Meatasaurus Rex

The sizzle hits you before the smell, but the double whammy really gets your mouth watering.  There is nothing better than a good steak, unless it is a good pot roast or pork loin or perhaps some short ribs.  I have always insisted that a meal is not a meal unless it has some primary protein (MEAT) included.  You could safely call me a carnvore.  If I were a dinosaur, I would be a meatasaurus.  My mother would love to have a pot of beans with cornbread and cabbage as a meal.  I could enjoy it as well, as long as the beans were cooked with a large ham bone and pieces of pork.  But still, a good steak is at the top of my list.  Of course, it has to be cooked properly, and that is where most people have troubles.  The other day I was enjoying lunch with some colleagues when the topic of cooking came up, and in that discussion was how to grill a good steak.
pullquoteIn another life, I was a restaurant manager and I have worked at every possible job in the food service industry including cook.  I am a pretty good cook if I do say so myself.  When I was 18 or 19, I worked at Bill Kenny’s Restaurant in Humble, Texas.  Bill built and opened the restaurant to operate at a loss for tax purposes.  He never meant for it to make money.  He paid the staff well and offered plates for low prices.  He hired a certified chef to run the kitchen along with a kitchen manager and myself and one other guy as assistant kitchen managers.  I had already worked at food prep and line cook and expediter jobs at places like Red Lobster, Sonic and Long John Silver’s so I knew my way around a commercial kitchen.  With the combination of talented staff, low prices and good food, Bill Kenny’s became a victim of its own success.  It made money.  A lot of money.  Bill lost his tax write-off and so he closed the restaurant and sold the land.  There was a Texaco where the place once stood.
While I was there, I learned a lot about cooking, but nothing more important than how to grill a steak.  The chef was not a tall man, but the description of “large” fits.  He clearly enjoyed the benefits of his labours.  He took me under his wing and showed me a lot about food preparation, but one day he was talking about steaks and temperatures.  I thought he meant we needed a meat thermometer, but he quickly corrected me.  Rare, medium-rare, medium, medium-well and well-done are the proper designations for steaks and the best temperature to serve a good steak is medium-rare.  Now, at that time the sight of blood on a plate kind of grossed me out.  I was still young and inexperienced in the finer foods so pink meat was scary and rare was out of the question.
“How do you like your steak,” he asked me.
“Well done, of course,” I confidently answered.
He looked at me as though I had just spit on his grill.  “Well done is shoe leather.  It’s a waste of meat.”  The contempt dripped from his mouth.  “Come here,” he said.
He led me over to the grill where a huge slab of sirloin had just hit the fire.  Bright red marbled with white with the grease just starting to weep across the surface, it sizzled on the hot grill.  It was called “The Hanger” because it was so big it hung over the edges of a standard platter.
“What temperature is that steak right now,” he asked.
I looked around for a meat thermometer.
“No. no.  Just look at it.  You can see it if you know what to look for.”
I was lost and it must have shown on my face.  He grabbed the tongs and pointed to the grain of the beef.  “See the color?  Here by the marbling.  When it turns gray like this across the surface, you are at rare.”
He picked up one side of the steak.  “See how the meat moves along the grain?  It’s still pliable,” he said jabbing the tongs into the meat.  “That means it’s still tender.  If we want to serve this rare, we flip it now just long enough to char grill marks on this side and serve it.”
“Rare?” I wrinkled my nose as he flipped the steak.
“This guy wants medium,” he said ignoring my reaction, “so we leave it down here a little longer, then we flip it back and turn it 90 degrees to get the square grill marks.”
We watched the steak cook for a few seconds before he brought up my reaction.
“What you got against rare?”
“It’s gross and bloody,” I answered as if that was enough of an explanation.
“Boy,” he sighed.  “You missin’ out.  All the flavor’s in the blood.” He reached up and grabbed a knife from the magnetic holder beside the grill.  “Here,” he said cutting a chunk of beef from the side and stabbing it with a fork. “Try this.”
“But this is a customer’s lunch!” I was aghast at the suggestion.
“Ah, he won’t finish this,” he said dismissively.  “No one does.  He’ll never notice it missing,” he popped the bite into his mouth.  He cut another one and again offered it to me.  “Go on, you’re supposed to periodically taste test anyway.”
I wrinkled my nose again as I took the fork.  The meat was still pink with a drop of red juice and grease forming along the bottom of the cut; a perfect medium-rare.  Not wanting to look bad, I put it in my mouth, fully expecting the bile to immediately surge in my throat.  To the contrary, my mouth watered and the mixed with the juices to create a heavenly experience as I chewed the best bite of food I had ever experienced.  I groaned my approval.  The chef just nodded with a knowing smile.
From that moment on, medium rare is the only way I take steak.  I Iearned much about steaks from that chef.  Of course the steak needs to be seasoned.  Some use marinades, some use complicated mixes of spices.  For my money, salt, pepper and occasionally a hint of cumin sprinkled on both sides of the steak should be all that is needed to bring out the natural flavors of the meat.  No steak sauce should ever touch a properly prepared steak.  Sauces are for well-done shoe leather to make it semi-palatable.  Of course, if well-done is to your taste, have a bottle of A-1 and Bon appetit.
After I left Bill Kenny’s, I went on to many more restaurant jobs, learning more and vowing after each one that it would be my last.  Grandy’s, Casa Viva, and Waffle House each taught me something about cooking and I took my favorite recipies from each one so I have a pretty good repertoire, and I could probably open my own restaurant if I ever completely lost my mind.  I guess next to cooking a steak, the most important lesson I ever learned from all my time in restaurants was that the best job in food service is that of customer.  I’ll keep that job for a while.  It lets me sample all the varieties of meat available at the many restaurants that keep popping up all over.  The best steak I have ever eaten (that I didn’t cook) was a filet mignon from Morton’s in Nashville, but the prettiest most perfectly prepared T-bone was at a Texas Roadhouse in Katy Texas.  I keep trying to find the best steaks everywhere I go.  I am a carnivore, after all.


1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Society

One response to “Meatasaurus Rex

  1. Halee

    Sometime you and Jordy will have to have a steak off. Lol
    Also next time you are in SouthArk you should go over to West Shore and try their steak.


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