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Food & Recipes

This Surprising Ingredient Is the Key to Grilling the Juiciest and Most Flavorful Steak


Grilling season is about to be in full swing and there’s no better way to treat yourself and your family than cooking some yummy steaks. Although there are a ton of tips on how to achieve the “perfect steak,” you may never guess the ingredient we use to make our meat super tender, juicy, and with a lovely crust: It’s sugar!

The origins of sugar steak

This pantry staple is probably the last thing that comes to mind when you think about steak seasonings, but it’s actually pretty common. Bastien’s Steakhouse Restaurant in Denver first opened in 1937 and is known as the “home of the sugar steak.” For their signature menu item, chefs coat the steaks with a brown sugar rub while they’re on the grill. This gives the meat a crispy, caramelized crust and slightly sweet flavor. Plus, it helps lock in moisture within the steak so every bite is as juicy as possible.

How to make sugar steak

Similar to Bastien’s, the editors at Cook’s Country have come up with a foolproof method for cooking sugar steak at home — and you don’t have to risk burning your hand while trying to sprinkle the sweetener over the meat on the grill (ouch!).

Although I was a little bit skeptical at first, I decided to try their recipe out myself to see if I could get on board with sugar steak, especially as I’ll be grilling more this summer.

I used two nine ounce New York strip steaks that were about an inch thick so that the inside of the meat wouldn’t overcook before a crust could form on the outside. Next, I mixed together two tablespoons of granulated sugar and 1 ½ tablespoons of kosher salt in a small bowl. (It’s important to measure the salt and sugar ratio out correctly to produce a perfectly balanced flavor when you cook the steaks.) Unlike Bastien’s, this recipes uses white sugar because it doesn’t contain molasses like brown sugar, which can burn more easily on the grill. Although this differs slightly from the restaurant’s technique, you should still end up with a mouthwatering result.

After placing my steaks in a small glass baking dish, I sprinkled 1 ½ teaspoons of this rub on each side (saving the rest of the sugary salt for later). I then covered them in plastic wrap and let them sit at room temperature for two hours. According to Cook’s Country, you should rest the steaks for at least one hour at room temperature or for up to 24 hours in the fridge. This time allows the salt and sugar to break down some meat’s fibers so that it’ll become tender and juicy as it cooks. It will also cause the steaks to be a little wet — but don’t pat them dry or you’ll lose the moisture, which can result in tough and chewy steak. After two hours, I sprinkled another teaspoon of the sugar salt mixture and some black pepper on both sides.

And then came the fun part: I took the steaks outside to my heated charcoal grill and used a pair of tongs to run a paper towel lightly dipped in vegetable oil over the grates. You can also oil up the grill beforehand if you don’t want to risk any flareups. This will prevent any bits of the sugar from sticking to the grates, making them harder to clean afterwards.

I placed both steaks on the grill and closed the hood to let the smoke really envelope the meat and give it a nice smoky flavor.

How long they spend on the grill will depend on how you like your steaks done. I prefer mine cooked medium, so I grilled them for about five to six minutes on each side until the internal temperature registered 140 degrees FahrenheitCook’s Country points out that occasionally moving the steaks to different areas of the grill while they are grilling is another key to making sure it cooks evenly.

Once they were cooked, I placed them on a plate and let them rest uncovered for five minutes so that the crust would remain intact and the meat juices would redistribute throughout the steaks. Then I grabbed my handy chef’s knife and sliced the steak into half inch pieces against the grain for more manageable bites (I’ll let you be the judge of my knife skills!).

My taste test

When the moment of truth came and it was finally time to taste the steak, I was immediately hit with a burst of juiciness and tenderness. Then I tasted some of the caramelization from the sugar and it blended really well with the smokiness from the charcoal. It didn’t feel like I was tasting a piece of candy as the term “sugar steak” would suggest. Instead, the meat itself was a blank canvas for these various flavors to complement each other.

Also, the sugar helped create a dark brown crust on the outside of the steak which was a satisfying texture contrast to the soft pink center. As different as this cooking trick might seem, it produces delicious and juicy steaks. Pair it with some roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach like I did, and you have the makings of an incredible dinner that will become a grilling season staple!

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