By Katie Gard
The warm Carolina weather is upon us once again, and you know what that means — it’s grillin’ time! From burgers to brats and grilled veggies and shrimp, locals are pulling out the charcoal and the propane, wood chips and barbecue sauce, and gearing up for a summer spent outdoors with family, friends and food. And while most grilled meats are known for their ease of preparation and lackadaisical approach, there’s one menu item that can cause even the most seasoned of backyard chefs to break into a cold sweat — The Steak.
Arguably more sophisticated (and certainly more expensive) than its hamburger cousin, beef steaks, like fine wines, are held to a higher standard than typical cookout cuisine when it comes to cut, flavor and the ever-elusive perfect level of “doneness.” Every individual has his idea of the best way to grill a steak, but we’ve taken the liberty of asking a few of Fayetteville’s favorite food connoisseurs for tips on grilling the perfect cut of beef.
Chef Bill Bowermaster of ScrubOaks Restaurant, famous for the slow-cooked prime ribs that owner Tim Holtsclaw roasts at home, said the key to a perfect steak is a simple seasoning of kosher salt and ground peppercorns combined with a nice, hot grill (about 400 degrees fahrenheit). “The reason you use kosher salt as opposed to regular iodized is because it melts to the steak, forming a type of crust,” he said. And while many people maintain that a grilled steak should only be flipped once, Bowermaster’s ritual is to flip it four times, to let the juices mingle and to ensure even cooking.
“There is no substitute for a steak that is properly seasoned,” said Nick Parrous, one of the owners of Luigi’s Italian Restaurant, which ages and cuts the beef in-house. A dry-rub of kosher salt, ground pepper and dried oregano is the restaurant’s secret to a properly seasoned steak. While the ribeye is the most popular steak on their menu due to the cut’s flavorful reputation, “Nothing,” Parrous said when asked about his personal favorite, “compares to a well prepared New York strip.” He prefers a warm, pink center (medium-rare) and a charred exterior, a doneness best achieved with a very hot grill (around 600-degrees fahrenheit) and a pouring of melted butter, which he said is the trick to producing a good flame. “It’s the heat that gets the juices flowing and activates the fat for the best flavor profile,” Parrous said.
“You have to know your grill,” said Luke Paulos, one of the owners of Chris’s Steakhouse, which also ages and cuts steaks in-house. “Don’t give up on something because it doesn’t work the first time,” he encouraged. “Adjust the heat, play around and eventually it becomes intuitive.” Paulos said he prefers cooking on a 450 to 500 degree grill to achieve a nice sear on the outside and a juicy, medium-rare center. A charcoal grill is his weapon of choice to enhance the flavor of the meat. He suggested bone-in cuts for the backyard chef, since those tend to have more flavor and agreed with the general consensus that a simple, dry seasoning of salt, pepper and oregano is the perfect complement to a great cut of beef.
When it comes to accompaniments, however, the experts disagree. Do they secretly cringe when someone asks them to pass the A-1? “When I was a kid, I put ketchup on everything,” admitted Parrous. “But as an adult I know grilled mushrooms work best to enhance the flavor of a great steak.” When asked if he gets offended when someone pours sauce on a steak, Paulos confessed that he actually likes a little Worstershire on his steak — especially if the cut is cooked longer than his rare preference, which can sometimes happen. “To each their own!” laughed Bowermaster. “Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to how they like their steak.” And while these knowledgable restauranteurs will dabble in “fancier” accoutrements like a drizzle of bourbon sauce or an “Oscar Style” steak topped with crab meat, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce, they wholeheartedly agree that when a steak is properly seasoned and cooked to perfection, additional toppings aren’t necessary. In fact, they all said that the toppings can hide the fantastic flavor that results when a steak is prepared well.
However, if you’re new to backyard steak grilling and find yourself struggling to find that perfect sweet spot on your equipment, it doesn’t hurt to have an arsenal of sautéed onions, grilled mushrooms and maybe a recipe for bourbon sauce at your disposal.
You know, just in case.