CategoryNotes from the Kitchen

Grilled Steak Shootout

[NOTE: This is a sponsored post from STOK Grills.]

Grilled steak. As iconic Americana goes, that’s right about at the top with Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving feast. And like so many shared cultural foods, if you ask ten people the best way to grill a steak, you’ll get twelve surefire answers. I wanted to set up a little side-by-side shootout for myself, to decide a) what works best for me, and b) whether I could finally grill a steak without overcooking it.

Steak Contestants - Spoon & KnifeThe contenders are bone-in strip steaks each clocking in right around 16 ounces. I don’t mess around with steak.

I wanted to try three methods:
• Grilling lid closed, single flip.
• Grilling lid open, single flip.
• Grilling lid open, constant flip.

While getting to know the grill again, I’ve found that foods cook more evenly with the lid closed. This makes me a bit twitchy as a cook. I firmly believe that when you put heat to food, for the most part you leave it alone – I don’t stand there and poke and prod food in the pan. However, I do have use of all my senses – sight, smell, sound, touch, and when appropriate taste – to know how food is cooking. Is it cooking faster than usual? Unevenly? Ready to toss, turn, or flip? Cooking times are at best approximate – if I tell you to grill a steak for two minutes, I don’t mean precisely-to-the-second, because there are so many variables to consider.

Steak Oiled For Grill - Spoon & Knife

Oiled and salted for the grill.

Cooking with the lid down is like the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker practices lightsaber use against a floating drone with the helmet’s blast shield down. It’s blindfolded cooking. You can kind of hear the food cooking, and you can generally smell it, but you can’t see it without opening up the grill, and doing that drops the surrounding temperature.

Still, it’s hard to argue with results, and in all the recipe testing I’ve done, I’m getting better results with the lid closed. All the instruction books say to do that (that I’ve seen, not just from STOK), and why argue with a manufacturer?

Open Grill Side By Side - Spoon & Knife

Open Grill methods, Side by Side

For the grill open test, I had two techniques to consider. One school of thought is to only touch the steak once (three times if you twist it for diamond grill marks), and otherwise? Leave. It. Alone. I generally follow this kind of rule on the cooktop.

The other technique is a constant flip. By flipping every 20-30 seconds, you’re in effect pulsing the direct heat hitting the steak, the argument being that the steak will cook more evenly (less of a band of grey overcooked steak around the center). I haven’t tried this before, although I certainly get the arguments.

STEAK MASTER RECIPE:
One steak (I like strip, ribeye, or sirloin; try for 1″ to 1-1/2″ thick)
Salt
Oil

Just before putting on a hot grill, season the steak with salt and brush a thin film of oil on.
Grill steak. On a hot grill, this is roughly 3:30 per side for medium rare, but that really depends on many factors – use an instant read thermometer to be certain.

Steak Results - Spoon & Knife

Clockwise from top left/top: open/single flip, open/continuous flip, closed/single flip.

The results? Better grill marks are observed on the closed lid steak. The constant flip did cook more evenly to the edges, and seared more evenly – no time to develop grill marks. The open lid single flip had the largest gray band of overdone meat around the outside. And flavor? All three were fantastic, although Christine and I tended to prefer the closed-lid steak (and I’ll work on my timing to keep from overcooking).

Of course, it never hurts to finish the grilled steak with a little lemon brown butter, alongside some grilled broccoli… but those are another post.

Seen in this post:

Grilled Steak

Ingredients

  • One 16 oz. strip steak, about 1" thick

Instructions

  1. Dry the outside of the steak and preheat the grill.
  2. Salt the steak and brush on a thin layer of oil
  3. Place steak on grill and close cover. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Rotate steak 45 degrees (diamond hash marks) and cook for 1 minute 30 seconds more.
  5. Flip steak and repeat.
  6. Let steak rest at least 10 minutes before cutting and eating.

Notes

NOTE: Cooking times are very approximate. Judge for yourself or, better, use an instant read thermometer.

http://spoonandknife.com/grilled-steak-shootout/

There’s burgers and there’s BURGERS…

[NOTE: This is a sponsored post from STOK Grills.]

It’s slightly cliché, but burgers seem as good a place as any to start with a grill. Straightforward, unfussy, simple is often better. Plus, it gave me a chance to do some side-by-side comparison of using the grill vs. the griddle for a better sear.

Burgers At Rest - Spoon & Knife

Burgers at rest.

KEEP IT SIMPLE BURGERS:
6 oz. beef chuck, freshly ground
(that’s it)

Grind the meat with a coarse die in the grinder.
Form into patties using a biscuit cutter or other form.
Let the patties rest on a tray in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

Heat the grill on high for 5-10 minutes. Brush grates with oil.
Salt and brush/drizzle a thin film of oil on the top of the patties. Place on the grill oil side down and salt the other side.
Close the grill cover and check the burger after two minutes; the goal is to see juices start to seep or pool on the top of the patty.
Flip the patty and cook until desired doneness (an instant read thermometer is your friend here).

