Grilling A Proper Ribeye

As luck would have it, we just got a shipment of fresh beef from slaughter off the ranch. As a “quality control” measure, we try to reserve a steer a year to make sure the bloodline we are breeding is producing the highest quality beef. The standing beef is put into our own version of a feed lot, which is just one of our stalls in the barn where we can finish out the beef with 120 days of high corn feed without a lot of exercise by the steer. This builds nice marbled fat within the meat fibers, which will go a long way when we go to cook these bad boys.

If we look at the diagram of a beef:

You see the group of muscles along the back of the beef just below the shoulders labeled as “rib”. That’s where our ribeyes come from. It’s a long muscle that, when the beef is finished out, doesn’t get as much work as a cow or a steer that’s out roaming for grass to chew on. It’s the most flavorful cut of steak you can get while maintaining a tender chew.

Our steaks:

See all the white specks within the meat? That’s good…those bits of fat are going to melt and lubricate the meat fibers, which will make the steaks juicy and easy to masticate. There are a couple different muscles here, and the outside of the steak is just as good if not better than the inside.

Most people take these chunks of bovine heaven and throw them on a hot grill or a hot skillet, which usually sears the shit out of the outside but can make for an uneven cook as the inside of a thick steak can still be cold even if the surface is burned. Traditionally, the solution to this is to sear the outside and then finish off in an oven set at 400deg until the steaks are cooked to the desired temp. This is how I did it for years, but Cooks Illustrated proved that if you go the opposite way…bring the steaks to temp first then finish them off on a grill or skillet…then you get the perfect steak every time. EVERY. TIME. It’s foolproof, and it’s how I do my steaks now. However, a true Texas beef eater will tell you that the thing that beef needs to really be perfect is a little bit of wood underneath to give the beef just a little bit more rounded flavor. That means you finish out on a pit, with a bit of pecan/hickory or, preferably, mesquite. No oak is allowed around here unless it’s in the fireplace.

I recently acquired a kamado-style cooker, so I’m going to do the finish out on it. My first order of business: get a nice, rolling smoke going on the cooker.

Then, we want to lay the steaks out onto a cookie sheet and into a 150-170deg oven with the rack as far away from the heating elements as possible. We want to bring the steaks up to 90-100deg, but it doesn’t have to be exact. The least amount of pokes, the better, so leave the thermometers in the drawer and trust your eyes and your hands. If the red meat turns gray, it’s too hot. It’s not ruined, but that’s too hot. If you take your hands and cup them around the rim of the steak, you can squeeze the steaks together and see the muscles begin to separate.

The steaks are still raw, but what we’ve done is begin to melt the connective tissue between the muscles. THAT’S GOOD. Taking a closer look:

You can see little pockets or canyons where the meat pulls apart. THAT’S GOOD. Onto seasoning…

The great Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene uses three ingredients on their steaks: salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That’s all you need on your steaks. Dust the steaks with kosher salt evenly, and then scatter garlic powder right on top of the salt. You’ll want to press down just a bit to push the seasonings into the meat. Notice that I didn’t add pepper? That’s by design…if you cook pepper over open flame, it becomes bitter and loses its peppery punch, so let’s save the pepper until the very end.

Notice also that the steak is kinda round…that’s a tip I learned from a buddy of mine that runs a steakhouse. When you cup your hands around the steaks, you can simply form them into a round steak. Don’t get too rough…just press it together so it’s round.

Get your grill as hot as it will get, and throw the steaks on. After 3-4 minutes, turn them with tongs from 11o’clock to 2o’clock to get those neat diamond sear marks. After another 3-4 minutes, flip them and repeat. You can test how well done the steaks are by pressing the meat with your finger. If it feels like your cheek does right around your canine teeth, then it’s med-rare. Inflate your cheek with as much air as you can…that’s well-done. If you cook your ribeyes to well-done, leave your address so I can send you a bag of crap in the mail.

When finished, this is what you should have:

There’s a red tint to the steaks from the wood/smoke. Notice, also, that there’s just the smallest amount of char…that adds so much flavor to the steaks.

Pull them off the fire, add freshly cracked black pepper, and cover loosely with foil for 10 minutes. The rest is important to even the cook.

A closeup of the steak….see how the fat that was yellow before creates pools of liquid right on top of the steak? Sweet beautiful liquid.

I like my ribeyes medium-rare. Rare will give you stringy meat, and we don’t want that. At med-rare, you still get the juiciness of the fat with all the tender toothiness of the melted connective tissue.

