This column appears on pages 8 and 9 of the July 2012 print issue, which you can download or view here.
SUMMER SCHOOL — Donovan’s Steak and Chop House chef Sal Reynoso shares tip for grilling success
Summer’s finally here, so it’s time to dust off the Weber and get the gang together for some ’cue. There’s no protein—meat, fish nor fowl—that can’t benefit from some char off the old grill. For many, nothing appeals to our primal tastes and mammalian desires more than a thick, juicy steak. Yet, despite its backyard BBQ ubiquity, the art of outdoor steak cookery remains a bit of a mystery to most.
Summer’s too short to waste time on Grade A USDA turned gray, tough and bland. Especially when grilling a perfect steak is fairly simple. It just takes a little know-how. For that, we turn to Sal Reynoso, a chef as well seasoned as the prime-graded cuts he serves up at longtime local bastion for beef connoisseurs, Donovan’s Steak and Chop House in La Jolla. He is a master of this meaty medium and will impart some knowledge by walking us through the techniques he employs for grilling up a New York strip steak.
Like any type of food, a steak requires the proper amount of seasoning in order to taste extraordinary. Even the most well-marbled porterhouse will fall flat without some amplification.
“Use a decent amount of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to season your steaks,” advises Reynoso. “The ratio on the salt and pepper should be two-to-one, and you should use two teaspoons of salt plus a teaspoon of pepper for every pound of meat.”
Before seasoning your steaks, it’s imperative that you make sure they’re completely dry. Pat them down with paper towels to remove all of the exterior moisture before coating them with an even sprinkling of salt and pepper. Once you’ve completed that step, it’s time to get cooking.
Preheat your grill on high. Once it gets to temperature, lower it to medium and coat the grill with olive oil. A good method for doing that is to pour oil onto a folded dish towel, grip it with a pair of tongs (preferable long ones) and wipe the grill down with the towel.
This would seem a good time to plop that steak on the barbie, but hold up. There’s one very crucial step that few people follow—searing the steak.
“You can sear your meat in a skillet or a cast-iron pan,” says Reynoso. “It’s very important that the heating agent—butter or oil—be very hot.”
Heat two ounces of clarified* butter or oil on high until just before it begins to smoke, then add the steaks and cook for two minutes on each side, moving them only when you flip them. This will caramelize the outside of the steak and sear in the seasoning. Remove the steak from the pan, it’s time to grill.
At this point, all the hard work is over and the cooking reverts back to much more familiar territory. Place the steak on the grill and let it sit for three minutes. At that point, flip the steak over and cook it for three more minutes, then remove it from the grill and let it rest for five minutes.
“This is the single most important step that everyone should know about,” says Reynoso. “It is very important as it will allow the meat to rest and retain its juices.”
Once the juices have redistributed through the meat, return it to the grill and cook it based on the size of the steak and the level of doneness you’re trying to attain. This is the type of recipe instruction that makes many home cooks cringe. Few non-professionals have any idea how to judge how long to keep a steak on the grill even if they know its weight and how done they want it.
Knowing this, Reynoso has provided some times for a 10-ounce New York steak and the 16- to 20-ounce variety he’s used to cooking at the restaurant. He also recommends Whole Foods or Siesel’s Old-Fashioned Meats in La Jolla as good places to pick up steaks coming it at a pound or more.
16-20 Ounce Steak
Rare: 3 minutes
Medium-Rare: 5 minutes
Medium: 8 minutes
Medium-Well: 11 minutes
Well Done: 14 minutes
Rare: 2 minutes
Medium-Rare: 4 minutes
Medium: 7 minutes
Medium-Well: 10 minutes
Well Done: 13 minutes
So, what if you’re cooking a different type of steak, or a different protein altogether for that matter? A grill master like Reynoso can tell a meat’s doneness simply by giving it a poke, but for those who don’t have the luxury of having cooked up thousands of strips and filets, he’s provided a handy guide and some advice.
“There are several factors that affect the doneness of a cut of meat—fat content, thickness of the cut, type of protein, etc.,” says Reynoso. “By using a thermometer, and inserting it into the center of the cut, you can use the table below to cook your protein to the desired temperature.”
Rare (cold red center; soft) — Gourmet temp. range: 52-55C; 125-130F — USDA recommended: N/A
Medium rare (warm red center; firmer) — Gourmet temp. range: 55-60C; 130-140F — USDA recommended: 145F
Medium (pink and firm) — Gourmet temp. range: 60-65C; 140-150F — USDA recommended: 160F
Medium well (small amount of pink in the center) — Gourmet temp. range: 65-69C; 150-155F — USDA recommended: 160F + 1 min.
Well done (bien cuit – gray-brown throughout; firm) — Gourmet temp. range: 71-100C; 160-212F — USDA recommended: 170F
Overcooked (blacken throughout; crispy) — >100C; >212F — USDA recommended: >220F
NOTE: Always cook poultry until it is well done.
Now that the meat is cooked perfectly, be sure to serve it within two minutes of it coming off the heat. Then sit back, pour yourself a brew and enjoy the savory fruits of your labor (which, one has to admit, was pretty minimal). When it comes to pairing beers with steak, Reynoso recommends some local ales.
“The earthiness and toasty nose of Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale complements the grilled New York steak. In addition, the bready notes work symbiotically with side dishes like a baked potato or vegetables to enhance the flavor of your meal.” Reynoso also counts Ballast Point Pale Ale and Stone IPA as enjoyable alternatives.
* NOTE: To clarify butter, warm the butter in a sauce pan and leave it at low heat to simmer until the solids sink to the bottom, then strain the non-solids and reserve for future use.
# # #
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp dried oregano
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
Add the butter and oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms, garlic and oregano. Sauté until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve.
—Recipes and photos courtesy of Sal Reynoso, Donovan’s Steak and Chop House