June 3rd, 2011

If It Quacks Like a Duck…It’s Not a Steak


Okay, that’s a Mallard, but Super Sister-in-Law Chef Sandy will be talking to us about the MAILLARD reaction today. Very different things.

Close. But not really.

Here’s what she has to share with us about creating exquisite flavor for your steaks with what is known as the Maillard reaction. Man, it’s nice to have smart people in the family . . .

What is the Maillard reaction?  Does it have anything to do with ducks?

What makes a steak mouthwateringly delicious?

Read on . . .

From Wikipedia: “The Maillard reaction (French pronunciation: meh-YAR) is a form of nonenzymatic browning similar to carmelization. It results from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducting sugar, usually requiring heat. Vitally important in the preparation or presentation of many types of food, it is named after chemist Louis-Camille Maillard.”

What this means in layman’s’ terms is that the combination of high heat with amino acids creates a new flavor profile.  This reaction is accelerated by an alkaline environment.

The Maillard reaction is what produces the brown-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside pretzels available in Biergartens in Germany, or from street side vendors in the Northeast US.  This reaction is what we are looking for when we brush egg wash or milk onto pastry – the browning that will occur when the product is baked adds a tremendous dimension to the finished product, in addition to adding visual appeal.  If you ever try to make pretzels or bagels at home without adding something alkaline on the outside (the recommended method is to dip the dough in a boiling baking soda bath) you will be sadly disappointed in your resulting pastry.  You will have a crunchy, pale, bloated looking pretzel or bagel instead of the shiny brown crust covering a tender soft interior product.

Alkalinity in order of weakest-strongest:

Milk – almost acid, just slightly more alkaline than water



Baking Soda


Pretzels, in fact, used to be made in commercial settings by dipping them in a lye bath, which I would never recommend you try at home.  I have had great pretzel-making success using the baking soda bath method – dunk the shaped pretzel dough in boiling water to which 2/3 cup of baking soda has been added.  Surprisingly, the baking soda doesn’t really impart a taste to the pretzels (thank goodness!), just allows them to brown beautifully.  The recipe I use doubles up on the Maillard effect by then brushing the pretzels with egg yolk before sprinkling with pretzel salt and baking.

So what does all of this have to do with cooking a great steak?

The Maillard reaction is that amazingly brown seared crust on a fantastically prepared steak or burger.  The nuance of flavors is something that cannot be duplicated or created with any combination of seasonings; it must be cooked into the meat.  Meat is actually acidic, so it really benefits from a little help to get a Maillard reaction when cooking meat:

  • ALWAYS dry meat before cooking –use a paper towel to blot the meat dry before you even season the beef, or blot dry anything that has been marinated
  • get your pan hot
  • season the meat with kosher salt to increase your Maillard reaction
  • use a well seasoned pan to avoid the need to add a lot of oil
  • don’t crowd the pan – this will reduce the heat in the pan and prevent that elusive crust from forming
  • let the meat cook long enough to form a crust before you disturb or turn it
  • cook in a pan rather than on a grill to get the purest meat flavor and best Maillard reaction

So there you have it! Nothing to do with ducks whatsoever. Try these tips for the Maillard reaction the next time you are sizzling a beautiful steak and it will not only be gorgeous – it’ll be incredibly flavorful too!

Photo courtesy of Animal.Discovery.com.

May 11th, 2011

Eat More Steak – It’s BBQ Month!


So, it’s National BBQ Month. Who knew?

Apparently, lots of people knew – and know. This thing is huge, people.

In celebration of National BBQ Month, here are some hints for making it successful from D Magazine (D as in Dallas – and they know barbecue).

Be sure to heed the advice about when exactly to put those steaks on the grill.

Hint:  Ya gotta give it time.

Click here to see those tips – and click here for more ways to get the most bang for your buck outta National BBQ Month. Let’s milk this thing, folks!

I hope YOU go all-out to celebrate this special month. It deserves to be feted!!!

Photo courtesy of WikiHow.com.


April 19th, 2011

Grilling the Perfect Steak


Seems we all have varying ideas on how to grill the perfect steak.

