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Cooking School: Grilling Great Steaks, with Recipes and Techniques
The “Queen of the Grill” enthusiastically encourages women to take their indoor cooking skills outside
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Recipes for this story
When chef-author Elizabeth Karmel talks about grilling, she’s not giving someone the third degree, unless it’s medium-rare. The “Queen of the Grill” enthusiastically encourages women to take their indoor cooking skills outside. “I want women to embrace grilling,” she says. “Once you master the basics of direct and indirect heat, you realize how easy it is.” Karmel acts on her words, her well-manicured hands doing a tango with the tongs to illustrate techniques of grilling filets in three distinct, flavorful ways.
Photography: Peter Krumhardt
When Karmel moved from her native North Carolina, she taught herself how to make the barbecue dishes she loved (and missed) so much. Karmel parlayed her craving into a career. She is the executive chef of Hill Country Barbecue Market in Washington, D.C., and New York and the author of three books. Visit Girls at the Grill for information.
Several grilled-steak recipes follow, along with Karmel’s step-by-step instructions for juicy, perfectly seared beef filets. You’ll find techniques for stuffing filets, making compound butters, and getting the same caramelized crust you usually only find at a steakhouse. You’ll also see how to arrange coals in various configurations to establish areas of direct and indirect heat.
Guinness-Soaked Filets with Blue Cheese and Sweet Potato Frites
“Blue cheese and beef are a classic combination,” Karmel says. “Stuffing the filets takes two minutes and turns a basic steak into something much more sophisticated.” Wrapping the stuffed filet with bacon definitely gilds the lily. Does it get better than this? Yes—the steak takes a bath in Guinness prior to being stuffed. Stout gives a richness you would expect from a fattier cut of beef. Thyme-scented grilled sweet potato frites make a simple side.
- 4 (8-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks, cut 1 inch thick
- 1 (12-ounce) bottle stout beer (such as Guinness)
- 3 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed (12 to 14 ounces each)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1-1/2 teaspoons crushed dried thyme, divided
- 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 to 2-1/2 ounces blue cheese, such as Stilton, Gorgonzola, or Maytag, cut into 8 small chunks
- 4 slices bacon
- 4 small round toothpicks, soaked in water for 30 minutes
Place steaks in large, shallow dish. Pour beer over steaks; cover. Marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning once.
Meanwhile, leaving skins on, cut potatoes to resemble thick-cut French fries, about 1/2 inch thick. Soak potatoes in large bowl of ice water for 15 minutes. Drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place cut potatoes in large resealable plastic bag. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Seal bag; toss gently to coat potatoes.
For charcoal grill, arrange hot coals in ring around perimeter of lower rack (indirect grilling). Test for medium heat above center of grill. Place potatoes directly on the grill rack in the center of the grill across cooking grates so they will not fall through (not over heat). Cover; grill 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. For indirect grilling, turn off one side of burners. Grill potatoes over burner that is turned off.)
Remove steaks from beer. Cut pocket in each steak by slicing horizontally almost to opposite side. Place 2 chunks of cheese in each pocket. Wrap one slice of bacon around side of each steak; secure bacon ends with wet toothpick. Brush filets with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil; season lightly with remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
When potatoes are almost done, place filets on grill rack over direct medium heat. Cover; cook filets to desired doneness, turning once halfway through grilling. (Allow 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare doneness [145°F] or 12 to 16 minutes for medium doneness [160°F].)
Remove filets from grill; transfer to serving platter. Cover, let stand 5 minutes before serving. Keep potatoes on grill while steaks rest; serve with filets. Makes 4 servings.
Grilled Steakhouse Filets with Lemon-Grilled Asparagus
There’s a three-step process that creates the perfect steakhouse crust. First, sear the steaks over the flame (direct heat); then move the meat to the unlit section of the grill and close the lid (indirect heat). Finish the steaks under the broiler with a pat of butter for a steakhouse crust. “It’s crazy good,” Karmel says. Rubbing the steak with a combination of salt, dry mustard, garlic, and smoked paprika imparts added flavor and contributes to the crust.
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, toasted
- 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 4 (8-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks, at least 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound fresh thick asparagus spears
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 2 small lemons, halved
Using mortar and pestle, crush peppercorns and garlic. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt, mustard, and paprika; set aside.
