- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- I sat down with Pat LaFrieda, of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, on several occasions to grill and discuss the finer points of preparing and cooking meat, and what you need to do it right.
- We discussed why you need a thermometer, why wooden cutting boards are a bad idea when it comes to meat (or any animal protein) prep, and why electric grills – as well as microwaves – will never cut it.
- From a $5 cutting board and a $13 spatula to a $1,200 overhead grill, here are the meat man’s essential grilling tools.
We sat down with Pat LaFrieda, of the three-generation-old LaFrieda Meats, purveyors of some of the choicest bovine, swine, poultry, and game provisions to the likes of New York City restaurants as The Spotted Pig, Union Square Cafe, Minetta Tavern, and yes, of course, Shake Shack, to grill and to discuss the finer points of preparing and cooking meat, and what you need to do it right.
We learned that, first and foremost, Pat LaFrieda is a fridge-to-grill (or overhead oven) guy. And there is any number of ways to cook meat, but make no two ways about this much: You’ve got to have the right tools for the job.
That fancy walnut cutting board your mother-in-law gave you for Christmas? Save it for your cheese and crudité plates, lest you want it crawling with all sorts of pathogen-laden microbes. Using your thumb to gauge the done-ness of your meat? Guess again. Maybe, just maybe, if you spend all day in a kitchen cooking steaks for a living, then have at it. But for the rest of us? Just go with the thermometer. They won’t break the bank, they’re foolproof, and you won’t look like an utter dope the next time you plop down a still-bleeding hunk of cow at a dinner party after your discerning guests (trust me, they’re all discerning) discussed to exhaustion and agreed that they wanted the thing medium-rare in the middle and medium on the edges.
Then there are the absolutely imperative do-nots. Do not, for example, pepper your steak before cooking: Olive oil and salt is all you need. Pepper will burn during your sear, and you’ll ruin it. Put it on after you’ve pulled your steak from the fire. And once you do remove it from its heat source (grills are always best, according to LaFrieda, and cast iron is king indoors, but be ready for a smoked-out kitchen), place it on a resting rack, not on a plate to get all soggy in its own juices, until it reaches the right internal temperature and/or you’re ready to slice it – for which you’ll want a butcher’s knife.
And, lastly, if you know you’re not going to eat the whole steak right then and there, “Make sure the meat is very rare to begin with … make sure you refrigerate the rarest parts so when you reheat it that it’s not overcooked. And keep it out of the microwave for crying out loud. Stovetop.”
There you have it, my meat-eating brethren. Read on for Pat’s favorite grilling tools.
Buy Pat LaFrieda and Carolynn Carreño’s book, “Meat: Everything You Need to Know,” at Amazon, $18.99
A chef’s knife
“My favorite chef’s knife, which I’ve cut myself with more times than I can remember is from Korin. It’s Japanese, so the blade is on one side, and it cuts with precision.”
(Author’s note: LaFrieda also recommends – and uses – Victorinox.)
A thin plastic cutting board
Dexas Grippmat Flexible Cutting Board, set of 4, available at Amazon, $19.99 (LaFrieda suggests any brand, but we like these)
“The thinner, almost disposable boards – those are amazing. Forget about the thick wooden boards that you get dirty, and you can’t [properly] clean. The plastic ones that you can just toss right into the dishwasher are the best, and safest.”
(Author’s note: We like these cutting boards from Dexas because you can color-code them so you don’t cross-contaminate foods during prep.)
A spatula that won’t melt
“You know how you’re not supposed to use a fork because you’re puncturing the meat? A spatula that can take the 400 degrees. It’s got to be strong, and it can’t have the plastic handle in the front. Finding those is harder than it seems: I like that brand OXO.”
(Author’s note: Okay, so Pat’s right: Finding a grilling spatula without any plastic on it is a chore, but this spatula has a minimal amount of it, and it shouldn’t melt while you’re tending to your steaks.)
An overhead broiler that reaches 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit
“I’ve had every grill company in the world come to me to represent or endorse their product in some way, and I’ve never felt comfortable doing that because we don’t just slap our name on anything. This thing is the size of a toaster oven; what are you going to do with that? Then I thought, wait: It cooks about four steaks at once, it’s the size of a toaster oven … Then I’m thinking about grilling and going, ‘Wait: That’s genius, that’s genius.’
“The fact that it gets as hot as it gets in that short amount of time is really cool. It is mesmerizing to watch. Do you know how many times I’ve [taken] slo-mo [footage of it] on my iPhone? And you’re able to see the color changing.
“My father who doesn’t cook … all he does is talk about the Otto Wilde, and he can’t wait to go home and cook a steak, and that’s a guy who never cooks.”
Read our review of the Otto Wilde OFB.
A thermometer (wired for the oven)
“I have no thermometer brand in particular, but if I’m cooking something in the oven, I like the ones that have the long cable so that you don’t have to open the oven to see: This whole thing about ‘if you touch it, and it feels like your cheek,’ … I never got that.
“Stick a thermometer in the center where it’s toughest and where the bone is. If it’s 125 [degrees], I’m taking it out. If you rest it for more than 2 minutes, then it’s going to continue to cook through. Slice it at two minutes, and the cooking procedure ends. The moment you cut through a steak, the resting period is over. No juices get redistributed through the product. The exterior temperatures are equaling the interior temperatures. That’s just physics. [This is what] gets you a nice sear and one solid color throughout.”
(If you’re not using the oven, Pat says any old thing that works will do. Just make sure to place it in the thickest point of your meat, or nearest to the bone if it’s a bone-in cut. Here’s a Bluetooth-equipped one we reviewed if you want to get fancy.)
A butcher’s knife
“I think that when you’re done, you need to have the right knife. It’s not a chef’s knife; it’s a butcher’s knife. Before you get to that point when you pull your product out, it needs to go onto a board.”
(Author’s note: LaFrieda also recommends – and uses – Victorinox knives.)
A cooling, or resting, rack
“You don’t want the meat to rest in its own juices. Whatever’s going to fall, let it fall. Now you’re steaming the steak again. What we’ve worked so hard to do, we’re now going to lose.”
(Author’s note: The CIA Masters Collection Cooling Rack is our top pick in our guide to the best cooling racks.)
A good sauce, if only from time to time
Raoul’s Steak au Poivre, N/A (we’re working on it)
“I love sauces. They bring a different dimension to something that I’ve eaten most likely plain for most of my life.
“Mine‘s a little sweet, and it’s got a lot of reduced balsamic and sautéed Vidalia onions, which you can use as a marinade. If you just use it for steaks, a little bit goes a long way because it has that potency of the balsamic and the sweet Vidalia. My whole life I’ve been eating steak au poivre from Raoul’s.”
(Editor’s note: Unfortunately, we can’t find or buy Raoul’s Steak au Poivre recipe, but we’re working to send Owen deep undercover into Raoul’s in SoHo to uncover this highly coveted recipe for all the world to share. In the meantime, Pat’s sauce, as well as this 1950s recipe from Epicurious, should do.)