I guess it all comes down to:  What do you like?

Here’s a video with tips we can all appreciate. Maybe you’ll come away with something new to try the next time you’re at the helm of your ship grill.

Life is a continual learning process, right? Enjoy!


January 18th, 2011

Steak Fun Facts


If you’re here, you probably love a great steak.

But here are a few fun tidbits you might not know about our beloved beef. Read on!


  • Although meat has been grilled since shortly after the discovery of fire–some 500,000 years ago–it did not become a popular pastime until the 1950s.
  • Time Frame

  • Depending on the cut of the steak, it may take between 10 and 30 minutes to cook on the grill; thicker cuts, such as filet mignon and T-bone, generally take the most time to grill.
  • Benefits

  • Grilling is an exceptionally healthy method of cooking steak and other kinds of meat because excess fat drains away rather than being consumed.
  • Fun Fact

  • The charcoal briquette was invented in 1920 by Henry Ford, with help from Thomas Edison.
  • Warning

  • Most injuries related to grilling are caused by improper use of starter fluid, such as adding additional fluid after lighting an outdoor grill.
  • Considerations

  • If you want to produce “grill marks” when making steak, avoid moving the steak except to turn it–only once–during the course of cooking.
  • Read more: Facts on Grilling Steak | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_4567438_grilling-steak.html#ixzz1BQ8Xn2iX

    December 28th, 2010

    How Long is Too Long for Leftovers?


    The Christmas meal has come and gone. But you still have turkey, ham, prime rib and various and sundry sides in your fridge.

    How long can we keep nibbling on them?

    As you can imagine, there are many schools of thought on this. But I like Madam Trainer’s explanation here.  She makes some good arguments and I, personally, like to err on the side of caution with this one.

    Check out her sage advice here and let me know what YOU think!

    October 22nd, 2010

    Grape Marinated Steak


    What, you say? Grape?

    Yes. Grape. It’s something I’ve never thought of before.

    Good thing there are chefs out there who are always thinking!

    Here, Chef Evan Branning goes over this recipe detail by detail, tip by tip for us. Thank goodness, because I need specific directions.

    He even tells us exactly how to season before the marinade to get the most flavorful steaks possible. So go here now for the full recipe and instructions.

    Happy cooking!

    Photo courtesy of ChefALaPorte.com.

    October 13th, 2010

    Pan Searing Steaks


    You know how to grill. You know how to broil. But are you an expert on pan searing a delicious, exquisite steak?

    Here are a few tips on this yummy cooking method from the Kansas City Steak Company. Don’t forget that there are slightly different methods for different cuts. Did ya know that?

    Me neither.

    Check out the article here and let me know how it goes for you!

    Photo courtesy of KansasCitySteaks.com.

    September 10th, 2010

    3 Ways to Cook a Great Steak


    There are all sorts of helpful hints out there to get you on your way to the perfect steak.

    Here’s an article with important tips to create your most amazing meal and three of the best ways to cook it.

    It’s always good to heed time-tested advice — especially when it comes to something as critical as steak!

    Listen to the experts, I say. This is too important to mess up!

    Check it out here. And let me know how your incredible meal goes . . .

    Photo courtesy of StartCooking.com.

    September 9th, 2010

    Flip Your Steaks By Hand


    I’m often up late at night. The TV is on and you can imagine what kinds of ads I see.

    Everything from “enhancement” products to hearing aids to – well – THIS:

    It’s the Grill Glove!

    Seriously, you put it on, reach right on that hot grill, grab your steak, flip it and all is well!

    It’s even dishwasher safe. Bonus.

    I don’t know what I think about this. Will I accidently burn part the of my arm that’s not covered by the glove as I reach over HOT FLAMES?

    Also, do I want to actually pick up my steak with my hand as it is cooking? I’m worried about the “ick” factor here. Will it feel mushy?  

    On the other hand, Anthony Sullivan is endorsing it. So you know it has to be top notch.

    Who’s Anthony Sullivan again?

