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Crouton

Cooking Steak on a Chimney Starter

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Wow. I came here expecting to see 20 pages of talk about Alton Brown's latest episode on cooking steak at home. I thought for sure this would rival the "no-knead bread" topic in both length and fervor. I searched the forum before posting this so if it managed to slip past me, feel free to link me to the ongoing discussion. Anyhow... Alton Brown has always interested me as a personality, but as a cook I've always taken his techniques as more entertainment than serious cooking. That is, until I just happened to catch a late night episode on the cooking channel featuring Alton doing something ingenious. Someone has finally managed to replicate "restaurant style" high-heat broiling, the kind you get a Ruth's Chris, Peter Luger etc... at home. It's so simple, it's almost stupid. You light your chimney starter like you always do and when it's ready to go, you don't pour the charcoal out, instead you put your steak on the cold grill grate and place the chimney starter on top of your steak. That is, your steak is sitting in the space where the newspaper normally goes. Extremely high-heat from the top, mere inches from your steak... no flair ups.

I tried this yesterday with a 2 inch bone-in ribeye. As soon as you place the chimney starter on top of your steak, the surface of the meat starts to sizzle and pop, turning color immediately. After a minute and a half you flip your steak and place the chimney back on top for the same duration. What you're left with is a steak that looks and tastes (IMO) exactly like your high-end steak house.... perfectly dark broiled crust that you just can't get with a grill or cast iron pan.

I followed the recipe exactly, minus the "aging" part...

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/dry-aged-chimney-porterhouse-recipe/index.html

Has anyone else tried this? Comments?

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Interesting indeed. I somehow picture a chimney starter as a big tube like a coffee can (what we used to use as a chimney starter) - so I assume they must now have some sort of baffle in them that would keep the charcoal in it when you lift it up?

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Hi,

We have been doing this for years, and I can't remember where the idea came from. We also will use this method for a reverse sear following a low, slow and smoky time in a kettle. In that case, about one minute per side provides a nice char.

This does not work on a dry aged steak. Dry aged steaks cook very fast and a heavy char does not complement that dry exterior.

We also used to place steaks directly on the charcoal. This results in some extra crunch, yes from charcoal pieces.

Tim

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Very clever, and you don't even need a grill. You could just put the steak on a metal tray. Very portable, affordable, doesn't even use very much charcoal.

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The Chimney starter I used is from Weber and I believe it's the same one used in the episode. It's basically an elongated "coffee can" with a coiled wire in the center to hold the charcoal about 5 inches from the bottom, creating a small compartment to bunch your newspaper in. The only issue with this is you can only cook 1 steak at a time. I'm seriously thinking of modifying a small Weber kettle and turning the domed lid into a larger "chimney starter". Maybe cut a ring out of the lid about 2 inches from the edge and welding a thin metal tube to the lid along the cut-out to create the walls of the chimney. That way I can use the now modified lid as my chimney starter and have high-heat broiling over the entire surface of the grill.

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Is there no issue with ash deposit from above? Or do you not wait for the charcoal to turn grey with this technique?

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This does not work on a dry aged steak. Dry aged steaks cook very fast and a heavy char does not complement that dry exterior.

Are you pre-salting your steaks? By salting them at room temperature an hour before you plan to cook them, it not only draws the salt into the interior of the meat but also draws "wet protein" to the surface. What looks like water sitting on top of the steak after salting (and what I used to blot dry with a paper towel) is actually protein rich and aids in the browning of the exterior. By blotting this off, I had actually been hindering the charing process.

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Is there no issue with ash deposit from above? Or do you not wait for the charcoal to turn grey with this technique?

You wait for the charcoal (lump wood only) to turn white... and right before you place the starter over your steak, you take it by the handle and bump the chimney down on something lightly. Any loose charcoal or ash will fall out from the jarring. Then place it over you steak. Even with this, I still had a few small pieces fall onto my steak but a quick lift of the chimney and you can flick the pieces off and replace the starter without any problems.

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Why not just do it on top of the chimney? Heat rising, all that.

Flare-ups?

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Why not just do it on top of the chimney? Heat rising, all that.

