Great Steaks: It’s All in the Timing

If you want to throw a few steaks on the barbecue for friends and family, you should be prepared and plan ahead: don’t do it the way I do. Prepare your salads and side dishes BEFORE you start grilling the meat, serving beverages and entertaining your guests.

Securing the tablecloth to your backyard picnic table with clips or clothes pegs will prevent it from flapping festively in the breeze and alarming the cat. Disposable dishware saves a lot of cleanup and having a plastic garbage can or two around helps keep litter to a minimum.

Instead of using store-bought meat seasonings, make your own basic steak rub by combining a tablespoon each of ground black pepper, salt, parsley and paprika with a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Add any other favourite spice(s) to create your own secret flavour. Keep any extra steak rub in a tightly sealed jar for use the next time.

I know you would not be caught dead poking holes in your steak while cooking it, but poking holes before applying a rub is OK because this allows the flavour into the meat. Leave the rub on for at least 15 minutes before you start grilling; then put your barbecue fork away and use your tongs or spatula at the grill. Not only do holes drain tasty juices out of the meat, those tasty juices then turn into the “black stuff” on your grill that you (or someone close to you) will have to clean later on.

Generally speaking, a cut of meat about 1½ inches thick with a little visible fat marbling (which gives the meat taste and tenderness) is what you are looking for in a grilling steak. To cook, sear the steak for one to two minutes per side on high, then lower the heat and cook four minutes per side for medium-rare or six minutes per side for well done. A general guideline would be if your meat thermometer reads 145F, you have medium rare; any less and you would be chasing it across your plate with a knife and fork and calling for backup. 

At 160F, your steak will be medium and 170F would be well done. If it were cooked any longer, the meat could be pounded flat and used to make lederhosen or as a spare tire on your boat trailer.

Leave your barbecue lid closed while cooking unless the recipe you are using specifically asks you to cook with the lid open. If you leave the lid open, constant temperature change and airflow dries the meat out more quickly than if you are cooking with a closed lid. Placing foil on the grill under your steaks will give your meat more of a fried taste than a grilled taste.

The smoke generated while you are cooking on the barbecue gives your steaks that grilled taste, but you can also use wood chips. Soak a handful of your favourite hardwood chips in water for 15 minutes. Pour off all the water and wrap the damp chips in foil, leaving one end open. Place this foil packet under the grill on the lava rocks – or modern equivalent – while you are cooking. Discard it when you are finished.

A great side dish for steaks are “veggie packs”, made by chopping up a selection of your favourite vegetables, mixing them in a large bowl with a splash of olive oil and your favourite fresh herbs and wrapping them in foil.

Wrap the packs a little loose to allow room for steam expansion and use double folded seams. Cook the veggie packs seam side up until vegetables are tender (about 25 to 35 minutes). Open carefully, allowing any steam to escape.

Remember to buy locally when in season. As the summer progresses, more and more vegetables are available.

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