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How to get the ultimate char on a lean steak?

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  • MikesARUsername
    Club Member
    • May 2020
    • 5

    How to get the ultimate char on a lean steak?

    Please help me figure out how to achieve the ultimate (for me) char on my steaks!

    I love tenderloin steaks cooked medium-rare (~130F) with a really heavy char. I mean a thick, crunchy bark-like black crust covering the whole outside... as if I could pick up the steak and write my name on the tablecloth with it! Maybe an extra-Pittsburg? (Please don’t judge!)

    However, this is surprisingly hard to achieve reliably and I’d love tips. I can get the inside perfect (with a sear-then-finish-in-oven) but the crust is the issue. Tenderloin is a lean steak, and even with extremely high heat, I alternately end up with singed edges, dried out gray outside, overcooked interior, or just a mild brown. I’ve used a bunch of toys and tricks, but I think there’s something I’m missing.

    Here are some things that haven’t worked:
    • Very hot gas grill with cast iron grates. the grill marks are nice but the space between the marks isn’t.
    • Very hot gas grill with thin metal grate. (IR temperature of radiant fins is ~1100, and steak is about 2” above.) I get a very thin black crust — more like a skin than a bark. I tried this with a thin coat of mayonnaise too and it was better (more golden-delicious) but still lacking.
    • 1800F Broiler. The “corners” of the steak get singed, but if I wait long enough to really blacken the outside, then the inside is way overdone (and the outside still isn’t great). Plus it’s a royal pain to get the steak the right distance from the flame, especially if it’s not perfectly cylindrical: a part that sits 1/4” higher up will blacken while the rest is still flabby.
    • Ripping hot cast iron skillet over a 27k BTU burner. This is getting better but still has some issues. First is that the steak must have a perfect shape (which few do), as the char really only covers the part of the meat that touches the metal, so any lumps or ridges in the stake mean un-seared parts. Then there’s the challenge of the oil: I use a pretty thin coat brushed on (as pooling oil in a pan that hot just generates tons of smoke), so there’s not really enough to baste. I tried spreading on a thin layer of mayonnaise and that was an improvement, but still ran into the steak-must-be-perfectly-flat issue.
    • Blowtorch (with and without Searzall). Similar to the broiler, it gets the corners singed, but the result is pretty uneven.
    • Light dusting of flour our the surface of the steak before cooking. Not good. Let us never speak of this again.
    • Cooking the steak from frozen. Seems odd but I find the outside gets dried and skin-like rather than charring nicely.
    Here are some things that have improved the outcome but haven’t completely done the job:
    • Salting the meat pretty heavily the night before cooking.
    • Thoroughly drying the meat: leave it sitting uncovered on a rack in the fridge for a day or two before cooking.
    • Caveman-style: roll the meat in kosher salt then place directly on hot coals. This is the best so far, but it’s pretty irregular. Works better on a whole roast that gets cut into servings after cooking. Very hard to do on an invidious steak.
    At this point, I’m thinking it’s probably something to do with the preparation rather than just the cooking: should I put something on the steak first? (I don’t like rubs on these steaks... just something to help the outside char...) Or is there something with the way I’m using oil (or failing to use oil) during cooking? (Does the crust need to cook somehow after it forms?)

    I know it’s possible: I’ve seen steakhouses produce amazing results! I just can‘t seem to replicate it and would love tips!

    ​​​​​​​Thanks!
  • tbob4
    Charter Member
    • Nov 2014
    • 2494
    • Chico, CA
    • BBQ's
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    #2
    Butter and black pepper.

    Comment

    • Red Man
      Club Member
      • May 2018
      • 1295
      • Western Washington

      #3
      Try starting with the steak frozen. I haven’t tried this myself, but I have read about it and it seems like it would help with what you’re trying to accomplish. Do a front sear over hot coals, very close to the coals, until you have the crust you want. Finish indirect to your desired internal temp.
      Last edited by Red Man; July 5, 2020, 12:37 PM.

      Comment


      • IowaGirl
        IowaGirl commented
        Editing a comment
        Yes, I can definitely say this really works. Medium rare with a crunchy outside.

        There was a nice thread awhile back where several of us tried this method and compared notes.