Terrible flare-ups and a bitter black steak... I ruined many a steak in the past trying this approach.


Edited by Crouton (log)

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Ah. Gotcha. So you're basically building a salamander with coals.

Pretty much... the beginning of the episode had Alton in a restaurant supply store staring at the price of a big expensive commercial salamander.

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Why not just do it on top of the chimney? Heat rising, all that.

HE did the cooking on top of a chimney starter in another episode...i don't remember for what. I used it to cook mackerel fillet and japanese Sanma...

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Why not just do it on top of the chimney? Heat rising, all that.

HE did the cooking on top of a chimney starter in another episode...i don't remember for what. I used it to cook mackerel fillet and japanese Sanma...

He used it to barely sear the outside of a chunk of tuna

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you don't even need a grill. You could just put the steak on a metal tray. Very portable.

good point.

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That is a great idea! I'll have to try that very soon. The weber chimney should fit a nice big steak, enough for my family to share, and even if you need to make more, while one rests you make the second, while you carve the first you rest the second, should work out just fine.

As for cooking on top, the only think I sometimes cook on top is potatoes (or beets) wrapped in heavy duty foil at least twice. Some olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper etc in there. I put that on once the paper burned away and the initial heavy smoke stops. While the coals come up to heat the potatoes cook and brown nicely. I flip the package a couple times, then - once I empty the chimney - it goes off to the cool side of the bbq, I almost always build a two stage grill, all coals off to one side. Or two sides and nothing in the middle.

I guess for this chimney salamander you won't even need to fill the chimney more than half?

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That is a great idea! I'll have to try that very soon. The weber chimney should fit a nice big steak, enough for my family to share, and even if you need to make more, while one rests you make the second, while you carve the first you rest the second, should work out just fine.

As for cooking on top, the only think I sometimes cook on top is potatoes (or beets) wrapped in heavy duty foil at least twice. Some olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper etc in there. I put that on once the paper burned away and the initial heavy smoke stops. While the coals come up to heat the potatoes cook and brown nicely. I flip the package a couple times, then - once I empty the chimney - it goes off to the cool side of the bbq, I almost always build a two stage grill, all coals off to one side. Or two sides and nothing in the middle.

I guess for this chimney salamander you won't even need to fill the chimney more than half?

I suggest following the procedure exactly as written the first time just b/c it's been tested, and works... it calls for 1 lb of lump wood charcoal. This fills the chimney to just about half-way.

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I am so trying this, sounds like the ideal way to mess around with some nice steaks this weekend :)

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There was a recent Bon Appetit cover with steaks going directly onto the lump charcoal. I tried the recipe, it worked out well.

Radiant heat doesn't care if the meat is above or below, unlike convective heat. When there is physical contact between the heat and meat, there's also some conduction at work.

(edited for clarity)


Edited by Peter the eater (log)

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Ok, so I tried this today. Used dry aged ribeyes instead of porterhouse but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. Certainly made a nicely cooked steak, perfectly done but lacked real char on the outside and suffered a bit for this, not sure why this happened really, the lump wood I used doesn't normally have any problems getting up to temp and certainly seemed hot enough today but the meat was only light brown when I finished the first stage of cooking (the part underneath the chimney), is this normal or were my coals not hot enough?

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Ok, so I tried this today. Used dry aged ribeyes instead of porterhouse but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. Certainly made a nicely cooked steak, perfectly done but lacked real char on the outside and suffered a bit for this, not sure why this happened really, the lump wood I used doesn't normally have any problems getting up to temp and certainly seemed hot enough today but the meat was only light brown when I finished the first stage of cooking (the part underneath the chimney), is this normal or were my coals not hot enough?

Hmmmm... mine was definitely "charred". More so than I could ever get with a piping hot cast iron pan. I know you said you followed the recipe to the letter, but just to be sure -

1. What brand of chimney starter were you using?

2. Did you pre-salt your steaks an hour ahead of time at room temp?

3. Did you leave them "wet" after pre-salting? (ie, didn't blot them dry and/or apply oil of any kind)

4. You used 1lb of real lump wood charcoal?

5. Did the surface of the meat sizzle and pop almost immediately when you placed the starter over the steak?

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