Johnny Autry

Step one: don’t use a cast-iron pan

Hugh Garvey  – May 30, 2019

It has been said that grilling a steak is inferior to cooking it in a pan. The thinking goes: those photogenic grill marks are just a sign that you weren’t smart enough to brown the entire steak on a big, flat piece of screaming hot metal. You don’t want char lines every half inch—you want the whole darned thing charred!

The people who say such things are binary jerks. But here’s the thing: they’re kind of right.

If you want a crackling, shellacked, uniformly bronzed and crunchy crust on your steak, you’re never going to achieve that result on a grill grate. Only a cast-iron (or other similarly heat-conductive) pan will produce a cohesive singularity of salty, Maillard-y goodness. (Louis-Camille Maillard is the dude who figured out that browned food is more molecularly complex, thus tastier than food that has not been browned. Witness: toasted v. untoasted bread.)

In recent years I’ve been converted to the cult of the cast-iron steak, even putting one on top of my grill grate to use it as a sort of big outdoor burner. But the beautifully bronzed togarashi porterhouse in Paula Disbrowe’s new cookbook Thank You for Smoking reacquainted me with the greatness of grilled steak. The Austin-based food writer has penned a comprehensive masterclass on how to judiciously, and intelligently, get smoky flavor into your cooking, with recipes for everything from smoked olive tapenade and smoked cocktails to smoked oatmeal and smoked hummus. While some of the recipes can be a little work-intensive for a weeknight, the togarashi steak is super simple and smokey in a way no cast-iron-cooked steak could ever be.

Togarashi refers to the Japanese spice blend shichimi togarashi, which you also might find in your grocery store labeled as  Japanese seven-spice blend (shichimi means seven-flavor pepper.) Those seven spices include various citrus peels, zippy Szechuan and other sorts of spicy peppery things, umami-packed nori, and nutty sesame seeds. When mixed with soy sauce and grated garlic and applied to grill-smoked steak, you end up with a sort of Japanese pastrami. The seasoning has so much flavor that you only have to marinate the steak for 10 minutes.

On to the cooking. I can be a little impatient and Disbrowe’s smoking method (placing wet wood chips in a pan next to the coals) wasn’t producing quite enough smoke for my liking, so I pushed the pan directly onto the coals, and within minutes I had billowing oaky smoke. I know it’s supposed to be a thin stream, but the flavor-producing cumulus of oak smoke along with the complex togarashi marinade produced a steak that earns a shichi out of shichi (rough translation: 7 out of 7). In other words, absolutely sensational.

Get the Recipe: Togarashi Porterhouse