Into-the-fire steaks: Master grilling without the grill
You really haven’t lived until you’ve cooked steaks directly on a charcoal fire, says Mark Bittman in How to Grill Everything (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). When the trick is done right, “the results are a sublime balance of charred crust and juicy interior,” and as long as you don’t drop a live ember in the grass or on a kitchen area rug, your guests will be wowed.
Use untreated hardwood coals only, and a grill big enough that the steaks can sit flat on the fire with space between them. Given that the fire should be red-hot, “a pair of long-handled tongs is essential,” and an instant-read thermometer will make judging doneness easier.
If you’re aiming for a “black-and-blue” steak—charred on the outside yet rare enough on the inside to be slightly blue-tinged—pull the steaks right out of the refrigerator or even give them 30 minutes in the freezer. The cuts best for in-fire cooking are porterhouse, rib eye, and strip, bone-in or boneless, and at least an inch thick. You’ll be pulling the steaks out of the fire before they’re done; as they rest for 5 to 10 minutes, their interior temperature will continue to rise. The final targets are 120–130 degrees for rare, 130–140 for medium-rare, or 140–145 for medium.
Recipe of the week
2 or more thick steaks (1 to 1½ inches thick; about 2 lbs total)
Salt and pepper
Black-and-blue butter (recipe below)
Prepare a hot fire, using enough hardwood charcoal so you can spread the coals out thickly and lay the steaks on top. Pat steaks dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. When coals are blazing hot, spread them out into an even bed. Put steaks directly on coals; make sure they’re not touching each other. Cook until your meat thermometer reads 5 to 10 degrees shy of desired doneness (see above). Turn and move steaks as needed.
Timing will be extremely variable, depending on thickness of steaks and temperature of fire, but figure boneless cuts will release for the first turn, with few coals stuck to them, after 3 to 4 minutes. A couple of minutes after turning, start checking with an instant-read thermometer.
Remove steaks and pull or shake off any embers. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, continuing to check internal temperature. Cut across into ½-inch slices, transfer to a platter, pour over any accumulated juices, and serve with black-and-blue butter. Serves 4 to 6.
6 tbsp softened butter
4 oz blue cheese
1 tbsp cracked black peppercorns
Earlier in the day, cream together butter, blue cheese, and cracked pepper in a small bowl. Roll into a log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. Cut into 1-inch slices and leave at room temperature while you heat grill. Immediately after slicing and plating the steak, scatter the pats on top to melt.