That’s it – straightforward and fast. One thing to note; compared to cooking these on a pan or griddle on the stovetop, these cooked a bit more evenly and didn’t have as much juices pooled on top for the flip. Keeping the grill cover closed creates something of an oven effect – it’s far from a sealed container, but it definitely holds heat in and affects cooking. The burgers cooked more evenly and with better grill marks when closed, so I still prefer that method.

Burgers On Grill - Spoon & Knife

Burgers on the grill.

I also cooked a burger on the griddle; on a stove, a flat hot metal surface helps with even all-over sear. I didn’t get so much the same effect on the grill griddle insert, something I want to try out a few more times. Cooking burgers over the grill grates has the advantage of a larger surface (more meat!).

However, the griddle was perfect for the elevated form of a burger: the bacon-wrapped juicy lucy.

Making Burger Patties - Spoon & Knife

Making burger patties

BACON-WRAPPED JUICY LUCY (CHEESE STUFFED BURGER):
Two 4 oz. beef chuck patties, formed as above
Two slices of American cheese (Use whatever cheese you prefer, but I’m a sucker for gooey American on a burger. Call me old-fashioned.)
Three slices of thick-cut bacon

When forming the bottom patty, press down in the center to create a small indentation or well. Fold the corners of the cheese in to the center, and place the cheese on the bottom patty, leaving a margin of beef around to help seal. Place or form the second patty on top of the first, remove the mold, and double-check that a good seal has formed – nothing quite as deflating as a cheese blowout on the grill.

After resting, wrap the patty in the bacon strips. There’s not a precise science to this, but I try to cover as evenly as possible (i.e. don’t have all the ends meet in the center) and keep all the ends on the same side of the burger (so, a “seam side” and a “flat side”).

Preheat the griddle side of the grill over medium heat. Place the burger bacon-seam-side down to start, and cook until juices are seen on the top or the bacon browns well on the seam side. Flip and continue cooking until done.

This burger needs to cook more gently than the simple recipe – this is a larger burger, with cheese at the core, which needs to cook and melt before the bacon exterior burns. On the Quattro, that meant a hot side grill for the simple burgers and a medium side griddle for the juicy lucy – both can cook at the same time.

Bacon wrapped Juicy Lucy - Spoon & Knife

Bacon wrapped Juicy Lucy

You know, this whole grilling thing? I could get the hang of it.

Items shown in this post:

Bacon-wrapped cheese stuffed burgers

Ingredients

  • Two 4 oz. beef chuck patties, formed as above
  • Two slices of American cheese (Use whatever cheese you prefer, but I'm a sucker for gooey American on a burger. Call me old-fashioned.)
  • Three slices of thick-cut bacon

Instructions

  1. When forming the bottom patty, press down in the center to create a small indentation or well. Fold the corners of the cheese in to the center, and place the cheese on the bottom patty, leaving a margin of beef around to help seal. Place or form the second patty on top of the first, remove the mold, and double-check that a good seal has formed - nothing quite as deflating as a cheese blowout on the grill.
  2. After resting, wrap the patty in the bacon strips. There's not a precise science to this, but I try to cover as evenly as possible (i.e. don't have all the ends meet in the center) and keep all the ends on the same side of the burger (so, a "seam side" and a "flat side").
  3. Preheat the griddle side of the grill over medium heat. Place the burger bacon-seam-side down to start, and cook until juices are seen on the top or the bacon browns well on the seam side. Flip and continue cooking until done.
http://spoonandknife.com/theres-burgers-and-theres-burgers/

STOK’d about grilling

[NOTE: This is a sponsored post from STOK Grills.]

This is a difficult one for me to admit. But as they say, naming your problem is the first step in overcoming it. Here goes:

Hi. My name’s Mike. I love to cook, but I can’t grill.

Whew. Yes, it’s true; I’ve grown far more comfortable in front of an oven and the burners of a cooktop than I am standing over a grill. Through years of practice, I get how they work – how to manage heat, timing, and ingredients to (much more often than not – nobody’s perfect) create the food I have in mind.

Grills? That’s a whole different story. I seemed to need triple the charcoal I should have in order to build a fire with any heat, and no matter how I tried, any meat I cooked was cooked through to well-done far sooner than I got any appreciable sear. Grill marks? Forget about it.

And so, my kettle charcoal grill has sat abandoned on the back patio, surviving a house move, eventually rusting the vents open on the bottom. (I have an idea to fill it with potting soil and turn it into an herb planter. Christine and I are still discussing whether this is a good idea.)