    What do you think? Do you have any experience with the Grill Glove? Or is this a flash in the pan?

    Photo courtesy of GrillGlove.com.

    September 2nd, 2010

    Are Your Steaks Ready for Labor Day?



    In this fantastic article, chef Scott Popovic grills up some great advice on choosing the right meat and more to make this Labor Day the tastiest ever!

    I hope you are planning on sharing some steakburgers or T-bones or something yummy with loved ones this long weekend. After all, that’s what it’s for!

    Well, that, and honoring our country’s workers, of course.

    But, seriously, what better way to do that than by cooking up a great feast?

    Get your beef here, check out the article here and then let me know what you cooked. I want to see photos, too!

    August 31st, 2010

    Steak Tips From Your iPhone!


    Okay, this is so cool. Technology absolutely rocks.

    The Kansas City Steak Company now has a free iPhone app that lets you select your favorite cut of meat (you know, T-bone, filet mignon, etc.), choose a thickness and how well done you’d like your steak and then the app’s timer will tell you how long to cook it and when to flip it.


    Besides that, it has tons of recipes, grilling tips and a steak reference library. How awesome is that?

    Go here, check it out, then download the app on your phone and have fun playing with it. It’s free and it’s my new obsession. 

    Let me know what you think. I’m dying to know if you try it out this Labor Day weekend!!

    July 8th, 2010

    Perfect Steak in 20 Minutes


    This video shows you how to cook a great filet mignon indoors in about 20 minutes.

    If it has been raining lots where you are, don’t fret! You can still enjoy a great summertime steak. Just cook it inside. Listen to his tips and watch how he works his magic.

    Try this out!

    June 28th, 2010

    8 of the Most Expensive Cuts of Beef You Never Knew You HAD to Have!


    8 of the Most Expensive Cuts of Beef You Never Knew You HAD to Have!

    You love steak, and even in a recession you want the best that money can buy.  But how much money are you really willing to drop to buy the “perfect” steak?

    Let’s say you have an unlimited budget…what would be the best steak that your money could buy?  Here’s a list of the 8 most expensive types of beef.  The prices listed below are based on USDA Prime quality beef, but prices will vary according to your geographic location, the portion size, and grade of beef selected.

    Not all beef is created equal.  If you want to eat the best steak of your life, it’s gonna cost you…and it’ll be worth every penny.

    The Best of the Best

    1)    Kobe Beef

    This beef comes only from Kobe, Japan; therefore, costs more the further you travel from Japan.  What makes it so special?  Well, it comes from Wagyu cows that have been massaged with sake-fed grain fodder and given one beer a day.  This makes the beef tender, flavorful and wonderfully marbled.  You can find this in most of the top, high-end steakhouses in the U.S. like Japonais in Chicago.

    At the Renga-tei Restaurant in Kobe, a cut of Wagyu, wrapped in rice paper and seared on an iron grill, then served with salmon and salad is $206.  Chef Varley’s “Triple Seared” Japanese Kobe in Las Vegas costs $33 an ounce.  So, an eight-ounce serving is $264.


    2)    American Wagyu

    This type of beef comes from Wagyu cows imported from Japan but raised here in the U.S.  They are rare (there aren’t very many of them) so they are expensive.  They, too, are tender and very flavorful.  You can find this type of beef at BLT Steak in New York City.  There, an American Wagyu 12-oz. ribeye runs $92.

    3)    Tenderloin

    Typically, the most expensive cuts of beef are taken from the most tender parts of the cow.  These are the parts that don’t get “overworked” in the animal’s lifetime.  Therefore, they’re tender.  Tenderloin is an amazing example of this.  Try The Tenderloin Room in St. Louis.

    The “Pepperloin a la Tenderloin” dish at the Tenderloin Room (which consists of slices of specially seasoned, marinated tenderloin) costs $38.

    4)    Filet Mignon

    Now, this is exquisite.  Filet mignon is taken from the small end of the tenderloin (called the short loin) and is known as the “king of steaks.”  It can often be cut with a fork, it’s so tender.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  You can find delectable filet mignon at most any upscale steakhouse, but I prefer an at-home version delivered by the Kansas City Steak Company.  They’re widely known for their corn-fed beef – especially the filet mignon.