      • IowaGirl
        IowaGirl commented
        Editing a comment
        Ah, here it is -- https://pitmaster.amazingribs.com/fo...rn-that-s-cold

      • Attjack
        Attjack commented
        Editing a comment
        This sounds legit I haven't tried it yet either though.
    • texastweeter
      Club Member
      • Jul 2017
      • 2932
      • Republic of Texas

      #4
      Good coating of coffee based rub like carne Crost helps but is not necessary, and left on wire rack in fridge uncovered for about 6 hours to overnight. I use the sear plate on my grill, but a black iron skillet works just as well. Add avocado oil to the skillet until about 1/8 inch deep. Heat until smoking 500° is the smoke point of avocado oil. Steaks go in whit heat cranked to high to keep from loosing temp from the cold steaks. I lay a press on the top to get good contact with the iron. After a minute flip. Repeat (total of 2 1 minute Sears per side) evacuate to a wire rack and let cool a bit. Comes out crunchy outside, rare inside. Below is not a fillet, but is a 1.75inch dry aged wagyu rib eye done this way, but with only salt pepper and garlic.
      Attached Files
      Last edited by texastweeter; July 5, 2020, 01:16 PM.

      Comment


      • Attjack
        Attjack commented
        Editing a comment
        But that's on the thicker side.
    • Henrik
      Founding Member - Moderator Emeritus
      • Jul 2014
      • 4491
      • Stockholm, Sweden

      #5
      My recommendation is to NOT cook it so dang hot. Just front sear it all the way, using a light dash of oil in a cast iron pan. This gives the crust time to build up. A rub def helps, but salt n coarse ground black pepper works too.

      A good reason for the reverse sear is obviously the wall to wall evenness, but from your post I take it crust is more important, hence my suggestion for a front sear only.

      Comment

      • mgaretz
        Founding Member
        • Jul 2014
        • 887
        • San Ramon, CA
        • Mark Garetz
          Rec Tec pellet grill
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        #6
        Give it a coating of dextrose (aka corn sugar you can buy cheap at your local homebrew store). The amount is up to you but the more you use the thicker your char will be.

        Comment


        • scottranda
          scottranda commented
          Editing a comment
          Never heard of this but highly interesting!!!

        • mgaretz
          mgaretz commented
          Editing a comment
          I do it all the time when I SV something and then sear it with my torch. When you char something you are charring the natural sugars, and that can take a while (resulting in overcooked edges). The dextrose helps the reaction by boosting the surface sugar content. I keep it a shaker with a screen top. Pat the meat dry, dust then sear.
      • scottranda
        Charter Member
        • May 2015
        • 1862
        • Charlotte, NC

        #7
        This was my same journey a few years ago. Read about it!

        https://pitmaster.amazingribs.com/fo...-ultimate-sear

        This was my steak the other week. Not my absolute best sear, but still reallllly good.
        Attached Files

        Comment

        • Jy2nd
          Club Member
          • Mar 2018
          • 16
          • Grand Rapids MI
          • Weber Genesis gas grill, Cookshack smoker, Weber 22" limited with SNS, Maverick dual probe thermometer, Thermo-pop, GrillGrates on all.

          #8
          Hot fire (charcoal), GrillGrates flipped to be a griddle, keep flipping the streak. Took it to 125 then pulled it to rest. This is what’s left for a salad. It’s a cut I never heard of until I moved to Grand Rapids- a “sizzler” - lean sirloin. I dry brined it first. And here it is for dinner with grilled asparagus and panzanella.
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          Last edited by Jy2nd; July 5, 2020, 06:36 PM.

          Comment

          • RonB
            Club Member
            • Apr 2016
            • 13648
            • Near Richmond VA
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            #9
            If you use a pan, or GrillGrates, a cast iron press will help get more of the steak's surface in contact with the pan. I know you said you don't want a rub, but Carne Crosta, (as mentioned above), is made for high temp searing. I think it's really good on steak.

            Comment


            • texastweeter
              texastweeter commented
              Editing a comment
              Good rub, and press helps a lot. Mentioned it as well.

