from my barbecue book, Heat & Smoke (Hartbeat Media, $24.95), which you will find in most book shops, good barbecue shops or online at heatandsmoke.com.