All the Single Ladies Learn to Grill! Or, Not.
With its raw meat and fire, grilling has long been the domain of men—and something I long put off learning. After my divorce, I bought a fancy gas Weber, but it came without the skill set.
Still, I figured out tricks to getting good steak. When a neighbor would ask, “What may I bring?” I would light up, as if the thought just occurred to me: “How about manning the grill?” I screened dates for their ability with charcoal. I even cajoled my teenaged son to pick up the torch.
Finally I admitted that my methods were keeping me from true female independence. So I hit on a solution: a “girl's guide to grilling” party. John Gayle, a friend and legendary grillmaster, agreed to guest lecture. The menu would be classic surf and turf, starring porterhouse and salmon, accented by John’s secret sauces and accompanied by grilled romaine and asparagus.
Although invites emphasized the women’s lib nature of the event, I was immediately bombarded with questions from my girlfriends’ spouses. What type of meat was being grilled? Who was the grillmaster and how was he selected over others? Would I be using charcoal? One husband even emailed me directly to see if we could incorporate the cedar plank he received for Christmas. Despite my intention, the lesson quickly became co-ed.
On the night of the event, John and his wife, Lora, showed up with two Fred-Flintstone-sized cuts of beef, each weighing in at 3½ pounds. We patted the meat dry with paper towels, then rubbed each steak with generous amounts of kosher salt to remove moisture and bring out flavor. After dusting with freshly ground pepper, we let the steaks sit for 30 minutes, brushing each with olive oil prior to grilling.
“Always let the outside of the steak reach room temperature,” tutored John. “You don’t want cold meat to mess with the heat of the grill.”
While the Weber heated to “as high as possible,” Lora showed me how to snap the asparagus above the tough ends and cut the romaine hearts into thirds, making sure to keep the root intact. We tossed the asparagus with olive oil and lemon zest. The romaine leaves were painted with Lora’s own sherry vinaigrette. The salmon was smothered in Gayle’s sweet Dijon sauce and placed on stand-by to be cooked on the husband-guest’s cedar plank, which I’d soaked overnight in salt water.
Partygoers arrived, and after cocktails and appetizers the lesson began. John brought out the two enormous steaks, and the crowd oohed and aahed as if watching fireworks. While holding up a giant T-bone like fresh kill, he explained that the goal is a tender, juicy finish.
“If your steak is less than an inch thick and contains little marbling, it will dry out and be overcooked and bland by the time it is seared,” he explained. (This immediately corrected a lot of my problems with steak.) “A giant prime cut porterhouse is the perfect choice for a dinner party. Cooked correctly, you are guaranteed a melt-in-your-mouth finish that can be cut into multiple servings and returned to the bone for a stunning presentation.”
This mammoth steak was two-and-a-half inches thick. John didn’t want the outside to cook before the inside reached our desired medium-rare temperature, so he set the steaks upright on their base edge for even heat-distribution, and planned a “reverse-sear” at the end. The reverse-sear sounded like an Olympic dive to me, and I couldn’t wait to learn this finale.
About 35 minutes later, once the internal temperature reached 125° (allowing for an increase to 130° once removed), John performed a beautiful reverse-sear over the flames, about two minutes on each side. The steaks’ exterior crisped to a beautiful almost-charred brown. I scored him 9.9!
While the thick steaks rested (essential, I now understand, to allow reabsorption of juices), the salmon hit the flames on the now-famous soaked plank. The plank infused a subtle cedar flavor while ensuring the fish retained moisture. We added the romaine stalks, turning them every one or two minutes until evenly browned. With all the grill spaced used, the asparagus baked in the oven.
Twenty minutes later the feast was assembled buffet style (to more oohs and aahs), accented by two of Gayle’s special dressings. We ate outside under the stars, our plates illuminated by candlelight, our meal complemented by French Bordeaux and a Pinot Gris from Oregon. All agreed the surf and turf was delectable, perfectly cooked and accented. Requests for seconds and recipes abounded.
After dinner John emceed a question-and-answer session focused on beef quality, tenderness and size that turned into an after-hours comedy routine. Apparently, following a good steak and wine, double entendres about meat are difficult for men to suppress. My girls’ grilling night turned into a testosterone-infused dinner party full of scrumptious food, bawdy humor and fun.
A few days later I put John’s tutorial to the test, grilling perfect steaks and salmon. The ultimate goal was achieved: I am officially a liberated woman!