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Grilled Steaks Made Easy

Martha Stewart Living, June 2006

Those curling wisps of smoke and that telltale hiss are just two of its lures. What's just as tantalizing about a perfectly grilled steak is that making one requires little preparation or cooking time -- simply a few basic techniques.

The first step toward great grilling is selecting the right cut of meat. When you want your steak to be the centerpiece of a meal -- one of those stunning slabs adorned with only a pat of herbed butter --your foremost consideration should be texture, and some steaks are naturally more tender than others. When steak will be a component of a dish (picture carved slices draped over salads or arranged as juicy layers on sandwich rolls), a less tender yet still flavorful cut might be a better choice. (See the glossary for more about specific types of steaks.)

Next, think about grade. The more marbling (the visible white fat in the meat's grain) a steak has, the more richly flavored it is, and the higher the beef's grade from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On the grill, marbling also keeps a steak moist. Prime steak, with more than 10 percent marbling, is ideal. Choice, with 4 percent to 10 percent, is still good and significantly better than select -- which, with 2 percent to 4 percent fat, is prone to drying out. Whatever the grade, choose steaks that are 3/4 inch thick to 1 1/4 inches thick. Any thinner, and the steaks may quickly jump from raw to well done; any thicker, and they're likely to char on the outside while the inside remains tepid.

Always heat the grill to the level specified by the recipe. Then, if you'd like to brand your steak with those perfect crosshatch marks, place it at a 45-degree angle to the grates. When grill marks appear, rotate the steak 90 degrees. Flip the steak when the underside is marked and well browned, and repeat the process.

The total cooking time will vary depending on thickness, cut, size, and whether the meat contains a bone. If you're grilling an especially thick steak, give it an initial searing over direct heat, then move it to indirect heat. This way, the inside can continue to cook without the outside charring. To do this on a gas grill, turn one side down to medium; on a charcoal grill, move the steak away from the densest area of hot coals.

To accurately gauge doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the middle of the steak from the side. (The internal temperature for rare beef is about 120 degrees; medium-rare is between 125 and 130 degrees; and medium is 135 to 140 degrees.) Some grillers also like doing a chef-style "touch test." Prodded, a rare steak will feel soft, like the webbed area between your thumb and forefinger. Medium-rare is a bit firmer: Touch the same spot but with the hand outstretched. For the feel of medium, make a fist; that part of your hand will be harder still. (Well-done can be as firm as your chin.)

Always let steak rest for 10 minutes before you slice it, which will allow the juices to flow back through the meat. Then serve the steak whole or carved -- and let its smoky perfume beckon.

Glossary of Steak Cuts
Porterhouse with Jalapeno Butter