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Choosing Steak Grilled to Perfection

August is beef month in Virginia, a good time to think about grilling a steak

August 2, 2002

"Beef. It’s what’s for dinner." The slogan of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association rings true in the average American home. In the course of a day, beef is consumed 76 million times across America.

In Virginia, this favorite meat is celebrated in August, Beef Month.

Unless familiar with the novel or movie version of "The Virginian," most people don't think of Virginia as producing cattle or cowboys. But the state is ranked 19th in the nation for cattle, with a total 1.65 million cattle, including beef and dairy cows. Cattle are raised in almost every county in Virginia, with Rockingham, Augusta, Washington, Fauquier and Bedford counties leading the state in production.

The cattle use pasture and forage from 3.5 million acres in Virginia that are not suited for crop production. The majority are sold as feeder cattle to operations in the Northeast and Midwest where they are fed high-grain diets for weight gain.

Grilling is an undeniably large part of American cuisine, especially during the summer months.

A nice steak, a hot grill and a warm summer night. All the pieces fit, but what is the best way to prepare your steak? Local chefs offer suggestions on how to get the most out of your cut.

GREG MINNIS, A COOK at Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon in Centreville recommends ribeye as the most flavorful steak, second only to filet mignon. Lone Star serves up a lip-on loin ribeye steak, hand-cut on the premises. They grill their steaks on an open flame over mesquite wood, which, according to Minnis, adds more flavor to the steak. A seasoning salt is added to the meat as it is put on the grill. Minnis recommends eating steaks, specifically ribeye, medium rare. This allows for a juicier, more flavorful steak that is not overdone. Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon has locations in Alexandria, Centreville, Herndon, Fairfax and Sterling.

BUD LAMBERT COOKS at Outback Steakhouse in Springfield, 6651 Backlick Road. When grilling a steak for himself, Lambert prefers the ribeye, for its juicy flavor. The ribeye is a marbled steak, best served medium, in order to allow the steak to cook all the way through. Lambert suggests starting your steak with a salt rub and then adding spices according to your tastes. He enjoys adding paprika, garlic powder, minced onion, black, white and a dash of red pepper to his steaks. Outback Steakhouse has locations in Alexandria, Herndon, Springfield, Vienna and Sterling.

MARIO VALDEZ, a cook at Malibu Grill in Fairfax, recommends a New York strip steak as the best cut. Valdez recommends using a mustard sauce when grilling a steak.

NED MIRKOVIC COOKS at the Tysons location of Morton's of Chicago — the Steakhouse. For Mirkovic, the quality of the steak depends on the quality of the meat. The better the quality of your meat, the better the taste. Morton's serves USDA prime, the highest quality of meat. Morton's also serves cattle that have been grain-fed, rather than grass-fed. Grain-fed cattle produce beef with more marbling, which gives it a better flavor. According to Mirkovic, the next thing to keep in mind when grilling is temperature. Morton's grills their steak in high temperature broilers, which range in temperature from 800 degrees to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The steaks are cooked for a short period of time, in order to keep them juicy and full of flavor. Mirkovic recommends cooking your steak to rare, medium rare, or, at the most, medium, in order to avoid overcooking.

THE FOLLOWING are the top grilling tips, adapted from the cookbook "How to Grill," by Steven Raichlen, author of "The Barbecue Bible." The first step in grilling the perfect steak is to select the right steak for your grill, fire, budget and taste. There are a wide variety of steaks available. Next, you need to choose the right seasoning for your steak, whether you choose a rub, marinade, sauce, butter or baste. Rubs are blends of spices and seasonings. They are used solely to flavor the steak, not to tenderize the meat. Rubs should be applied to the surface of the steak just before grilling. Marinades, seasoned liquid mixtures, are used to add flavor and also to tenderize the meat. Tenderizing marinades must contain an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice or vinegar, or a natural tenderizing enzyme, such as pineapple or ginger. Tender beef cuts, such as T-bone and ribeye, should be marinated from 15 minutes up to two hours. Cuts that are less tender, such as flank and skirt cuts, should be marinated for six hours up to overnight. Flavored butters add an accent flavor to grilled steak.

AT THIS POINT, you are ready to grill. The third step is to build the right fire and then cook your steak to perfection, using the basic guidelines for cooking steak. Using a meat thermometer will let you know when your steak is done. A medium rare steak should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and a medium steak to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Another important tip to keep in mind when grilling is to turn, not to stab, the steak. Stabbing the steak releases the liquid that you need to keep the steak juicy. A good pair of tongs is a useful grilling tool. Also, before serving your steak, you should let it sit for a couple of minutes, to let the juices settle. You can add olive oil or butter at this point for a nice finish and added flavor. Raichlen also recommends always making sure your grill is clean by cleaning with a stiff wire brush after pre-heating and then again after grilling. Oiling your grill grate will prevent food from sticking and help ensure grill marks. Raichlen also reminds his readers to always grill safely, on stable ground, outdoors and always attended. Finally, Raichlen suggests having fun and trying something new. After all, that’s half the fun of grilling. More tips from Steven Raichlen can be found online at www.barbecuebible.com. There is also a question and answer section where Raichlen answers grilling concerns and a recipe section with some new dishes to try.

For those who want to try something different for grilling in the back yard here is a recipe from the Virginia Beef Industry Council.

Grilled Beef Tri-tip Roast & Potato Planks

<lst>1 beef tri-tip roast (bottom sirloin) or 1 boneless beef top sirloin steak cut 1-1/2 inches thick (about two pounds.)

2 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds medium all-purpose potatoes, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup dairy sour cream

2 tablespoons prepared basil pesto sauce

salt

2 tablespoons chopped roasted red peppers.

Combine pepper and garlic. Press evenly onto all surfaces of beef roast. Toss potatoes with oil. Place roast in center of grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill trip-tip roast uncovered, 35 to 45 minutes (top sirloin steak, covered 22 to 26 minutes) for medium rare to medium doneness, turning occasionally. Grill potatoes 20 to 25 minutes or until tender, turning frequently.

Remove roast when instant-read thermometer registers 140 degrees for medium rare 155 degrees for medium. Tent loosely with aluminum foil; let stand 10 minutes. Temperature will continue to rise.

Combine sour cream and pesto. Carve roast across the grain into thin slices. Season beef and potatoes with salt as desired. Top potato planks with sour cream mixture; sprinkle with red peppers. Serve with beef. (Makes six to eight servings.)