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RBR Tailgating: Steak with Coffee and Cumin Rub

Feed the darkness within you. Let the hate flow though you!

Fleming's Steak House and its ilk are canny marketers. They have made a fortune capitalizing on the notion that people like to celebrate achievements by paying large sums of money for hunks of meat quick cooked in dragon fire. No one ever closed a big business deal and took the team out for a salad.

When our ancestors downed an auroch with the final spear or ran a mammoth off a cliff, meat was the reward. It's likely hard wired into our genetic memory. Steak is for winners.

It sure beats the hell out of franks and beans.

I'm not jinxing us against the Tennessee Volunteers by claiming a victory early, by the way. I want you to fire up a steak at your tailgate this weekend in observance of lasts week's win over Texas A&M. That was a hell of a defensive performance and deserves to be celebrated. It also doesn't hurt that eating a big piece of beef before the Tennessee game will load you up on protein. Nothing sustains hate like protein.

I made the case last year in this space that the best recipe for cooking steak is "Add salt. Grill." I stand by that assessment. But that doesn't mean that an occasional variation isn't welcome every now and then.

The following comes from a friend of mine who was the executive chef at a place in Tucson called The Presidio Grill. Coffee and Cumin rubbed steaks were apparently a staple of their menu. The recipe proved popular enough that the restaurant began selling little bags of the stuff for a few dollars so people could enjoy the mix at home. To keep up with demand, when they made a batch, they made a huge batch.

One night, per my friend, they were running low. The early shift fell behind and didn't make enough rub, among other things, so they had to keep a prep guy on the clock well into dinner service to get things properly stocked.

Now every oven and stove eye is running high during a dinner rush. A kitchen can get really hot, much hotter than during a prep shift.

The poor prep guy didn't think about the fans that were running full bore to keep the night shift cool. They were never on when he was usually there, so he went about gathering ingredients for the giant vat of steak rub. If he had thought about the fans, he probably wouldn't have walked through the path of one with a heaping pile of cayenne pepper.

He may as well have pepper sprayed the whole back of house staff. Eyes burning, they had to evacuate the kitchen for at least the next ten minutes. When he finally stopped crying, my friend realized the enormity of the situation.

He had a dining room full of expectant diners. Every ingredient that was not in a refrigerator was covered in cayenne pepper, as was every plate, pan, spoon, spatula, etc. They needed to clean everything in that kitchen before they could even begin filling orders. Prep would have to be done on the fly. So much product was either lost to pepper, or burning in the abandoned ovens.

Understandably horrified at the prospect of standing before a packed dining room and saying "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid we have a problem," the chef instead walked into the midst of his customers and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the wait staff will be coming in just a moment with complementary Champagne for everyone. I'm afraid we have a problem." According to him, people were pretty understanding. He even got a few laughs.

The reason I'm telling you this is that though the following recipe is much smaller in quantity it does have a pinch (or two if you prefer) of cayenne pepper and it is conceivable that after adding the pinch you might rub your eye. I don't want to cause undue anxiety, but proceed with caution. No Injuries.

Coffee/Cumin Rub for Steaks

½ cup Ground Coffee

¼ cup Sugar

2 heaping tbsps. Salt, or slightly more to taste

1 heaping tbsp. Cumin

A few good grindings of Black Pepper

A pinch or two of ground Cayenne Pepper

Makes enough for four decent sized New York Strips

Spice Mix

The measurements above are sort of reverse engineered from when I mixed everything together last night. As it was taught to me, start with a quantity of coffee in a bowl, add half the amount of sugar as coffee, slightly more than half the amount of salt than sugar, and half the amount of cumin as salt. A few grinds of pepper, cayenne to taste, and whisk until even.

Steak in Rub

Press the steak into the rub and coat, shake off excess.

I much prefer this with a New York Strip rather than the thin cut rib-eyes pictured, but the rib-eyes were on sale so we gave them a try. Live and learn. It's great with a thicker rib-eye and brings life to a filet, but in retrospect I should have realized that this mix is strong enough to require a thick, meaty cut.

Steak on Grill

The coffee will give it a "charred" flavor, the sugar will caramelize, the salt will draw out the natural flavors of the beef and the cumin will somehow add an earthy element despite the fact that uncooked, the spice smells like B.O. Black and Cayenne peppers will brighten all of the above. It's a great mix.


In my opinion, the best way to cook potatoes on a grill is to slice them into thin wheels about half as thick as a shoestring French fry, soak in water for ten to fifteen minutes, remove and pat dry, brush with olive oil, and grill for five minutes a side over high heat. I usually do it before I cook the steaks when the coals are still a little too hot for the meat. Three to five minutes to a side depending on your grill and fuel, covered, should do it. Cut more than you expect to need as you will lose some to the grill. There's no shame in that.

Toss the done potatoes in a bowl and salt to taste.

Steak Plated

Add an arugala salad with a little red wine vinaigrette, and you should be a happy little protein filled ball of hate. Go forth and mortify.

I should point out that after a celebratory steak dinner there are traditional indulgences. Aficionados will argue over brandy or Scotch as the preferred postprandial beverage, but it's widely accepted that the night is not complete without a good cigar.

Enjoy, Roll Tide, and FUT.