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In Fred Thompson’s newest book, Barbecue Nation (The Taunton Press, 2007), he has this to say about grilling steaks:

“Grilling a steak seems simple, but a few home truths need to be observed. Start with the best-quality meat. If you can find American-raised, grass-fed beef that’s Prime or aged, I urge you to purchase it. Look for good marbling: That’s the little white lines of fat running through the solid muscle of the meat. Remember that fat transfers flavor, so check your cholesterol fears at the door. My recommendation is eat good red meat, just less often. When it comes to fuel, both charcoal briquettes and gas are fine, although you might want to give true hardwood charcoal a try. It burns hotter, which is what you want (most steakhouses are cooking at 800 degrees F plus).

Also, the flavor from hardwood charcoal is clean, natural, and unadulterated. Sea­son your steak very simply. Make sure the surface is dry except for a little oil. Wet beef won’t sear as well. I drizzle oil on my steaks to help the heat transfer begin—I get a better sear and more caramelizing, a 10-cent word for lots of flavor. Gild the lily at the end with butter, either a purchased seasoned butter or mix up your own. Plain unsalted butter is just fine as well.”

4 well-marbled 1 1/2-inch-thick New York strip steaks, bone on if possible
Kosher salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon per steak
Freshly ground black pepper, about
1 teaspoon per steak
Olive oil (not extra virgin), as needed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted or seasoned butter

Remove the steaks from the refriger­ator at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Light a charcoal fire or preheat your gas grill on high. Oil the grill’s cooking surface.

Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel and sprinkle each on both sides with the salt and pepper, then drizzle with a light coating of olive oil. Put the grill grates in place and wait a few minutes as they heat. Place the steaks on the grill. Cook for a couple of minutes, until you can lift them up from the grill without sticking, then give each steak a quarter turn. Continue cooking for another couple of minutes, then flip the steaks over. So far they’ve cooked for 5 to 6 minutes. Grill for another 5 to 6 minutes on the second side.

Touch the meat to gauge its doneness* and remove or continue cooking. When done, remove the steaks to a platter, top each one with a pat of butter, then wait 5 minutes, giving the butter time to melt and the internal juices time to settle. Serve, pouring any melted butter and accumulated juices over the steaks.

*Checking for doneness without cutting: Touch your cheek. When you push on a steak and it feels like that, it’s rare. The tip of your nose is medium, and your forehead is well done. Timing helps, but feeling it in your fingertips is foolproof.

July 2007 Recipe Contest