A great steak needs nothing but a bit of salt and pepper.
Having grown up in Chicago, I know the taste and buttery texture of a great corn-fed beef steak. We never marinated them. Never had to.
Now I live in eastern Washington State, an area renowned for its wheat, barley, peas and lentils. A short drive to the west leads to our state’s iconic apples and other tree fruit. And grapes. Washington’s wines are increasingly world-class.
But not its beef.
In fact, the few ranchers here that raise beef pride themselves on their healthy, grass-fed beef cattle. Healthy. Lean.
I bought half a grass-fed beef once. The hamburger was great. The steaks, not so much.
Safeway used to carry USDA Choice Beef, years ago. It was possible back then, every so often, to find a package of unusually well-marbled ribeyes. Not prime, mind you, but not bad. Whenever I visited the store, even if only for a gallon of milk, I’d always detour to the meat counter in the hope of finding fat-flecked treasure.
Then, in a masterful bit of supermarket sleight-of-hand, Safeway introduced their customers to “Rancher’s Reserve®.” What image does that name, Rancher’s Reserve®, conjure up in your mind? Beef ranchers holding back their best for Safeway and its customers?
Well, that’s what Safeway hoped you’d infer from the fancy new name. You were supposed to think: Rancher’s Reserve® = best USDA Choice beef reserved for Safeway customers.
After all, isn’t that what branding is all about? Whether it’s cattlemen branding their livestock to distinguish one herd from another, or marketers creating fancy names to differentiate their products, the goal is to create associations between a product or company and what it stands for in the mind of the customer.
In the mind of this customer, it eventually stood for “bull.” Better still: weasel.
Now, when Rancher’s Reserve® was launched, Safeway was still selling its customers USDA Choice beef. This cost them more, of course, but it also meant higher quality, more marbling, more tender and flavorful beefsteaks. But some months after launching the Rancher’s Reserve® program, Safeway downgraded the quality of their retail beef offerings from USDA Choice to Select, which they could buy at a lower cost. So, Rancher’s Reserve® ended up being “run-of-the-ranch.” USDA Select. Plain, ordinary, chewy beefsteak, just cut a little thicker.
But I digress.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of participating in an Eggfest, a gathering of fans of the Big Green Egg, held in the parking lot of their local dealer (a client of mine). I grilled Alaskan sockeye salmon. Nearby Bob Smith, a fellow Egghead, was grilling tri-tip beef steaks, the best I’d ever tasted. The secret, it turned out, was his marinade, the recipe for which he was happy to share with me.
A week or so after the Eggfest, I pulled some beef tenderloin steaks out of the freezer and decided to see what kind of magic Bob’s marinade might work on them. We were not disappointed. The steaks were not only tender but surprisingly full of flavor, too.
This past weekend I decided to try Bob’s magic marinade on a big ol’ (USDA Choice) T-bone steak from Costco. Whipped up a half-batch, poured it into a Zip-loc bag, and let the steak marinate in it for 5 or 6 hours before grilling it. Three of us enjoyed it for dinner (did I mention it was a big steak?) and were all in agreement that it was, in a word, superb. Unlike any other marinade I’ve ever tried, this one didn’t change the flavor of the beef; it enhanced the flavor, made it more…steak-y. Honestly, verbal descriptions don’t cut it. This is one recipe you just have to try for yourself.
I emailed Bob today and obtained his permission to share this wonderful marinade recipe with my friends. Enjoy!
BOB SMITH’S MAGIC MARINADE FOR BEEF STEAKS (Proportions are approximate.)
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce
- Several cloves of garlic, chopped
- Bunch fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped
- 2 tbs. toasted sesame oil
- 1 shot of Jack Daniel’s or other whiskey (great meat tenderizer)
- A little bit of vinegar if you don’t want whiskey
- A little more oil
Pour over meat in a zip lock bag. Turn the bag every now and then. We marinated the steaks for 5 hours or so but even an hour will add a nice flavor. (You might pierce the steaks several times with a fork to allow marinade to penetrate if you’re shortening the marinating time. – RS)
Let me know how you like it!