However, all this is beginning to change. We met the marketing team behind STOK Grills at the recent Dad 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, and things started to click for me. A gas grill with substantial burners that should be able to generate significant heat. An insert system to swap out grill grates for other platforms like a griddle, vegetable tray, pizza stone, or cast iron pot – and inserts that felt more substantial than gimmicky. Maybe this could help cure me.

Learning to grill - Spoon & Knife

Meet the new grill.

 

We’re happy now to kick off something new for Spoon & Knife – a series of posts sponsored by STOK Grills. We’ve partnered with them to see what I can come up with using their products. I’ve been getting to know the grill over the last couple of weeks, testing out recipes and techniques, trying to bring the Spoon & Knife meatatarian style outdoors.

Before getting to the food posts, a few words about the grill itself. I’m using the STOK Quattro, a four burner model with two insert slots – basically, their largest gas grill. Assembly was straightforward enough, although more involved than I expected. Having never owned a gas grill, somehow in my head this amounted to “drive to your nearest hardware store, pick out a grill, put it in your truck, and go home and cook”. Instead, the delivery folks showed up with a large, quite heavy box on the front doorstep. I ended up unboxing in the front room of the house and carrying the grill parts out to the back patio one-at-a-time. Whoever did the packaging for this grill should win awards; well protected, many grill parts were sized exactly to fit inside each other, like some sort of culinary matryoshka. With a bit of work, though, I had a new grill ready to go in the side yard.

Overall, I’m impressed – it heats quickly, has the oomph to sear and leave grill marks, and is pretty easy to clean up. I haven’t owned other gas grills for comparison, but it’s a good size and sturdy enough for what I’ve thrown at it so far.

Thanks again to the folks at STOK for the opportunity to do this. On to the food…

I’m on the Radio! (Well, Podcast.)

The Life of Dad After Show PodcastI had the pleasure of being a guest on the Life of Dad Aftershow (episode 85), hosted by two great guys, Ryan Hamilton and Art Eddy, who Christine and I have gotten to know through a network of dad bloggers.

One of the most rewarding things to me about learning to cook and sharing our ideas and techniques here is being able to feed family and friends. I mentioned in the show that there’s something I’ve come to realize: I like to eat, I love to cook, but I’m my best person when I’m feeding people. My goal here with Spoon & Knife has never been to show off cooking skills (plenty of people cook better than me!) but to educate and encourage people to get into the kitchen and cook, for themselves and for the people around them.

Thanks to Ryan and Art for giving me the chance to talk about this mission. It was also a test for me to try something other than writing. I feel I’m better in dialogue and conversation than I am forcing my ideas into written pieces with start, middle, and end. Christine and I have talked about this and toyed with the notion of other formats and media; I appreciate the guys for being my first crack at podcasting.

Go check out their site and network, have a listen to the show (and many others in their archives!), and leave them some love. They’re doing good work encouraging involved dads everywhere.

How to Brew a Better Cup of Coffee at Home

How to Brew a Better Cup of Coffee at Home - the science and art of making coffee. From http://spoonandknife.com

This is about what I have learned about how to brew a better cup of coffee at home. I’m not going to cover espresso-based drinks. It has been awhile since I wrote about this, and I’ve changed a few things and learned a great deal since then. This is the current State of the Coffee. Here goes:
 

The Four Ms of Espresso (and, well, not-espresso)

Part of the lore of good espresso is summed up by the Italians in four words: Miscela (the coffee blend) , Macinacaffe (the grinder), Macchina (the machine) and Mano (the hand or the barista). The same is true for brewed coffee as well, really. Those four elements, in no particular order, cover everything needed to make a great cup of coffee. (Well, with a little fudging.)
 

Miscela – The Blend

Grinding coffee beans at home

Buy quality beans, only what you can go through in about a week or so, and only whole bean. Really, that’s the basis of it. Local coffee shops are popping up all over, so try to get to know your caffeinated neighbor and support the local economy. Chances are, they are either roasting great beans themselves or are sourcing something much fresher than you’ll find in the grocery store or mega-chain.

Beyond that, try all sorts of coffee and get to know your own preferences. I’ve found that I tend to prefer coffee from Central America over the Middle East or Africa. Generally. Well, often, anyway. There isn’t a “top” or “best” growing region, they all show different characteristics of the soil, elevation, climate, et cetera.

I said there’d be a little fudging. As long as we’re talking about base ingredients, water deserves a mention. Always as filtered and pure as you can get. There is such a thing as “too” pure, but that’s mainly medical-grade. I most often use the water from my fridge filter, out of convenience. But remember when I said to make friends with the local coffee shops? When I really have my act together, I take an empty beer growler (never used for beer!) and fill up with water from them. They put in a high end filtration system when they built out the new cafe, calibrated to have a specific amount of dissolved minerals and stuff in the water, which makes it awesome to brew with.
 

