I like good steak, and I like good bourbon. I like good Scotch and rye, too, but steak and bourbon seem to go together so well that I decided to come up with a simple bourbon steak.
The dirty secret of a lot of bourbon steak recipes out there is bourbon just gets dumped on a steak, and you’re supposed to say it’s great because you overpaid for it, or they add a lot of sugar, and it’s more a brown sugar steak than a bourbon steak. For me, the secret is to use a drizzle of bourbon ahead of time, letting the bourbon add to the steak, not overpower it, but give it time to work with the steak. I like to drizzle a bit of bourbon (maybe a couple tablespoons per steak, a couple hours ahead of cooking time, letting the bourbon soak in a bit. Use a bourbon that’s inexpensive but that you’d drink in a cocktail or just sip. I like to use something like Old Grand Dad Bottled In Bond.
One of the biggest mistakes (misteaks?) home cooks make is to not salt enough. We’re supposed to cut back on salt, right? Well, a good steak needs more salt than you’re probably putting on a steak. So put the steaks in a baking dish, drizzle, salt, turn, drizzle salt, then cover and refrigerate for a couple hours, turning the steaks every 30 minutes.
Before getting into the cooking of the steaks, let’s talk about a couple steak subjects.
First, the cut of the steak. What’s the best? Whichever is your favorite. If you like ribeye (my personal favorite), then that’s the best. If you like NY Strip, top sirloin, hangar, filet mignon, chuck blade, then have at it, and don’t worry if someone says they know what’s best. Hell, I like lots of different steaks, and if you invite me over, I’m not going to complain because it’s not a tomahawk ribeye!
Second, the best doneness for a steak is the doneness you like. Do you see a theme here?
You get to choose, as an adult that can decide all on your own, how you lie your steak done. You may try another doneness, you may not; it’s up to you. If a guest comes over and asks for a well-done steak, I’m going to fix their steak well done. I’m not going to laugh at them or judge them… until after they leave. Well, I’ll silently judge them then, too. But they can have it the way they prefer it. I’m not eating it; what do I care? Some people like Malort… ain’t no skin off my teeth! The only thing I can be picky about is thickness; I like steaks an inch thick or more; this allows more control of doneness, while a thinner steak gets overcooked much more quickly.
Here’s a secret about steaks: seared steaks are good. Okay, that’s no secret. But how do you sear them? If you know what you’re doing with a grill, you can get a good sear using a grill, but, grill or no grill, cast iron is your friend (or carbon steel). You just can’t beat the sear you get from a skillet or griddle!
Let’s cook some steak… after taking them out of the refrigerator and giving them a solid pat dry with paper towels. This drying helps it sear and crust up better at the end. Miss this step, and a good steak misses becoming a great steak. There’s a term (the Maillard effect) that explains this, but just know that a well-seared steak is just too good.
I like to cook steaks using the reverse sear method. This is when a steak is cooked at a lower temperature until it’s mostly done, then removed, the heat is cranked up, and it’s seared to a crusty dark brown right at the end, finishing the cooking. To do this method, I get a grill or griddle to medium-low heat and cook the steaks. With the lower temps, it’s fine to turn the steaks every once in a while; it actually helps promote even cooking. Since I like my steaks to be medium rare (or rarer), I cook them until they reach an internal temperature of about 115F. I do use a thermometer; it works well every time. I recommend a Thermapen fast read thermometer, in fact.
Once the steaks have cooked to about 10F below the desired doneness, they come off the grill/out of the skillet. The heat gets cranked up to high, letting the skillet get up to temp. Be sure to turn on your stovetop ventilation before this step! Put the steak in the skillet for about a minute or so per side, and even let the edges, especially if there’s a fat layer there, sear a bit by putting the steak on its edge. At this point, the steaks are done. Let them rest 5 minutes, serve, and enjoy with a pour of Old Grand Dad 114!
Now, if you are daring and want to impress your dinner guests, you can add another quick step. Only do this if you’re sure of it… Bourbon steaks beg for a good flambé! If you’re inside cooking on the stove, turn the fire off on the stove. If you’re outside, make sure nothing is above the griddle or skillet (you can’t do this on just a grill; you have to use a skillet or griddle). Pour about a quarter cup of bourbon on the steak and around it. Let it sizzle for 15 seconds or so, then, very carefully, light it with a long lighter or match. If you let it sizzle a bit, the flame will be controlled and manageable. If not… have the fire extinguisher and/or the fire department handy! It’s not that tough, though. try it outside first, and you’ll find it’s easy to do, and very impressive to see! Now you can really enjoy that steak! Great sides are sautéed mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. And don’t forget to have good company with which to enjoy it!
Curt has a love for things that taste good, starting in barbecue competitions, then moving to teaching cooking classes, writing a food blog and writing for national grilling-related companies, and, currently, as a regular on a local news show in SW Ohio doing food segments (for which he’s become known for his use of bourbon in food). In fact, when interviewed about his top five cooking ingredients, bourbon was included in that list.
Curt’s love of whisky goes back years, but, more recently, his wife encouraged him to have more than one partially filled bottle of Lagavulin by buying an Ardbeg for him for Christmas, then letting him add more and more to his collection. Now amassing a pretty nice little group of Scotch, bourbon, and ryes (and a few other whiskeys here and there), Curt enjoys his whiskey mostly with nothing but a couple drops of water (but is fine with a whiskey cocktail now and then, too). Curt’s feeling is that you don’t have to like the same whisky he likes, but he hopes you enjoy yours as much as he’s enjoying whichever is currently in his glass.
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