So you fancy a meaty dinner tonight? Can we tempt you with a juicy T-bone steak? Yes, the succulent legend of a steak perfect for a real meat lover at heart. But, before you commit to grilling this piece, we should warn you that there’s a whole lot of philosophy when it comes to picking the right steak. I mean, it’s not like buying a bread roll, you know? So what is the criteria for choosing the ultimate T-bone?
There are few things to look for:
- The color. Yes, it’s the best indicator of freshness in meat. Go for a light cherry shade as opposed to a deep red. The lighter the color, the fresher the cut. As a rule, try to avoid dark red shades when picking a steak.
- Tenderness. Pat the cutlet before buying to check how soft it is. A fresh steak is usually firmer to the touch, while the older the meat gets, the softer it becomes. You can test it by touching a steak through the foil cover of the packaging. Or if shopping at the butcher’s, wear a plastic glove to test tenderness. You don’t want to touch a raw piece of meat with bare hands and you certainly wouldn’t buy it yourself if it was touched by others, would you?
- Marbling. This is an important element as well. An even distribution of fat running through the chop plays quite a significant role in the cooking process. These white specks will melt bit by bit under the grill, ensuring that your steak is consistently juicy and moist. Marbling also improves the flavor of the cut. Curiously that’s one of the main indicators used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grade the quality of the beef. According to the USDA system, the meat can be separated into three main groups: “Prime” is considered the best while the other two, notably called “Choice” and “Select”, signify a lower quality of cut. That is also an official ranking method found on the labels when shopping for beef across the United States.
- Gristle. This chewy and unattractive part of meat is characteristic to the ‘end-cuts’. It’s very similar in texture to ear cartilage. Juicy, huh? This type of connective tissue is often found near the muscle, and is usually associated with chops coming from the legs, shoulders and haunches. It’s a white stretchy ribbon-like shred, which doesn’t get processed during cooking. Gristle is commonly located just by the bone, so the T-bone steak can certainly supply a fair share. But remember, the higher the grade of meat you go for, the fewer irregular things you will end up with.
- Price. Price really does make a tremendous difference in the quality of the steak. Let’s face it, most good steaks and fine cuts are likely to be expensive. If you don’t commit to the quality, you rob yourself of the whole experience. It’s not the same as buying a chicken – most of it tastes pretty much the same anyway. But once you get to savor a premium succulent steak melting in your mouth, this experience is impossible to replicate using a cheaper cut. So don’t take a short-cut on the quality, the finest meats are really worth these extra few coins.
- Age. The steak is at its best when it’s 3 weeks old. That is the general rule. It mustn’t be too fresh; it needs to age slightly to deliver the best flavoring. In addition make sure to check the use by or experation date when buying a steak in the supermarket. But, the most important indicators of the quality are all mentioned above. So is there anything else we need to be aware of? Yes, there is one more thing.
- Thickness. Always opt for the thickest steak you can find – look for the cuts that are 1” or even better 1 ½ inches. They deliver the best experience and a mouthwatering finish.
You’ve followed the rules and found the one.
So now that you have discovered the greatest steak, you are ready to impress everyone with your grilling skills. After all, they call you the ‘King of BBQs’ for a reason. So go on and show them one more time how it’s done!
First things first – if your steaks are still in the fridge take them out! They should be left in room temperature – at about 70ºF (21ºC) – for a good 30 minutes before putting it on the BBQ. By all means avoid grilling your meat while it’s still cold, as it will be hard to chew. Not the result you’re after.
Trim the fat.
Remove nearly all the fat while the steaks are still cold – this is much easier done now than later once they have warmed up. Don’t remove all of the fat though, leave about ¼ of an inch around the edges for a crispy finish. At the same time make sure to remove most of it as fat is likely to melt during cooking and drip into the charcoal. Dripping fat can cause a heck of a steam, blinding most of the diners and burning the steaks – in a nutshell, not much fun.
But, getting back to business…
Take a look at the BBQ – is it in a respectable shape? Scrape it just in case to remove any burnt fat and to avoid smoking the whole neighborhood. Spray the grates lightly with vegetable oil to grease the surface and prevent the stakes from sticking.
Light the fire.
If you’re using an outdoor BBQ, allow at least 15 minutes for the charcoal to roast and become greyish white. Gas BBQ will take less time to heat, but in either case aim for a 2-second rule. What is that? In order to know if the grill is hot enough, place your hand 2 inches above the surface. It will take only 2 seconds for you to realize that it’s hot. If you can hold your hand for longer, we’ve got an issue – or a BBQ needs more time to heat.
