Nothing goes better with late summer corn and tomatoes than the slightly sweet crisp char that makes a sugar steak. This is a phenomenon (hardly any other word will do) that I never ran across until I ended up with a house on Lake Michigan. I have since heard that my Dad and a salty local perfected their technique, timing their meat-flips with the end of each martini. It was no doubt the 50s and they either ate their meat really well done or they drank a helluva lot faster than I do.
Let it be clear, this is not my creation. But I do (self-) proclaim myself as the media spokesperson on the subject. Amanda Hesser featured it on Food52 a few years back and within the last month or so America’s Test Kitchen came calling. Amanda used bourbon and flank steak, and around here we would NOT consider that to be a sugar steak. She ran my recipe alongside it. One (genius) comment favored my recipe, along with a cocktail made from Amanda’s bourbon. Amen to that.
I just saw Cook’s Country Magazine (owned by America’s Test Kitchen) ran a recipe giving credit to Bastien’s in Denver. Wrong. Theirs is only an inch thick and mostly salt with the sugar – plus it wasn’t even on their menu in the 70s. West Michigan traces to at least the mid-50s.
The directions (let’s not go so far as to call it a recipe) below are my interpretation of many old-timers that have been cooking it for years. They have generously shared a wide range of tips on technique and ingredients. Some use sirloin, some use rib-eye, I have even used CAB (on sale @ $3.99/lb) top round – most agree whatever is cheapest. Also some use white sugar, some use brown, some use both. The one thing that is agreed upon is thickness: 3-4” thick, or ‘6 inches if it’s a special occasion.’
I have distilled this down to a fool-proof technique. I have a Weber and this is one of the few times I don’t use the lid. Nor am I stingy with the charcoal. It’s really impressive when you get 3 steaks going at once (total 14 pounds of meat) though I nearly set the porch roof on fire. Rip-snorting is the official temperature for the grill.
- One 3 or 4-inch thick slab o’ beef, trimmed (about 4 pounds) (see above for cut)
- Kosher or sea salt
- Any spice rub (I love the South African Cape Herb Company’s “Mexican Wave” and of course I have my own secret blend for some occasions)
- Honey Bear (it’s all in the drizzle)
- One pound brown (light or dark) sugar.
Put the meat on a small serving tray (avoid heavy plates b/c you will be flipping two plates and 4 # of meat – I love the small melamine trays). Rub with salt and spice. Drizzle with honey (1-2 Tablespoons). Pack about half the brown sugar on the top side of the meat.
Place a second tray on top and flip meat onto the second tray. Repeat the above process, using all the brown sugar. Not necessary to do the sides as it will fall off anyway.
Let this sit about 30 minutes or until sugar starts to liquefy.
Flip the tray onto the hottest fire you can build (charcoal or wood preferred) and scrape the stuck sugar onto the (now) top side. Grill until it releases enough to flip, about 7 minutes.
Continue flipping every 7 – 8 minutes, until desired doneness, about 30-40 minutes for 4 pound steak. (My dive watch has a sugar steak bezel.) If you try to do a martini every flip, you’re on your own here.
Remove and tent lightly with foil on a tray to catch juices. Rest for 10 minutes.
Slice thinly across the grain and drizzle with the jus.
Serves 8 – 10 with a few leftovers
This deliciousness cries out for Everything but the Farmer Farmer’s Market Salad and sliced tomatoes with maytag blue. YUM!!