            • scottranda
              scottranda commented
              Editing a comment
              Agree
          • MikesARUsername
            Club Member
            • May 2020
            • 5

            #10
            Thanks for the suggestions! And thanks, @scottranda for sharing that excellent thread. I completely sympathize with wanting to replicate an amazing steakhouse steak! (However in my case there's no flavored rub... just the crust/bark of the steak itself. Not that rubs are bad -- I ordered some carne crosta to try --, just not what I'm looking for right now.)

            FWIW, I don't think there's anything truly magical about the salamander -- without proper technique at least (which I'm afraid I lack). I've been using a Blue Star broiler which claims to reach 1850F and is pretty terrifyingly hot... and yet I haven't made anything that looks like my or @scottranda's "muse steak"...

            I did a test this evening to try a few things. I carefully trimmed 4 prime filets, salted them heavily, and chilled them down for ~4 hrs uncovered in a 29F blast chiller. I then did the following:
            • Steak A: dusted in corn starch, then cooked in a 500F cast iron skillet with 1/8" avocado oil. 2-3min per side, basting regularly.
            • Steak B: same as steak A but without the corn starch. (per texastweeter )
            • Steak C: 2min per side under aforementioned broiler. (My "control.")
            • Steak D: I didn't have any dextrose (per @mgaretz ) -- I have some arriving Tuesday now --, but I tried a different sugar. In this case I used jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), then seared ~60sec/side in cast iron with fresh avocado oil.
            All 4 steaks were then finished in a 275F convection oven until they each reached target interior temp, then allowed to rest.

            Here are the results (see attached photo, with steaks A/B/C/D left to right). I was very pleasantly surprised by the cornstarch: it had the makings of a real crust and was my winner of the batch. Next time I will try a thicker coat! My volunteer taster (who doesn't love char quite as much as I do) voted for Steak B as her favorite, which also had a nice exterior, though it was more "golden brown and delicious" than char to me. Steak C was a disappointment (though we still managed to force it down). Steak D was interesting but definitely not what I was looking for -- it was more like a glazed steak than a charred crust, though not actually bad.

            Next round I'll try with heavier starch as well as the dextrose...

            Please keep the suggestions coming!

            Attached Files

            Comment

            • fzxdoc
              Founding Member
              • Jul 2014
              • 5406
              • My toys:
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              #11
              This is a fun topic. Thanks for starting it. And keep those posts coming with new tests. I'm eager to see how the cornstarch/dextrose option pans out. Pun intended.

              Kathryn

              Comment

              • Richard Chrz
                Club Member
                • Mar 2019
                • 1471
                • La Crosse, Wi

                #12
                So, in pizza baking, they add a small amount of diastatic malt powder to help the char. On grills, I just roll with the hottest fire I can build, and then just sit there and flip them, over, and over. I only use salt and pepper, so, no browning agents.
                Attached Files

                Comment

                • texastweeter
                  Club Member
                  • Jul 2017
                  • 2932
                  • Republic of Texas

                  #13
                  quick question. Are you temping the skillet between flips to see how much heat you are loosing between flips? Once the steak goes in, I usually crank the burner since the steak sucks a lot of heat out of the black iron.

                  Comment

                  • MikesARUsername
                    Club Member
                    • May 2020
                    • 5

                    #14
                    Yep. Medium-high heat until it reaches 500F, then put in oil, give it a sec to smoke, turn the heat up all the way, and add the steak. (Turn the heat down a notch or two if the smoke becomes too thick.) I also cooked one steak at a time to avoid overwhelming the pan... and used fresh oil every time.

                    It does appear that basting or frequent turning helps with crust development, as the crust starts to form, then rests a sec, then gets re-cooked in hot oil, then...

                    Comment

                    • Troutman
                      Club Member
                      • Aug 2017
                      • 7838
                      • 1521

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                      #15
                      A lot of good info here but I'm not sure I've seen anyone mention just a good old reverse sear using an SNS and a rotating grate. Of course I'm not looking for that deep char the original poster is seeking so can't help you there. I'm looking for edge char and deep mahogany polymerization myself. Salt and lots of pepper with avocado oil. Just quick one minute searing and flipping gets you this....

                      Click image for larger version

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