Contributed by Mr Brackenridge, CA:
Saturday I cooked top sirloin. This isn’t worth doing unless you cook the whole sirloin, and this treatment demands prime grade. The sirloin is cut in half; in this case the cuts were 6 and 7 pounds for a total of 13 pounds.
Note the marbling and dark color. This signifies prime grade and dry ageing. There aren’t that many butchers willing to take the effort. The “cap” is retained. This is the outer layer of fat. Note also that the coullotte (biceps femoris) is also retained. The coullotte is the smaller steak. Most butchers remove both the cap and coullotte when they sell top sirloin as a cheap cut. Very few butchers are willing to sell prime dry aged top sirloin.
These cuts are 5 inches thick. If you take them out of the refrigerator and put them on the fire, you will end up with well done on the outside and cold raw meat on the inside. That would be wrong. The goal here is to get to an internal temperature of just short of 120 with as little grey or well done on the outside. In order to do this the steak must go on the grill with an internal temperature of 75 to 80 degrees. Bringing the meat up to temperature will take all day, so it is best to buy the steak the day before. When preparing the steak, cover it in freshly ground black pepper.
This isn’t a very good picture, but that is a large copper Greek pepper grinder, and the steaks are thoroughly covered with pepper. Next step is to coat with olive oil. The pepper and olive oil should be on the steaks for the five or more hours it takes to get up to room temperature. Add chopped garlic an hour or so before cooking.
The object of the cooking is to get a blackened crust that contrasts with the meat flavor. If the garlic is put on too early, it will penetrate into the meat. This isn’t necessarily bad, but if you have great meat, let it show on its own.
In Southern California we use natural mesquite charcoal. Its natural tendency is to burn hot and then die rapidly. Before the Grillery, I would cook on mesquite coals, and I’d count on the fire to run out in order to start out with a strong flame that would burn out.
The Grillery allows a different approach. The object is to get a burned outer coat and everything medium rare all the way to the middle. When I was cooking on a Webber, I’d have to build a large fire, let it reduce to coals, cook, and count on the coals to die out to slow down cooking.
With the Grillery I have 16 inches of travel, but more importantly when I raise the grill the fat goes into the basting pan. This means I can use a smaller fire and start cooking before the mesquite has reduced to coals. The following pictures were taken in the dark without flash, but the point is that the steaks really get burned. These steaks are covered in olive oil and the fat or “cap” is placed nearest the coals. This makes for an inferno:
￼Start this with the fat side down and turn so that all sides get thoroughly burned. This is why we put so much pepper and olive oil on the outside. The idea is to get a burnt crust for flavor. It is mythology that burning “seals” a steak. The steak retains its internal moisture because we haven’t salted it, and it will cook later. This is just to make a charred outside.
Note that the grill is lowered nearly as far as it will go. After about five minutes of burning, it is time to raise the grill to its maximum height.
You can’t see the steaks, but fat is still dripping into the basting pan. It is burning as it drops. Don’t even think of basting with this stuff. It is completely carbonized. The beauty is that it is no longer causing flame and the steaks are basking in a moderate heat.
After about ten minutes of this moderate heat the steaks are returned to the oven.
My oven is a 1951 O’Keefe and Merritt Aristocrat. I’m told that restored they sell for big bucks in Beverly Hills, but this one is original. The point is that the oven has an old fashioned and politically incorrect pilot light that keeps the oven at about 120 degrees which is what we need for the internal temperature of our steaks.
At this point it is time to open some wine.
My wine of choice is a California 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Growing up we always had Beaulieu Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I remember my mother calling up Hal Jurgensen, our grocer very upset that he was charging her $4.50 a bottle for the 1964 BV Private Reserve. He told her that someday that wine would sell for $12.00 a bottle. I see it for sale today on the internet for $300.
Here is a bad cellphone picture of the result. I had consumed a few glasses of Cabernet while the steak rested in the oven. There is a little more grey around the edges than I’d like, but it is cooked all the way through to the middle. There was a lot of fat in the basting pan, but that was inedible. There was plenty of Au Jus released as the meat was resting in the oven and when it was carved. That is wonderful, and I put it on my baked potato.
This is a family recipe. My father learned to grill when he was an apprentice winemaker in France in 1933. When he married in 1937, he built a grill from a wash bucket and a chain suspended from a beam in my parents Spanish style house. My mother tells me they were the “first of their set” to grill. This is more from depression economics than any attempt at haut cuisine. My mother tells me they got free squab from my grandparents and were able to lavishly entertain their friends.