    A 12-oz. filet at BLT Steak in NYC is $42.  Six 6-oz. filets from Kansas City Steak Company run $64.95.  Definitely a better buy.


    5)    Kansas City Strip

    Strip steaks, taken from the short loin, are particularly tender, but not as tender as the tenderloin.  They can, however, but cut into thicker portions which is appealing to lovers of more rare beef.

    Sometimes called New York Strip or Delmonico, you can find strip steaks just about everywhere!


    6)    Porterhouse

    Ahhh, the Porterhouse!  Part tenderloin and part strip steak, this hefty favorite divides the two with a bone that helps provide amazing flavor.  The Porterhouse has a larger side of tenderloin than the strip.  A T-bone is just the opposite.  Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn, NY, is famous for its 2-person Porterhouse.  Newsday describes it as “Fibrous, mineral-sweet beef, crusty and tender.”  Yum!

    A single Porterhouse at the Tenderloin Room in St. Louis runs $39.


    7)    T-Bone

    The yin to the Porterhouse’s yang, the T-bone is a more conventional favorite, yet still pricey in upscale restaurants.  The fact that this type of steak comes from the short loin section of the cow (and, thus, the most tender) makes it expensive.  Find a great T-bone at Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses across the country.  A good bet.

    8)    Bone-in Ribeye (Cote de Boeuf)

    It’s the bone that gives this cut its flavor.  Leave the bone in and you leave the rich flavor intact.  The ribeye comes from the rib section of the cow, which gives it its hearty flavor.  Bob’s Steak and Chop House in Dallas, TX, has a bone-in beauty to die for!


    June 18th, 2010

    Steak. You Know Dad Wants It.


    It’s Father’s Day on Sunday. Got good plans for your old man?

    Well, you can’t go wrong cooking him a steak dinner. I’m serious. He’ll love it.

    The Houston Chronicle had an article recently giving some great grilling advice from the experts. Check it out — and then treat Dad to something special.

    Happy Father’s Day!

    Photo courtesy of Steve Giralt, Food Network Magazine via Chron.com.

    March 30th, 2010

    How to Buy Prime Steak: A Guide to Steak Cuts, Grades & Aging


    Tips and thoughts from a wonderful chef friend of mine . . . he knows what he’s talking about!

    You cannot help but to look at two different steaks in the store and wonder why one is 3 times as expensive as the other. Often times we tend to accept a lower quality steak just so it doesn’t hit our wallets so bad. However, there are some good tips to help you pick the best steak regardless of the price points.

    You have lots of options as a steak lover, each with their own pros and cons.  The first hurdle we are going to look at, because, honestly, it is the problem we usually confront with all of our decisions – price.

    Cuts Make a Difference

    Lots of factors affect how much a steak costs, like the cut of meat, the type of feed the animal ate and even the breed of the cow itself.  The cuts break down from most to least expensive in this way:  filet mignon, ribeye, strip and sirloin.

    There are lots of other cuts but we won’t worry about those since they don’t really fall into the “steak” category most of us traditionally think of.  Each of these cuts come from a particular muscle in the animal, the filet from the tenderloin (which runs through the hindquarter of the animal and through the short loin and sirloin cuts), the ribeye from the rib section and the strip from the short loin.  The Porterhouse and T-bone come from here as well but we will cover those later.  And finally, the sirloin from the sirloin.

    These selections all make ideal steak choices for one important reason – tenderness.  Muscles that get used more frequently tend to be tough.  That is why you don’t often see steaks from the round (rear leg) section thrown on the grill.  They taste great, but you will be chewing for a long time.  In order of tenderness the steaks above go as follows, filet mignon (from the tenderloin, tender-loin, get it?) ribeye, strip and sirloin.