Pat steaks dry with paper towels. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Brush meat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle peppercorn mixture evenly and lightly on both sides of steaks.
Snap off and discard woody bases from asparagus. Place asparagus in large resealable plastic bag. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Seal bag; toss to coat asparagus; set aside.
For charcoal grill, arrange medium-hot coals on one side of the grill (indirect grilling). Place steaks on grill rack over coals (direct heat) and grill, covered, 1 to 2 minutes per side or until there are pronounced grill marks. Move steaks to indirect heat (no coals) and continue to grill, covered, 20 to 25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 135°F. (For gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium heat. Adjust for indirect cooking by turning off one side of burners. Place steaks on grill rack over heat. Cover; grill as directed, moving steaks to indirect heat when grill marks form.)
Transfer steaks to broiler pan. Spread 1 tablespoon butter over each steak. Place steaks under broiler. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat for 2 minutes. Turn, spread another tablespoon butter over each steak. Broil 2 minutes more or until desired doneness [for medium-rare (145° F) or medium-doneness (160° F)]. Let stand 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place asparagus on grill rack directly over heat across the cooking grates so they will not fall through. Grill 8 to 12 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. Grill lemons, cut sides down, 1 to 2 minutes or until grill marks form and lemons are heated through.
Serve filets with grilled asparagus and lemon halves. Squeeze lemon over asparagus. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Grilled Filets with Whiskey Butter and Potato-Onion-Mushroom Stacks
“The whiskey butter tastes like a complicated French sauce,” Karmel says, “but it’s really just shallots steeped in whiskey and pressed into butter.” She advises letting the butter melt into the steak as it rests, then topping meat with a second butter pat for presentation. To make the butter, mash it with whiskey-soaked shallots, fresh parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Roll softened butter in waxed paper; chill. Serve each filet with a stack of portobello mushroom, potato, onion, and fresh tarragon.
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1-1/2 teaspoons rye whiskey or bourbon, such as Bulleitt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of ground white pepper
- Olive oil
- 4 portobello mushrooms, caps only (2 to 3 ounces each)
- 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 2 medium onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 sprigs fresh tarragon
- 4 (7- to 8-ounce) beef tenderloin filets, cut 1 inch thick
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh tarragon
To make Whiskey Butter: In small bowl, let shallot stand in whiskey for 5 minutes. Drain and discard whiskey. In medium bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and slightly fluffy. Add shallot and parsley; beat to combine. Stir in garlic, salt, and white pepper. Mix well; adjust seasoning to taste.
Place butter on plastic wrap or waxed paper. Form butter into round log about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Roll butter in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Refrigerate butter until firm and easy to slice, about 2-1/2 hours.*
Preheat gas or charcoal grill for direct medium heat. Tear off four 18x 36-inch pieces of heavy-duty foil. Fold in half to make 18x18-inch squares. Brush with olive oil. Place a portobello mushroom cap, gill side up, in center of each piece of foil. Top with half of potato slices, and half of onion slices. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place 1/2 tablespoon butter on each stack. Top with remaining potato and onion slices. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper; top each stack with another 1/2 tablespoon butter. Top with sprigs of fresh tarragon. Carefully bring foil sides up to cover vegetable stacks. If needed, insert large skewer through vegetables to secure.
Grill vegetable stacks over direct heat about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Meanwhile, brush both sides of beef tenderloin filets with olive oil; season with salt and black pepper. Grill over direct heat 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare doneness (145°F) or 12 to 15 minutes for medium doneness (160°F).
Transfer filets to serving platter. Immediately cut 1/4-inch slices from Whiskey Butter log; top filets with butter slices. Cover; allow to rest for 5 minutes. Carefully open foil packets and use spatula to transfer vegetable stacks to platter, restacking as needed. Sprinkle vegetables with 1 tablespoon snipped fresh tarragon. Just prior to serving, top filets with additional butter, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
*Make Ahead Tip: Compound butter can be made ahead, wrapped well, and refrigerated up to one week ahead or frozen for up to one month.
More Great Grilling
For more grilling recipes, including one for Herb-Marinated Flank Steak, see our story on Chicago’s Wooden Spoon cooking school.