There are a ton of techniques and appliances available to cook the perfect steak. The grilling industry is full of magic techniques and statements like “the only way” and “best ever”. Let’s cut through the fat and get to what matters most. Let’s set some goalposts for the perfect steak. What do we absolutely need to do from start to finish to get amazing results regardless of the flavor or grilling style?
To answer these questions, we called in the expert! Brett Gallaway is a co-founder of the Steak Cookoff Association (SCA) and he’s seen more delicious looking steaks, prepared at a competitive global level, than anyone we know.
If you’re not familiar with the SCA please check them out here. The SCA is the fastest-growing competition grilling organization in North America and they are quickly turning into a global grilling force. The SCA was co-founded by Brett and Ken Phillips in 2013 after they got hooked on steak-grilling competitions in the US. When they started there were around nine cookoffs, each with its own set of rules. Now, more than six years later, the SCA is in 17 countries and hold over 500 competitions per year!
Ben: All SCA competitions use ribeye steaks for the main competition. Why did you choose ribeye’s?
Brett: The SCA standard is a 1-1/8″ thick boneless choice ribeye. The promoter of the events provides these steaks to create a level playing field. SCA chose ribeyes for a couple reasons.
- They have a great amount of inter-muscular fat.
- They are the most popular steaks in steakhouses worldwide.
- They are available at almost any grocery store.
Ben: What’s your favorite steak and is there a cut of beef that grillers should try if they haven’t, that is on your radar right now?
Brett: I have recently really started to enjoy a chuck-eye steak. I have always been a fan of the first three steaks off of a ribeye primal and those steaks are on the chuck end of the primal. The actual chuck-eye is cut from just before the 5th rib on a steer. I look at a chuck-eye as a poor man’s ribeye and really enjoy the flavor and texture they provide.
Ben: How do you trim your steaks or do you leave on the fat? Why?
Brett: Fat is flavor… The only trimming I do is to trim the skin around the spinalis or cap of the ribeye (not trimming this can cause a steak to curl or cup). However, in competition guys trim way more than I choose to trim.
Ben: Are there universal prep steps, like salting the steak well before grilling, that should be done to get the best results?
Brett: I personally love to use a salt brine on my ribeyes but it is not for everyone and can really go south on you if you have not done it before. I prefer my steaks to be Medium Rare to medium so letting my steaks come up to room temperature before I cook them helps me to assure the inside is at my desired temperature while not over-charring the outside of the steak.
Ben: Dry rub or marinade? Why? Follow up, do you cake your rub on thick or thin?
Brett: I love ribeyes and prepare them in different ways depending on the thickness of the steaks. I am a big fan of the salt brine for steaks that are less than 1-1/2″ thick and for thicker steaks I like to do a marinade. It takes some time to penetrate the larger cuts so a marinade works well for me. I want whoever is eating the ribeye that I prepare to taste beef first. So while marinading or seasoning, less is more. I season lighter than most to avoid masking the natural flavors and fats in a ribeye.
Now that our steak is prepped, let’s talk heat.
Ben: What’s your favorite fuel to grill with and why?
Brett: I own 46 grills and smokers and constantly play with new ways to grill a ribeye. My go-to is charcoal, (B&B Charcoal) but I will drop a chunk of pecan or hickory wood in the fire if I feel I need to make up for a previously frozen steak.
Ben: To sear how intense is your heat at the grates? Are you using two zones?
Brett: Depending on the grill that I am cooking on, I adapt my cooking style. Currently, I have been focusing on a two-zone cook more, and I really like the benefits of the process. My surface temperature is anywhere from 550-625 F on the hot side and about 150 F less on the cool side. (this helps extend my window to hit my desired temperature.)
Ben: How close should that heat be, up close and personal or far away. Are you okay with a little flame licking the steak?
Brett: Most grills fireboxes are 4-6 inches away from the grill surface that I cook on. I do have a recipe I call Caveman Sushi where I cook my tri-tip directly on the coals, it is delicious.
Ben: Sear and serve or reverse sear? What’s the technique that you would recommend most for a 1-inch thick steak. Would you recommend a different technique for a grocery store steak?
Brett: For a ribeye of that thickness I recommend you go rodeo style, hot and fast. That steak will be done before you know it.
Ben: Sear marks or a full surface sear? What’s your preference.
Brett: I prefer the grill marks when cooking for competition and for friends and family. You eat with your eyes and they look great. I will on occasion sear a steak on the bottom to create that crust and then get my grill marks on the top side of the steak.
Ben: Let it rest or serve it right away?
Brett: Let it rest 7-10 minutes on the counter, this will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the steak.
Ben: Do you season the meat after grilling at all?
Brett: I will use a finishing dust on my steak for that last pop of flavor, I save any garlic until this point since garlic can burn when used on the grill, resulting in a bitter aftertaste.
Ben: I’m a compound butter fan. Please tell me you’ve got a magic compound butter go-to recipe you can share with us!
Brett: I’m not a fan of the compound butters on my steak. I feel the butter takes away from the natural beef flavors of a steak. With the salt brine that I use, I concentrate on the proteins in the steak and find that my steak surface has a better look to it. That and the butter takes away that natural sweetness of the rendered ribeye fat.
Ben: Who are some steak superheroes we could watch out for on social media if we’re looking for inspiration?
Brett: Malcolm Reed from How to BBQ Right does a great job and William Mann (Facebook) is a steak artist!
Ben: Thanks for your time as always, Brett!
Ben – Culinary Director