Perfecting The Most Manly of Meats
Photos by L.G. Patterson
Cote du Boeuf, ribeye, Scotch fillet, cowboy ribeye, Delmonico, tomahawk, or whatever you want to call a steak from the rib primal section of beef. There are nine primal sections of beef, only three are considered to be sedentary (rib, loin and sirloin). The muscles in these sections are rarely used, non-weight bearing and produce meat that is tender on its own. All true steaks that can be cooked with dry heat and chewed with ease come from these three sections. T-bones, porterhouse, fillets and strips are all great, but none can hold a candle to a well-marbled and aged ribeye.
The rib primal is the 6th through 12th rib of a cow, cross sections of this are called ribeyes. A ribeye typically has more marbling than most other steaks. The intramuscular flecks of fat render as the steak cooks, basting it from within. The two muscles that make up the ribeye are the eye (which become the loin later in the cow) and the deckle, which surrounds it. Typically the eye is more tender and the deckle has more flavor.
All meat (that is sold) must be inspected by the USDA, grading is optional. The grading process in the United States is based on marbling or intramuscular fat. Intramuscular fat are the flecks of fat that are dispersed throughout the meat. As the meat cooks, the fat melts and bastes the meat from within creating a juicier piece of meat than a leaner one. The other type of fat is intermuscular, intermuscular is the thicker fat that separates lean muscles, it is sometimes found on the outsides of steaks such as strips or the distinguishing line that curves through a ribeye.
The top three grades that are most common are Prime, Choice and Select.
Prime – Abundance of marbling or flecks throughout the meat
Choice – Moderate marbling or flecks throughout the meat
Select – Slight marbling or flecks throughout the meat
Grading does not ensure tenderness, which mostly comes from the cow’s family history and how it was raised. There are some farmers that have shear tests (measures the amount of weight needed to cut through a specific amount of meat) done to show the tenderness of the meat. Some other specialty marketing terms or brands may refer to the beef’s genetics or breed, how it was raised or how it was aged. Short Horn, Black Angus, pasture raised, dry aged, wet aged, grain fed, and grass fed.
The quality of the product really does make it easier on the cook. Start with a great steak and all you really need is a little salt and pepper, a great sear, and some accompaniments. I prefer kosher or sea salt, the coarseness is easier to disperse. Fine table salt is also less forgiving. If you accidently drop a handful of table salt onto meat it will immediately start to dissolve as opposed to kosher or sea salt you can brush it off before it over salts the meat. Good pepper is also key, the stuff that you shake out of a container tastes like sawdust if it was ground more than a few weeks ago. Get a good peppermill or a coffee grinder devoted to spices. Buy whole peppercorns in small amounts and only grind what you need.
No matter what dry cooking method you are using, the sear is the first and the most important step in cooking your steak. It can make or break it. The brownish crust that is created during the sear is the caramelization of the amino acid proteins in the meat, called the Mallard (named after French chemist Louis Camille Maillard, pronounced May-Yar). Pre-heating is a must, you can just turn on the burner, grill or broiler and toss in the steak. It will take some time to figure out what works best for how you’re cooking.
Whether you are searing on a grill or in a pan, you probably need to remove the steak and finish with indirect heat. This will allow the meat to cook more evenly and when you slice into it, the meat will not have a lopsided grey finish. The indirect heat will slowly take the steak to the desired finish. If you have a thick steak, you especially want to slow it down. If you finish all the way on the grill, your steak will taste like charcoal, and look like it as well.
No matter how you cook your steak it needs to rest! Heat is not the best friend of moisture, too much heat and there’s no moisture left. When heat is applied to the steak all of the moisture inside goes away from the heat. Resting allows the moisture or juices to redistribute throughout the meat. A steak that is cut into without adequate resting time will lose a large amount of its juices and become very dry. In addition to moisture loss when a steak is no longer over the heat it keeps cooking or “carry over cooks.” The outside of the meat is extremely hot and that heat is still transfusing to the center. A large steak can be pulled off the heat 5 degrees early and carry over to the desired doneness (an even larger one like this ribeye can be pulled 10 degrees or more).
There are many different ways to test doneness; the most surefire way is with a thermometer. Cutting into the meat is another way, but then you have a large gash in your steak. Testing the resistance by touch is a technique that takes some time but is great way to quickly test steaks to gage what the next step in the process needs to be. The hand test is a great way to start knowing how to judge the resistance.
Rare – skin between thumb and index with open hand
Medium rare – skin between thumb and index, thumb and index finger touching
Medium – skin between thumb and index, index and middle fingers touching
Medium well – skin between thumb and index, index, middle and ring fingers touching
Well – skin between thumb and index, index, middle, ring and little fingers touching
Rare – 120˚ – Very red center with warm moist juices
Medium rare – 130˚ – Light red center with warm moist juices
Medium – 140˚ – Pink center with clear pink warm moist juices
Medium well – 150˚ – Slight pink center with almost clear warm moist juices
Well – 160˚ – No pink, small amount of clear juices
If you want to cook a steak per person, go right ahead. This helps when people are requesting several different desired donenesses. I prefer to just watch one or two HUGE steaks in the pan or on the grill to sear, and then finish in the oven. After allowing them to rest, you can slice them and place onto a platter and serve to your entire group.