 

Served with a baked potato, some fresh salad, and a dark beer or a super red wine, you’ve got the meal I’d request for my last if I get the chance.

Bob the Cook’s Pit

One of my favorite things to do in life is to cozy up with a beer on a Texas afternoon and do some outdoor cooking. It’s what Arcadia is all about…sharing what you know and do well with your friends and neighbors. In my case, I love seeing the creations that my fellow Arcadians come up with and the crazy things we make different cookers out of. My buddy down in Madisonville made a smoker out of a barrel; my dad’s fish cooker is made from an old gas water heater; and one of my favorite outdoor cookers is my plowdisc wok. I can do fajitas and breakfast tacos on that thing to feed a small army and/or a group of tailgating Aggies.

Across the country, you’ll find cooking competitions of all sorts: chili, BBQ, steaks, or even full chuck wagon competitions where you have multiple dishes as part of the submission. One of the most well-known of the outdoor cooks in our neck of the woods is Bob the Cook out at Wildcatter Ranch. Bob is an incredible gastronomist. He knows his food and knows his wine. If you ever get a chance to make your way to Young County, Texas, make sure you stop by Wildcatter Ranch and let Bob pair up a bottle of his favorite wine from his extensive wine list with a slab of medium-rare Texas beef and then top it off with his banana pudding in a Mason jar.

Bob the Cook (or “BtC” as we like to refer to him) recently catered in ribeyes to a function in downtown Arcadia. Never passing up an opportunity to sidle up to a genuine Texas cooking rig built and used by someone I regard so highly, I got a chance to snap a few pics and talk to BtC a bit about how he goes about making ribeyes for so many people at once.

It starts with his pit. He made this out of a U-shaped pipe that he had bent to a box. Now, this thing has been used time and time again and had to sit out in the Texas weather, so some of the original features aren’t quite as functional as they once were, but the design is still awesome. BtC used a design idea from the great Joe Allen in Abilene, but put some proper modifications on it to increase efficiency for an outdoor unit.

Here this bad boy is with the lid up:

You’ll notice that the grill grates are on a slant. That’s key for a steak cooking pit so you can adjust the amount of heat on the meat. Steaks with less marbled fat are going to cook much faster than the ones that have tons of flavorful fat, so you want to put them in a cooler spot on the grill or pull them earlier. Also, notice the lip that folds over in the front. That has two functions: first of all, it allows for easy access to the cooking surface as well as for moving the grills to an angle. See the bar on the inside of the lip? You can put the grates on that for an even cooking surface when you are doing things like sausage. The other function it has is that it can be propped up from underneath so you can use it as a flat working surface for your tools or bins holding the meat you are putting on the grill.

The firebox has two entrances in for proper flow, and you can adjust the flow in on both sides. There is a chimney on the back side of the lid, but BtC admits that the design is somewhat flawed. Moreover, the chimney just acts as a stop for the lid so it doesn’t flop all the way back.

You can see how easy it is to get to the working surface from here. BtC puts the beef onto the grates before he seasons them so that the meat warms up and absorbs the seasoning all at once. Also, he keeps the meat that will cook faster on one side so he can properly tell how well done the meat is. The fire is well enough away from the meat so you don’t have crispy char on the steaks.

You can see from the backside that there was a pulley system at one time to raise and lower the fireplate, but years of use and weather rusted out the bottom. BtC had to have an additional plate welding in recently for repair, so the pulley system is non-functional now.

This is BtC’s trailer, specifically built for the cooker. He can haul and move this all by himself, which is remarkable because the cooker itself weighs hundreds of pounds. He took an old axle from a junk pile and made a long tongue on it for counterweight. Then, he welded a stinger that pins onto the cooker itself.

Right by the door on the side cooker, you’ll see a halfpipe. Also, on the trailer you’ll see bars that go across. BtC engineered this so the bars on the trailer go into the halfpipes on the cooker as a latch. With the trailer tongue up in the air, he latches the pin in place on the stinger and can pull the tongue down and attach it to his truck. The tongue is counterweighted perfectly so you have a zero balance right on the axle.

Using rebar and pipe, he engineered a hinge system as well as a poking bar all in one. You can see the bar there…he’ll use that to close the doors on the fire box as well as to reach up with the hook to pull the lid down during the cooking.

Secure pins are chained to the side so you don’t lose them. This is a great shot of that lip in the front.

There you have it…a Texas steak pit, fully mobile and as efficient as you can get for outdoor cooking.