Ask any chef what he likes to eat on his night off, and I predict that you'll hear the same response: a steak. Surprised? You shouldn't be. After working with food all week long, restaurant chefs like myself crave an easy, delicious dinner that we don't have to deconstruct to enjoy. In the summertime especially, there's nothing quite as satisfying as a beautiful steak grilled over a hardwood fire. The ritual of building the fire, the aroma of smoke, and the mouthwatering flavor of grilled beef all contribute to the uncomplicated pleasure of this summer tradition.
If you've ever grilled a steak over a live fire, you know what I'm talking about. And if you haven't, read on. I'll give you a few simple guidelines—from choosing the right cut to setting up the fire—that will give you the perfect results you're looking for.
Rich marbling means succulent steaks
If you begin with good-quality beef and the right cut, your grilled steaks will shine without any elaborate flavorings or tenderizers. The USDA's grading system gives you a good way to assess quality: beef that's labeled "prime" is superior; "choice" is runner-up. "Select" is third —I don't recommend it for a steak. The grading designations are largely determined by the amount of visible fat that's streaked throughout the muscle tissue, called marbling. Beef that's richly marbled gets a higher grade; it's more tender, juicy, and flavorful because the intramuscular fat melts and bastes the flesh during cooking. Also, since fat insulates, marbling provides some insurance against overcooking. Look for small, evenly distributed specks of fat rather than larger and sparser ones.
For this article, I've picked three steaks that I love to grill: rib-eye, porterhouse, and flank (which is flavorful and quite lean, so you won't see rich marbling). See the chart below for specific grilling information about each cut.