I use a pair of kitchen tongs and quickly flip a steak, pull back to let my hand cool for a split second before diving in again behind the safety of the tongs to flip another. The hair on my forearm recoils from the heat. Even with a long pair of kitchen tongs I can’t bear the sting of the glowing coals like I used too.
I have lost my commercial kitchen hands. The hands that could take the heat without flinching, the same hands that could grab thermonuclear plates, or could move steaks around on a grill without ever noticing the heat. The heat abused hands that were once this line cooks badge of honor.
The wind shifts, a wisp of white smoke blows back. My eyes catch a little before I can turn and shut them. The smoke underneath my eyelids stings and my eyes begin to water.
Standing at the grill, mesmerized by the glowing hardwood coals and thinking to myself, I find it curious, when in the midst of a busy backyard cookout, while all the prep is going down, that the man of the family is handed a plate of meat to fire on the grill. I understand a man at this particular moment is regarded as an extra set of hands or maybe it’s simply because standing next to the grill can be a hot sweaty job not suited to the attire of the hostess, still, it’s odd. It is always so 1950’s.
One of the steaks is cooking to fast, charring to much, so I move it to the cool spot on the grill. All grills have hot and cold spots. The steak next to it needs to cook longer before it gets turned but instead of waiting I turn it into the hot spot of the steak I just moved.
I didn’t own a grill until recently. That’s not true, I used to, years ago, when I first started cooking back in college. Had a black kettle grill. In those days if I cooked I used a grill. Later when I worked in the food industry as a line cook I had a stint at the grill station. I did it for years. The job didn’t burn me out on the grill, it’s just I never tire of watching the sizzle of cold butter as it dances in a hot sauté pan, anyway, that is my excuse for being grill-less.
I remove the steaks from the heat and set them on a tray. They are resting and so do I. I sit down in the rattan chair at the far side of the screen porch. A green depression glass tumbler sets on the end table. It is perspiring too. I pick up the glass and gulp the cold lemonade. At the beginning of this summer something changed.
I started grilling again.
1. I have never seen food as mine and yours. I have always felt it to be a shared experience and as such I have gravitated to family style meals and it holds true for the grill too. I look for steaks or cuts that will be sliced and passed. I am not a fan of the my steak your steak way of eating.
2. Hardwood charcoal and chimney starter only, no briquettes or lighter fluid.
3. Grilling to me means direct hot heat and smoking is low and slow.
4. Salt early and evenly (look at the picture ) and let the steaks absorb the salt before cooking.
5. A room temperature steak cooks better.
6. Leave your steaks alone while they are on the grill. Ideally, the notion is to cook each side of the steak the same amount of time so the steak cooks evenly. This is hard to track if you keep flipping your steak.
7. Let your steaks rest. Cook the steak one temperature below your desired end temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Put the steak back on the grill and warm it to the desired doneness.
8. Use the force Luke. Unburden yourself of the instant read thermometer. It is nearly impossible to get a good read on a normal size steak, or most quick cooking steaks. By paying attention and using the same process each time you use your grill eventually with the push of a finger you will just know when the steaks are the right temp. Save the thermometer for big hunks of meat and the smoker.
9. I don’t marinade quick cooking steaks for a couple of reasons. One marinade often overpower the beef flavor and two I don’t like that the acids in the marinade cook the steak.
10. Buy the kind of meat that is acceptable to you. If you only want free range grass fed then pay for it. Personally I like how many farmers do things here in my own back yard so I buy beef from them. The beef I buy taste like the beef I remember tasting as a child.
When I look for skirt steak for the grill I look for thicker pieces. If all your butcher has on hand is the very thin, long skirt it works great too but it is much harder to cook to any particular temperature.
- 20 ounces skirt steak
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2/3 cup cherry tomatoes (like Sweet 100s), quartered
- 1 tablespoon red onion, minced
- 20 Picholine olives, pits removed, halved
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- Olive oil
- 1/4 cup good quality feta, crumbled
- Small handful of oregano leaves
- Place your skirt steak on a sheet tray. With dry hands, take a two-finger pinch of salt. With your hand 6 to 10 inches above the steak sprinkle the salt so it snows onto the meat — what you’re really looking for is flurries spread evenly across the protein landscape. Flip the steak and repeat. Let the steak sit until the salt is absorbed. In other words, let the snow melt.
- If you are using charcoal, set up your grill for direct heat grilling and light it. If you are using propane fire it up and let it get very hot.
- Make the salsa by combining the tomatoes, red onion, olives, minced oregano, and red wine vinegar. Season the salsa with a dash of pepper and a pinch or two of salt. Remember feta is salty, so easy on the salt. Drizzle in the olive oil to taste, 1/2 to 1 tablespoon. Stir thoroughly and taste. Adjust the seasoning. Set the salsa aside and let the flavors macerate. The salsa can be made several hours ahead of time if need be. I like the salsa to taste fresh, so while you could make it a day ahead it will lose its fresh flavor. That decision is up to you.
- Season the steak with pepper. Grill it on a very hot grill to rare. It should have some good grill marks on both sides. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes. I find steaks like skirt and flank to be the most tender and have the best flavor when cooked medium rare to medium.
- When the steak has finished resting, place it back onto the grill and warm it through to medium rare or medium.
- Slice the steak thinly, top with salsa, crumble on the feta and garnish with remaining oregano and serve.