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RBR Tailgating: Steak au Favre

Red meat. YUM.

The fact that I would eventually have to write about steak has been rudely nipping at my synapses since this whole RBR Tailgating odyssey began. It’s not that I don’t like steak. It’s that this space is supposed to be dedicated to recipes and as I mentioned in the comment thread of my first post the best recipe for steak is "Add salt. Grill." Not the most engaging read. But cooking steak is, for many, the highest and best use of heat and smoke. So why not save it for LSU tailgating? The Iron Bowl? Post Season?

Because Southern Miss is my favorite opponent.

Without being able to call up specific examples, I remember Southern Miss as a semi-annual hard earned win. The game was always closer than the score. And they occasionally won. "You can call it a miracle or a legend or whatever you want to." said Gene Stallings after our 24-27 loss in 1990. "I just know that on that day Brett Favre was larger than life."

And he was, but as goes Favre, apparently so goes Southern Miss. The once great Super Bowl champion, three time NFL MVP, and four time NFL passing leader was last seen allowing himself to be filmed playing back yard ball with a team of Thirty Something extras, dropping back in the pocket under no pressure and still nearly overthrowing a wide open receiver who was forced to dive to make the catch. All to sell blue jeans. It’s not quite "Oh how the mighty have fallen." because the even at their best they were still Southern Miss, but they are following the same arc as their patron Gunslinger cum Wrangler.

So why is a middling almost-but-not-quite-was on an Ellis Johnson induced downward trend my favorite opponent? Because in the wee hours of September 17, 2006, after just having missed the Alabama vs. UL Monroe game because of wife-in-labor related reasons I sat holding my newborn son looking to see if ESPN or anybody on the hospital cable plan was showing a replay. There was an Alabama replay on but it was not the ULM game. Whatever convergence of planetary, stellar, and galactic bodies accompanied my son’s birth deigned that the first game he should see would be a replay of the 2005 Alabama vs. Southern Miss game, The Catch and all. Call me sentimental. I decree this week’s contest steak worthy.

"What cut should I purchase, salt, and grill for my celebratory repast?"

Every cut, except the Rib-eye, which is perfect, is a compromise between flavor and tenderness. Fat tastes good. Finely grained meat is easy on the jaws. The two struggle for supremacy. Let’s focus on four and a half common offerings.

Rib-eye - Remarkably tender with a high degree of marbled fat. If that weren’t enough, the spinalis muscle, the fat cap rounding the side opposite the bone adds richness not found in any other cut. In his restaurant in the Virginia outskirts of D.C. my uncle once served me a 16 oz. rib-eye that was practically butter. I was given a large serrated knife but I could have cut through it with my fork. It would have been one of my favorite meals were it not for the fact that Lorena Bobbit was sitting three tables away. She had the same knife as me.

New York Strip - Well marbled but with a pronounced grain so it can be tough. This is one of the better bets when opting for flavor over texture as some individual strips, for reasons unrevealed to mortals, can be as tender as a filet. You might get the best of both worlds, but probably not. I should stress "can be." Don’t go in counting on that to happen every, or even most, times. Its flavor is pronounced, robust and more satisfyingly beefy than most.

Filet Mignon - I paraphrased P.J. O’Rourke last week and it looks like, though I’d prefer a direct quote, I’m going to have to do it again as I’ve scoured the shelves and my copy of The Bachelor Home Companion is nowhere to be found. He compares eating a filet mignon to dating a model - it’s initially alluring and undeniably cute, but ultimately boring and expensive. There’s a reason steak houses constantly baste this cut in butter as it cooks and grocery stores sell it pre-wrapped in bacon. No fat equals sad tongue.

Hangar Steak - This began popping up on bistro menus as gas prices skyrocketed in 08 and 09. Everything, including beef went up in price as transportation costs went goofy. The once ubiquitous petite filet at the $17-$20 high but still lunch appropriate price point was suddenly cost prohibitive and replaced by the hangar. Tender, flavorful, but flawed by an often chewy sinew running the length of the cut. I’d take it over a petite filet any day. One oddity: at medium rare, it looks rare to raw. Even at well done this cut will still be pink to red because it’s bloody as hell. As a waiter, wary of the possibility of a sent back steak and dread to describe anything as bloody, I came up with all manner of poncy dodges. "Iron rich." was a favorite.

T-Bone - This is nothing but an indictment of your butcher, the lazy bastard. He’s the one selling. He should be putting in some effort toward a decent meal. New York Strips and Filet Mignons (Filets Mignon?) cook at different speeds. Why you would want them bound together by a bone is anyone’s guess. Can you carefully manipulate the meat and the coals so that the filet side is exposed to less heat that the strip side? Of course you can. Can you just buy a strip separate from the filet and cook for different periods of time? Even easier. Advantage lazy consumer.

"How do I know when my steak is done?"

A sous chef and very impressive grill man showed me a simple trick for determining "doneness." It’s a bit more precise than timing. Four minutes a side can reliably be counted on to render a certain sized steak medium rare but when grilling outdoors there is inconsistent heat from charcoal, weather, grill size, and all manner of other variables that have a say in how good your dinner will be. His way eliminates all those uncertainties. He pokes things with his finger.

Enter the Thenar Eminence. I immediately picture a corpulent potentate consulting his Mentat as his Bene Gesserit wife looks on with disgust, but it turns out the Thenar Eminence is just a muscle in your hand. More specifically, it’s the pad at the base of your thumb.

Touch the tip of your pointer finger to the tip of your thumb and with your other hand press on the eminence. Medium rare.


Next try the Johnny-Football-says-hello-Redskin-bench finger. Medium.


And so forth. Med well.


It’s not perfect. My eminence might be bigger than yours. No two of us are the same. Twins are. Very few of us are the same. My Johnny Football finger yields a medium filet and a medium rare strip. Next time you are eating steak and you get that perfect med rare, med, or whatever you prefer, start comparing your muscle tension to the meat and mentally log that info for the next time you grill. As Joycelyn Elders might say, feel free to touch yourself and see what feels right.

Finally an Argentinean condiment tailor made for grilled meats.


- 1 handful Flat Leaf Parsley

- 1 handful Cilantro or Oregano

- 4-6 cloves Garlic

- 1 pinch Crushed Red Pepper

- Olive Oil

- Salt to taste

- (optional) Red Wine Vinegar

Put the parsley, cilantro/oregano, garlic, and red pepper with a few glugs of olive oil in a food processor and pulse. Add salt, olive oil, and red wine vinegar if desired to taste. The end result should resemble a thin, oily pesto sauce. Serve atop or beside meat.

Many think of Argentina and immediately conjure images of the descendants of Italian immigrants pretending the German immigrants a few doors down are not fugitive war criminals. But it’s not all axis fealty down there. Gauchos ride the vast pampas. Malbec achieves heights it never reached in Europe. Apparently there are penguins.  In the midst of all that natural spendor, television travel and cooking shows tell me that every day, huge fires are lit that burn into the night for cooking cow. They never show the gauchos pulling a mortar and pestle out of their rucksacks and sorting herbs but they always have chimichurri. I assume they made it before hand and jarred it or something, but in a cowboy way.

And that’s what I’d do if I were grilling steaks in the shadow of Bryant-Denny this weekend: pre-make and jar chimichurri in the most cowboy way I know. I’d also consider the problems of eating steak at a tailgate. Plastic knives won’t cut it. Bring your steak knives from home and zip-loc them for the ride back. In consideration of your guests femoral arteries, as most of them will be lap eating, don’t skimp on plates. Real knives sail through Styrofoam. Coronet at the very least.