    This follows our price list above.  There is a direct correlation between how tender a steak is and how much it costs.  Other cuts you might see in the store are flank, plate, chuck or round steaks.  But these will all be very tough if cooked in the traditional “steak” methods.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that muscles that are used more frequently, and are therefore tougher, also happen to have a more robust flavor.  This has to do with more blood circulation through the muscle while the animal is alive.  Chuck, or shoulder as it would be called to those of us non-butchers, can be extremely tough.  But it is a beefier tasting beef.

    So back to our steaks.  There is nothing that compares to the soft, velvety mouth-feel of a filet, but more than a few steak enthusiasts lament its subtle beef flavor and prefer a ribeye or strip because it offers more of that classic beef taste.  Sirloin at the bottom end of the toughness scale (and still quite tender, really) has the best flavor of the steaks.  Ribeye and strip tend to give you the best balance in terms of cost, flavor and tenderness.

    USDA Grading – What is It?

    So now you know where the steaks come from, but what about all those words advertisers stick to them like Angus or Prime?  All meat is inspected by the USDA for wholesomeness.  This means if it is sold, it is legally fit for human consumption.  Unfortunately, that is a pretty low bar, so the USDA has a grading system.

    Grading is a voluntary system that beef producers allow their meats to be graded on in several categories.  The long and short of it is a delicate balance of fat to lean meat, plus the age of the animal.

    The younger the animal and the higher the fat marbling of the meat, the higher (and therefore more expensive) the grade.  The only grades you want to consider, (even though there are eight of them, the bottom few named “canner” and “cull” – yum, right?) are prime, choice and select.

    Prime Filets
    Prime can be very expensive and has beautiful fat marbling in a very tender steak. Steak image courtesy of KansasCitySteaks.com

    Choice Steaks
    Choice offers a great value of marbling and tenderness at a fair price.

    Select Steak

    Select has much less marbling. (Used by permission of USDA.gov)

    But, remember, you only want to go with the most tender cuts.  Don’t be taken in by names like Angus or Wagyu.  They typically mean much higher prices.  Certain breeders of cattle specialize in one breed, like Angus, Black Angus or the ridiculously expensive Wagyu (this is a breed of cow from Kobe, Japan, where the animals have beer with their breakfast and at a minimum one hour of massage a day.  It can also cost well over $100 per lb.).  These breeder associations have created their own system to market their cows with their own standards, not the USDA’s.  Because of that, they can charge a pretty penny.

    Dry Aging or Wet Aging?

    Another component to look for is aging.  I’m gonna get a little technical and gross here (and I mean very little technical).  When an animal is butchered the muscles go through rigor mortis where it becomes tough, and over time the muscles soften.  This freshly butchered meat is called green meat.  You don’t want that.  It’s not actually green by the way, the term green refers to age, not color.

    Green meat is tough and chewy.  The muscles need to relax before you try cooking them.  A reputable supplier only sells meat that has been aged properly.  There are two ways to age:  dry and wet.

    Dry aging is expensive and very difficult to find.  The meat is hung in a temperature and humidity controlled environment and allowed to rest for a set period of time.  Eleven days or so has proven to be the magic number here where tenderness no longer increases.  One of the reasons dry aging is so expensive is that you have considerable moisture loss and therefore a higher cost per pound.

    Wet aging occurs when meat is packed into vacuum-sealed packaging and allowed to rest in its own liquid (sounds worse than it is).  Many consumers prefer wet aging because dry aging sometimes imparts a musty, basementy aroma.

    Where Can I Buy Quality Steaks?

    So now you know what cut to look for and what grade you want.  So where do you go?  You should look for a butcher like you do a mechanic.  A good one is hard to find.  Once you find one, ask questions like, “Where do they get their beef from?” “Is it grain fed?” “How is their meat aged?”

    A good butcher will answer all of these questions.  Shop around and go to Web sites for information.  There is plenty out there.

    Hopefully this gives you some food for thought!


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    About Me

    Hi! My name is Dena P., and I love steak. In fact, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect steak for a few years now.

    I love experimenting with food and I like to get my family, friends and neighbors involved. They add a lot to my cooking experience by helping me perfect techniques and sharing recipes.

    Read More About Me »

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