S T E A K. Five simple letters that spell a world of carnivorous pleasure. A well-grilled steak (like this Caveman T-Bone recipe!) stimulates all your senses: the sight of the dark crust, the scent of smoke, the sizzle of the meat on the grill, the meaty chew, and, of course, the inimitable flavor: simultaneously meaty, salty, and sanguine. I've traveled Planet Barbecue from one end to the other, and I can tell you this: nothing satisfies like steak.
But which steak? Your local butcher or supermarket meat section -- the closest that most of us get to hunting and gathering these days -- contains a mind-boggling array of options.
Here are five of my favorite steaks for grilling. My top choice? The one on the end of my fork!
- Porterhouse: For the person who wants it all -- two great steaks in one: a New York strip and a filet mignon (see below), connected by a T-shaped bone. What a combo! Cut from the rear of the short loin, this monster (I like to buy it at least 2 inches thick) serves two people with leftovers. Italians call it bistecca alla fiorentina and grill it dark on the outside and just shy of still bleeding inside, seasoned with little more than sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil. They cut the two steaks off the bone and carve them into 1/4-inch thick slices. (The bone goes back on the grill for charring.) Tip: For a professional-looking presentation, keep the slices in order and reassemble the porterhouse around the bone. Which you, the grill master, call dibs on.
- T-bone: A slightly smaller version of the porterhouse cut from the front of the short loin. This gives you a smaller piece of filet mignon, but a more tender slab of strip steak. Buy it at least 1 inch thick so you can achieve a dark char on the outside without overcooking the center. Tip: Supermarket T-bones tend to be on the thin side, so buttonhole the butcher and ask him to custom-cut a thicker T-bone for you. Top this steak with a slice of my Planet Barbecue Black Truffle Butter and get ready to hear the angels sing. Try this recipe: Caveman T-Bones with Bell Pepper Hash!
- Strip steak: The multiplicity of names -- New York strip, club steak, Kansas City steak, shell steak -- attests to the popularity of this steak. Tender (but not too tender); well-marbled (i.e., generously endowed with fat); and richly flavored -- what more could you ask for in a steak? Not that you asked, but a center cut New York strip is Steven Raichlen's favorite cut. Tip: Sometimes you'll find supermarket strip steaks labeled "first cut." This makes them sound more exclusive, but actually the "first cut" has a visible line of gristle running through the meat. That's why "first cut" strips cost about half the price of the more desirable center cuts of the short loin.
- Filet mignon: Cut from the tenderloin (a long cylindrical muscle that rides under the ribcage next to the backbone, and hence receives very little exercise), this puck-shaped steak is the priciest per pound. Very tender, but not super flavorful because it's so lean. (Remember the great steak equation: fat = flavor.) Tip: The lack of marbling is why you often see filet mignon wrapped with bacon, topped with foie gras or truffle butter or served with egg-rich béarnaise sauce or a cream-based peppercorn sauce.
- Rib steak/rib eye: If the rib eye came from a sheep, it would be a lamb chop. (A very big lamb chop.) Which is to say a tender, juicy, super-well marbled steak with rib bone still attached (which the Good Lord meant for you to pick up and gnaw). Rib steaks are cut from the upper ribcage. Some butchers sell them as "cowboy steaks" -- thick-cut rib steaks with massive bones that tip the scale at a belt-loosening 2 pounds or more. Remove the bone (save it for smoking) and you get a more manageably sized steak called a rib eye. Look for streaky fat distribution throughout, and avoid steaks that have a large lump of fat between the cap and the eye. Tip: To ensure a perfect char on the outside and a reddish-pink interior, start searing this big hunk o' meat -- or any steak that's more than 1 1/2 inches thick -- over high direct heat, then finish cooking over medium or using indirect heat.
- All steaks should be generously seasoned, grilled over a hot fire and rested for a few minutes before serving.
- To sample fibrous belly steaks at their best, cook them fast and serve thinly sliced across the grain (which shortens their tough stringy meat fibers).
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