Use this little trick…
There’s one more thing to remember when setting a BBQ. If you are grilling a T-bone, it’s worth to mention that this kind of thick cutlet needs to be seared on a high heat to lock in the flavor before continuing to cook throughout on a lower temperature. But how can you arrange two different settings on one grill? There’s a method to that.
It’s easily done in a gas grill. Here, you simply leave one side on high, while the other on a medium setting. This method can also be applied to a charcoal barbeque. Sweep most of the briquettes to one side, leaving only a thin layer on the opposite end. Then you have professionally arranged a surface ready to cook a T-bone to perfection.
By now the cutlets have been thawing for a half an hour while you were preparing the BBQ. It’s time to get the steaks ready. Pat them dry using a paper towel. Dry cutlets are easier to grill and won’t get steamy. The only spices you need are salt and pepper, with a small helping of olive oil. Some people add balsamic vinegar for an extra flavor, but that is an individual liking. I prefer to leave the stronger spices, along with marinades, for less succulent cuts. This way the process allows the natural juices of a quality steak emerge and remain unclouded by too much spice.
Do I season now or at the end?
Actually, leave it till the steaks are done. The spices can draw out the juices from the meat during cooking. Therefore many people swear by grilling the chops bare and then adding the flavors afterwards. There are two things that can vastly improve your steaks when it comes to seasoning. One – choose only the best quality spices – either sea or kosher salt along with the classic cracked black peppercorns. And the other thing, add a knob of butter just before removing the steak from the heat – it is a scrumptious touch.
It’s time to grill.
The steaks are ready, the BBQ is steaming. Perfect – let’s roll with the show!
First of all, sear the steaks. Place each cutlet in the hot part of the BBQ and grill it for about two minutes on either side. Use a spatula when handling the meat – very important! Avoid thongs at all cost. They pierce the steak, allowing the moisture to escape with the juices, resulting in the steak being dry and tough. Also don’t get impatient and pat the steak every few seconds or keep rotating it endlessly. That’s what amateurs do! You are an actual King of the BBQs, so act like one.
Is it ready yet?
After searing, take a spatula and carefully move the steaks to the medium heat side of a chargrill to continue cooking. Now, before you rest on your laurels, make sure to establish how your diners like their steaks: Rare, medium or well done? Rare steaks will take the least amount of time to cook. But, the timing is not everything. After all, a thinner cutlet will take significantly less time to grill than a much thicker one. Many people like to use a thermometer when checking the steak. But, it’s not the most practical method when grilling at your neighbors’ house. Besides, I bet you don’t go around peoples’ homes with a thermometer in your pocket, right?
Come on, touch it!
This is the most fool-proof technique to recognize if your steak is ready – also known as ‘a touch test’. It’s as simple as it sounds. You need to press the steak while on the grill to establish its firmness. Got it? Now, open your left hand to expose the palm. See the base of your thumb? Touch it with the right hand. It’s soft – that’s how the rare steak should feel like. You can check visual guide on this Our Best Bites website.
Second test – connect an index finger of your left hand with the thumb– the base gets firmer – and resembles a medium rare steak.
Now, take a middle finger and touch it to the thumb. Can you feel the difference? The base of the thumb is even harder – and quite similar to a medium steak.
Go further now – and move the thumb to the tip of your ring finger. Whoa, the base gets really firm! Yes, and that’s also how a medium-well steak should feel like.
Fancy a really well done cutlet? You guessed it – it will be as hard as the base of your thumb connected to a little finger.
And that’s how the seasoned cooks do it.
Time to serve.
So now, when you have finished cooking and have achieved the firmness you were after, the steaks are ready to serve. Hmm… hold your horses! Before you show your babies to the hungry diners, let them rest for a while. Wrap them in a cozy aluminum foil blanket and allow for a 5 minute breather. Don’t skip this step, the meat needs that time to absorb the juices and improve the flavoring.
Didn’t have a chance to season your chops yet? Now is a fine time to do that. Sprinkle the organic extra virgin olive oil scarcely over each steak. A pinch of sea salt with a generous amount of cracked black pepper will be the perfect addition to your steak.
Serve the chops in one piece or slice them across into thick strips to display a perfectly done middle. Your guests will be thoroughly impressed by your cooking skills and will certainly appreciate the effort you put in, even if it involved an extra waiting time. Let the quality of the meat speak for itself; don’t overload the cutlets with ketchups or marinades. Hand your steaks simply with a rocket salad on one side, and maybe a little helping of young potatoes smeared with butter and chopped fennel. I can smell these delicious flavors already!