We've got a partnership with the recipe, equipment, and product testing gurus at America's Test Kitchen.
We've got a partnership with the recipe, equipment, and product testing gurus at America's Test Kitchen. They'll be sharing some of their time-tested recipes and technical expertise with us weekly. Today, they're looking to South America for inspiration on smoky, crisp-crusted meat.
In Argentina, large 2-pound steaks are grilled low and slow over hardwood logs, not charcoal (and never over gas), which imbues them with a smokiness that is subtler and more complex that the typical “barbecue” flavor one comes to expect of grilled meat here in the States. With the piquant parsley, garlic, and olive oil sauce known as chimichurri served alongside, it’s a world favorite. We wanted to duplicate the Argentinean method with American supermarket steaks and a kettle grill.
For our choice of steak, we selected well-marbled New York strip steak for its big beefy flavor and meaty chew. To mimic a wood fire, we added unsoaked wood chunks to the perimeter of our grill fire. Setting the lid down on the grill for the first few minutes of cooking helped to quickly trap smoke flavor. To get a deep brown char on the meat without overcooking it, we used two strategies. First, we rubbed the meat with a mixture of salt and cornstarch. Salt seasons the meat and draws out moisture, as does cornstarch. Then we moved the steaks into the freezer for 30 minutes. The inside of a freezer is so dry that it often robs unprotected food of its moisture. In this instance, this was a good thing. Par-frozen steaks browned within moments of hitting the grill. Even better, these partially frozen steaks could stand about five more minutes of fire, adding up to more char and more flavor. To finish, garlicky chimichurri sauce cut through the rich, unctuous qualities of our great grilled steak.
Here's how we produced our own brand of smoky charred churrasco—even without the aid of a wood-burning Argentine grill.
Use the Right Rub
Rubbing the steaks with cornstarch and salt seasons the meat and expedites crust formation by drying the meat’s exterior; cornstarch also enhances browning.
Get two more simple tips — plus a standout Argentine steak and chimichurri recipe — when you keep reading.