When it comes to perfect steaks, simple is good

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      The advent of summer is also that time of year when anyone who knows anything about barbecuing seems to want to tell everyone everything they know.

      After the YouTube tutorials and morning-TV guest chefs have had their shot at getting you to buy that home smoker, charcoal chimney, or eight-burner propane grill, though, you can quietly stick to your small, simple backyard charcoal bowl or gas grill.

      For the most part, those whose “perfect” steak and hamburger grilling techniques consist of a dozen or more steps and ingredients can be safely ignored.

      Grilling done well is also grilling done simply, and the best grilled or barbecued steak you will ever taste will only require three of the simplest ingredients—salt, pepper, and a little oil—after you choose the actual cut of steak.

      It is that selection of steaks that will, ultimately, be what makes or breaks your shot at grilling perfection. You can execute everything to the letter and still end up with proverbial shoe-leather if you haven’t started with the right cut of beef.

      The only advice here is to pay the price that quality demands. Get a choice grade New York–style strip loin or rib eye steak, well-marbled with fat (especially for rib eye) and about one inch thick and 12 ounces or so in weight.

      Talk about incentive for proper cooking. Perfectly grilled steaks for six can mean a wonderfully memorable meal with friends. Ruined steaks, on the other hand, make for a miserable dinner and occasion, not to mention more than $100 worth of meat that’s suitable only for compost.

      Perhaps paradoxically, two of the most important steps in grilling that marvellous meat don’t involve any cooking whatsoever.

      The first step is to take the steaks out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature. A cold steak will take longer to reach the ideal temperature, resulting in uneven cooking, tougher texture, and less moisture.

      This attention to temperature is extremely important. Until you become a master griller—one who can judge a steak’s perfect doneness with a glance at the char and the juices and a nudge with the tongs—it’s all about temperatures: room temperature to begin cooking, proper temperature for finishing, and a temperature cool-down prior to eating to ensure ideal texture and juiciness.

      You will also be starting to cook at a higher temperature than finishing, and that will require your barbecue to have a hood/cover, so you can maintain a hot, ovenlike heat after you move your steak from cooking over a high, direct-heat source to an indirect one following the initial sear. This will ensure even, thorough cooking without burning. You can turn off the gas burner(s) on the other side of your grill to obtain that “cooler” area, or you can push your charcoal over to one side of the bowl to achieve the same.

      You will require an instant-read thermometer before you gain the experience needed to produce great steaks every time. An adequate one can be bought for $15 to $50 (don’t be tempted by, say, four-probe Bluetooth remote thermometers for hundreds of dollars; simple is better).

      So let the steak sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Pat dry (patting the meat with a paper towel before seasoning can mean better browning by reducing the flash of steam cooking that takes place when the steak hits a hot surface), rub lightly with oil (canola or extra-vrgin olive), then add lots (lots!) of fresh-cracked black pepper. Sprinkle kosher salt thickly on the meat just before starting the sear on the preheated grill. (If you salt the steak too early, it will start to draw out moisture that will “pool” and, again, flash-steam the meat surface when you are trying to get that flavourful sear happening.)

      If cooking on a gas or charcoal grill, it’s best to sear both sides of the steak over high heat at the beginning of the cooking process. And that first flip should be the only time you touch the meat again during cooking except to move it to the cooler, indirect-heat side after the sear and to finally place it on the serving platter.

      Using only tongs, put the steak on the cooking surface. (And know that piercing the meat in any way during cooking with barbecue forks or by cutting into it to check for doneness are capital crimes, even for newbs.) Sear for about 1 1/2 to two minutes per side before moving the steaks over to the indirect-heat side of the grill. Close the hood and cook for about another five to seven minutes, depending on the thickness of the steaks and what your instant-read thermometer tells you.

      Most purists reject anything other than rare or medium-rare in terms of sublime steak flavour. The internal temperature should be between 130°F and 140°F for medium-rare to medium-well doneness, with about 130° bringing the desired red-to-pink finish of a perfect medium-rare steak.

      And that’s it. Almost.

      Now comes another very important step in the “cooking” process: letting the meat sit and gently cool on a platter, tented in tin foil, for five to 10 minutes while the juices redistribute throughout the steak from its surface.

      Cutting into the meat without this taking place first will drain the steak’s juices, ruining all your good work up to that point.