Macinacaffe -The Grinder

Baratza Vario-W Coffee GrinderIt’s stunning how important this is to the quality of your coffee. I don’t care how you choose to brew or what coffee you use, the grinder WILL have a significant impact.

Basically, grinding is the act of smashing a coffee bean into bits. Try this experiment: Put a handful of beans in a plastic bag and bash them with a pot. Is every piece the same size? Definitely not. Some pieces will be larger chunks, others closer to dust.

When you brew coffee, you’re soaking the grounds in hot water trying to pull out all the flavor that you want without pulling out too much (which is bitter). The grind size affects this; smaller pieces extract faster than larger ones, so by the time the big pieces are done, the little ones are way overdone. Good grinding is therefore not just about grinding a size right for the brew method, but grinding as evenly and precisely to that size.

Cheap grinders just don’t perform that well (and there are good ones aren’t that expensive). This is where I’ve made the most significant upgrade at home, purchasing the Baratza Vario-W Coffee Grinder, after some obsessive research.
 

Macchina – The Machine

This is the part that always gets the glamour and focus. Truth is, with a bit of understanding of what goes on in extraction and why, almost any contraption can make good coffee. Broadly, I put brewing methods and devices into three categories:

  • Immersion– these methods soak or steep coffee grounds in water. They are usually the fullest bodied coffee, but often cloudier or bitter from tiny coffee particles. Examples include the French Press and the Clever Coffee Dripper but also, with a leap from hot to cold, includes Toddy and other cold-process brews as well.
  • Filtered – This includes most of the traditional coffee machines. Hot water is passed over ground coffee through some kind of filter. Examples include auto-drip makers as well as Chemex or nearly any other pour over setup.
  • Pressure – Not so different from filtered, but makes for a sufficiently different drink that I put it into its own category. Hot water is forced at pressure through grounds. Examples: Moka Pot, espresso.

One type of brewing isn’t “better” than another; it really does come down to taste and what characteristics of the coffee are desirable. Filtered brewing tends to bring out the brighter, more subtle flavors and acidity. Immersion methods tend to extract more and highlight the deeper, richer flavors and have a stronger body or mouth feel. Think of it like the three-band equalizer on a car stereo. Filtered pour-over methods are like turning up the high or treble side and dialing back a bit on the bass. Immersion brewing cranks up the bass and mids, which squash out the high frequencies. Pressured brewing like espresso is like turning up all three at the same time.

Basic Home Brew setup for making Coffee
 

Mano – That’s You!

This is the part that ties everything else together. First off, the “best” coffee is whatever matches your taste and preferences. If what you love is waking up to a Mr. Coffee pot of drip coffee, or a boiling kettle and a jar of instant coffee, then by all means have it your way! The point of all this is to think more critically and holistically about coffee, to have more options at the ready, and to understand a bit more how all these factors affect what goes into the cup.

That said, some brewing is more technical or requires more finesse and dexterity. Much has been published on the ways to pour water into a Hario V60 to achieve an even extraction, for example; this is beyond the scope of this writing. Depending on what kind of coffee you are brewing for, read up, watch videos, and talk to the folks at your local coffee haunt for tips and advice.
 

Some Basics To Get Going

Using a variable temperature electric kettle to get water to the right temperature

Now, welcome to my coffee ritual. This varies a bit depending on a whim really, but should illustrate the concepts above.

  • I do most of my brewing now in a Clever Coffee Dripper. This is a hybrid that brews immersion-style, but filters the coffee at the end like a pour-over. I really prefer the deepness of brewing like this, but it solves the bitter grit or cloudiness problem of a French press.
  • Good beans, good water are key. A standard dose, and where I would start with a new brewer, is 6O grams of coffee per liter of water. (A scale is truly your best friend here, regardless of how you brew. Consistency matters.) I find I like mine a little stronger, so I go to 32g per 500ml of water.
  • Coffee generally brews best around 195-205 F over 3:30-4:00 minute brew time. This is most certainly a work of trial and error to hit this range and decide whether it’s more pleasing to be on the high side or the low. Using a Variable Temperature Electric Kettle will make getting your water to the right temperature much easier.
  • Bloom. Bloom is what happens when you first introduce hot water To coffee grounds. The trapped gases (mainly carbon dioxide) in the coffee beans is released. I pour over just enough water to wet the grounds and let it sit for 20-30 seconds. You should be able to watch it bubble up. Then add the rest of the brew water. The science behind this is that the gas otherwise forms a vapor barrier that keeps water from making contact with the coffee; what I know is that doing this yields a better and more even consistent extraction.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

I said back at the start that this is my current state of affairs. Fact is, There is a LOT to learn about coffee, and our understanding of science and technique is constantly evolving. A year from now, I maybe doing some thing completely different. The fun is in the journey.

I hope your daily cup gets a little better for reading this; please ask questions in the comments!

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