The Fourth of July. Perfect holiday and this year it's on a Monday?- that's three days of lots of food, friends and, hopefully, lots of sun. The Fourth of July is about celebrating the beginnings of the greatest country in the world and celebrating the beginning of the greatest season, summer. The Fourth of July is about easy. It's about fun.
For my Fourth of July, it's classic food fare: potato salad, I always make mine with mustard; a huge tossed salad, always balsamic vinegar, always with peaches, always with pecans; macaroni salad always with chunklight tuna in water and Hellman's mayonnaise. For dessert, I make a Duncan Hines devil's food mix sheet cake, smothered with Cool Whip and decorated with stripes of strawberries and stars of blueberries. While this is nothing gourmet, it is very easy and it is always hit with the kids. (Smother anything with Cool Whip and you have success.) But for the July 4, the real "star" is bone-in, dry-aged New York strip steak, grilled perfectly to a crusty, juicy, medium rare.
I am not a huge beef eater - maybe too much McDonalds for too many years - but on the Fourth of July, I want steak and I want it grilled right.
Oh busboy! The perfect steak. How to do it? Grilling is one of the easiest cooking methods (probably why we let men do it) but the hardest to get it right (probably why we shouldn't let men do it). It takes practice and some attention. Here are some suggestions, you may read or pass along.
Use a real fire. My grill "chef" uses a classic round Weber grill; you know, the one you threw away when the bottom rusted out. It doesn't matter what it looks like as long as there is a real flame from real wood charcoal. If you must use a gas grill, just be sure to preheat it hot enough. Grilling is a method of cooking. The food item is seared, but then it is cooked to the desired doneness.
Make sure the steak is 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. Any thinner and you won't be able to sear it and keep it cool inside. Any thicker and you will have to "bake" it to get it cooked.
Prepare the meat. Warm the meat to room temperature. Dry the meat and salt the meal 1 to 2 hours before cooking, no fooling. Kosher salt is best. Just make sure you salt evenly not just a generous shake to the middle. The salt will keep the meat juicy inside.
Keep it simple. Good steak doesn't require a rub, a spice or a sauce. Salt and cracked pepper - period. If you want Worcestershire sauce or A1 steak?sauce, just put the sauce on a hamburger bun, eat it and leave the steak for me.
Sear hot. Make sure the flame is hot. Sear the steak using high heat, then finish to rare or medium rare. Don't put the cover on the grill until both sides of the food are seared to your liking. Don't bake the meat. Grilling needs air. Rare is seared hot on the outside and red on the inside. Medium rare is seared on the outside, pink on the inside with a nugget of red in the center. If cooked medium, medium well, or well, you will not have a perfect steak. A small thermometer is ideal for testing if you are not experienced. A temperature of 125 degrees is good for medium rare. The meat should "bounce" to a gentle touch.
Watch your food. "Grilled" is a seared crust. Burned is burned. Watch that the grill tracks form an attractive and consistent browning. Turn food only once or as little as possible. If you're turning food over and over, you're missing the point and won't get a good sear. Don't put foil on the grill or spray with oil.
Don't pat the meat or push it down to hear the sizzle. That nice sizzle is those nice juices spilling out onto the flame. Use tongs, as a fork will stab the meat and let the juice spill out.
My dad was the king of the grill. One summer, grilling by the lake, his whole grill toppled over when he loaded the last steak. Not to worry, he washed the sand off in the lake. (This was years before we worried about such things.)
We all thought Dad was clever for cooking on the sand. He had put the grate over the spilled coals. We soon learned his secret as we "crunched" the rescued steak. Not quite as perfect as I like it
Restaurant watch: No time to grill, order steak at a restaurant. They do it right with a lot of practice.