Choosing the right meat
There’s a lot of work to producing good quality steak which happens a long time before it gets to market. Breeding, the way cattle are grazed, what they are feed, even the way that the animals are slaughtered prior to butchering are all factors that play an important role in making your steak taste good or not. For the most part, these things are beyond our control. However, if you have a reliable source of quality meat then it’s good to shop at a place you can trust.
Selecting the right cut
The next most important step is deciding which cut to buy. If you can’t differentiate between the various cuts of meat then you might be tempted to buy the cheapest one. Try to resist that temptation. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Here’s a simple guide to help you identify the different cuts:
- Fillet steak or tenderloin is the most expensive cut because it is extremely tender, as the name implies. It can be oven roasted slowly on a low temperature for an all-through pink finish or cooked quickly on a hot grill for that still-bloody-in-the-middle taste. For barbecuing, be careful not to choose or cut the pieces too thick or it will be completely raw in the middle and dry on the outside. No more than 4cm (2 inches).
- Sirloin is usually a large cut and can sometimes include a bone. Minute steak comes from sirloin. Not particularly good barbecue steaks.
- T-bone and porterhouse contain a large bone. Also known as strip loin steak. Good barbecued or grilled.
- Round or Rump is a tender, lean cut taken from the hind quarter. Also great for the barbecue.
- New York cut is a boneless strip loin steak. Fantastic for the grill.
- Chuck, brisket, shank, plate, flank or skirt all come from the lower/front part of the animal and are coarse-grained, lean and flavoursome. Best for stews and casseroles. Never buy these cuts for cooking on a barbecue unless you intend to slow cook them over a long period of time.
While it’s fashionable to think that lean meat is better for you, it generally doesn’t make for a good steak. It’s the fat that makes steak really delicious. Not great chucks of fat on the edges of the meat, however, but the streaks of fat that run throughout the grain of the meat. ‘Marbling’ is a term that people use to describe the fine, white lines of fat that weave their way through the red meat and make it truly tender and delicious.
Preparing the meat
If you are a steak purist then there is nothing to do to prepare the meat. Just cook it. However, in our experience the South Americans have got it right. They spread salt and pepper on a tray, sit the meat on top then sprinkle salt and pepper again on top of the meat. Let your steak sit like that for at least half an hour to absorb the flavours. Subtle and exquisite in the eating.
When it comes to cooking a steak there are just a few simple steps which, if followed, will guarantee that your friends come back knocking down the door to eat at your house again:
- Preheat the barbecue grill so that it’s sizzling hot. This will ensure that the outside of the steak is cooked quickly while the inside is still soft and pink. If you cook on a low heat then the whole piece of meat will be cooked through, making it tough and dry. If your barbecue is equipped with a thermometer then wait until the temperature under the hood is at least 250 degrees C, the higher the better.
- Cook your steak for 2 minutes on one side then rotate it 90 degrees to get that criss-cross grill look. You may lift the edge of the steak to check it, but DON’T TURN IT OVER.
- Turn the steak ONLY ONCE and cook the other side as per step 2. Don’t turn the steak repeatedly as this will dry the meat out.
Finally, you should let the steak rest for two minutes after cooking to give the juices a chance to flow out before serving.