Flawlessly barbecuing the perfect steak is more than just dinner, it’s the quintessential pursuit of masculinity. It’s also a backyard ritual that Canadian guys often get wrong.
If you’re feeling a little lost while strolling down the meat isle this spring, take a lesson from Toronto based Marlon Pather, a Master Butcher from The Butchers Organic. Here’s Marlon proudly displaying one of his cuts of meat.
This guy has been wielding a butchers knife for over 28 years and is about to teach you everything there is to know about beef.
How to Choose Your Steak
First and foremost, if you’re standing in a grocery store you’re already doing something wrong. Spend a little extra and go to a butcher, he’s a tradesman whose only goal is to give you the best steak possible.
In Canada, we have four quality grades (A, AA, AAA, Prime) that represent 98% of all beef. Choose AAA or Prime (the American equivalents are USDA Choice and USDA Prime). Whether you prefer organic, hormone free, or grass fed is entirely up to you, but keep in mind terms like “natural” and “farm raised” are marketing ploys to leverage more money from your wallet.
This is a backyard barbecue favourite because of the price to flavour ratio. Marlon agrees, “Price wise, the Sirloin is a steal. It’s not the most tender steak but it has a beautiful flavour. Best cooked Medium Rare or Medium.”
Striploin (New York Strip, Club Steak)
This is a cut that’s a step above the Sirloin. “The Striploin is cut from the short loin, a muscle that does very little work so is particularly tender,” Marlon says.
Like its namesake, the Tenderloin is the most tender steak available. Marlon warns, however, “It’s not known for it’s beefy flavour, so many people wrap bacon around the tenderloin transforming it into a Filet Mignon.”
The unequivocal king of steaks. It’s the best of both worlds offering the soft Tenderloin and the delicious Striploin separated by a magnificent bone. Marlon suggests upgrading to the larger Porterhouse, which is “a perfect steak to share.”
Rib Steak (Ribeye: without the bone)
The classic Rib Steak is a gorgeous piece of beef. Marlon claims, “Most butchers would agree it’s the most flavourful cut. I suggest keeping the bone on… everything tastes better cooked on the bone.”
Wet VS. Dry Aged Beef
There are two main types of aging: dry and wet. Marlon explains, “40-50 years ago all steaks were dry aged, but then a machine was introduced—the vacuum sealer.” Aging in vacuum-sealed bags (wet aging) keeps the moisture in, takes less time and yields more beef. “In the last few years there has been a surge to bring dry aged beef back. It means a better steak, the process of hanging the beef for several weeks gives it a phenomenal beef flavour, but it’s way more expensive and harder to find.”
If you choose a dry aged steak, make sure the meat you’re buying is aged for a minimum of 21 days. During its first 14 days, the moisture evaporates which concentrates the fat. After the second week, the meat goes through enzymatic change that tenderizes it.
Charcoal VS. Propane BBQ
Every man prefers one or the other and there’s no real best solution; although, it’s safe to say propane is cleaner, faster and easier. The downside? Marlon points out, “Propane won’t give you that awesome charcoal smell and flavour.” Also, what guy doesn’t get a little cave-man enjoyment from cracking a beer, grabbing a bag of coal and doing it the old-fashioned way?
How to Season Steak
A classic Montreal steak spice will do just fine, but don’t go overboard with your seasoning—you don’t want to mask the natural flavour of your steak. Marlon also warns, “Don’t season your steak too early, the salt will suck the moisture out.”
How to Cook Steak
Before you even think about lighting the barbecue, make sure your hunk of meat is close to room temperature. Never cook a cold steak. Whether you’re using charcoal or propane the key to cooking the perfect steak is heat. Marlon explains, “You’re going to want to char your steak at a very high heat. Sear in the juices and get a good crust. Then, finish the process on a medium heat.” Once it’s grilled, let it rest on a wooden block. “Let it sit for at least 5 minutes, this allows the blood to disperse evenly throughout. This is very important, you absolutely cannot rush the resting!”
Steak Doneness Chart
There’s a laundry list of creative tactics used to determine doneness but there’s no shame in bringing out a meat thermometer.
Rare: 125 F (Red and cool centre)
Medium Rare: 130 F (Red and warm centre)
Medium: 145 F (Pink and warm throughout)
Medium Well: 155 F (Trace of pink, very warm)
Well: Don’t bother. Cook something else.