Louis Prima, the Italian-American singer and trumpeter, had an untold influence on the grilling of beef steaks when he sang (in the song similarly titled), “Closest to the bone, sweeter is the meat.” For decades, grill masters — and chow-downers of their work — have sworn that steaks taste better bone-in than bone-out.
The claims are two-fold: that some of the inner marrow seeps through the bone into the meat, rendering it more succulent (or “sweeter,” to reprise Prima), and that the collagen wrapping the bone breaks down into its gelatinous form, also sweetening the nearby meat.
Scrutiny by food scientists busted those myths, beginning with the commonsensical observation that bone itself is so dense that, in the short time given over to grilling, marrow has neither the chance nor the wherewithal to make it to the meat. Furthermore, any collagen does not break down sufficiently (as it would, say, in a long-braised pork shoulder).
The upshot was that bones make no difference to the taste of a steak.
But dem bones do do other things that matter to meat and that may be why grilling a steak, particularly a large steak, with a bone in will make a big difference in taste.
First, a minor but significant difference between bone-in and bone-out steaks is that those with their bones intact hold their shape better. On the intense heat of a grill, this may play a role in the esthetics of your steaks, so mind that if you will. But the more positive point is that the intense heat is distributed evenly.
Given that same heat intensity, bones are key because they are heat regulators. Any meat closest to the bone will register 5 to 10 degrees cooler than elsewhere in the steak. That means that a steak cooked overall to “medium-rare” (125 to 130 degrees) will have rare-level meat at the bone, or “medium” level steak will have medium-rare at the bone, and so on.
This is significant to note especially with larger bone-in steaks, called by such homespun names as “tomahawks” or “cowboy rib eyes,” that, due to their size, commonly serve more than one person. If two or three sit down to eat that steak and also prefer different levels of preparedness, then the meat closest to the bone, as Prima sang, may indeed be the sweetest choice.
Also, bones allow for one thing that, in their absence, cannot occur: the gnaw. Some bone lovers believe that the wee bits gnawed off the bone are the best, the sweetest bits of all.
Today’s recipe is for a 2-inch thick, bone-in rib eye steak called a “cowboy” steak. If its bone is even longer, you well might see it called a “tomahawk” steak because the whole package looks like one. Both are the regular rib eye — seen all the time — but with the bone still attached and the meat and cartilage “frenched” or trimmed off along a portion of the bone. In the case of the cowboy, the bone protrudes a couple inches past its meat; in the tomahawk, several inches.
Both steaks lend themselves to two-stage grilling. That is, being seared for a few minutes on the hotter side of the grill; being finished indirectly, or on the less hot side of the grill (or in the oven). The recipe offers directions for cooking both outdoors on a grill or indoors using the stovetop and oven.
Cowboy Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
From simplyrecipes.com; serves 3-4
- 1 2-pound cowboy steak
For the chimichurri sauce and marinade:
- 1½ cups firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
- 4-6 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
- 3 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 1½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Make the chimichurri sauce and marinade: Finely chop the parsley, garlic, and oregano (can do with a food processor); place in a small bowl. Stir in the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Set aside 2/3 of the sauce for serving with the steak (cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature).
Marinate the steak: Place steak in a bowl or large zippered bag. Take about a third of the prepared chimichurri sauce and coat the steak. Cover completely with plastic wrap or remove air from zippered bag and secure close. Let steak marinate for several hours.
Remove steak from refrigerator 2 hours before cooking so that it gets close to room temperature. Right before cooking, wipe off marinade from steak and sprinkle steak generously with salt and pepper.
Grill the steak: Prepare grill so that one side has high, direct heat and another side has indirect heat. Brush grill grates with vegetable oil. Place steak first on the side of the grill with high, direct heat, so that it sears. Grill for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, enough to brown the meat.
Then transfer the steak to the indirect heat side of the grill. Cover the grill; try to maintain a grill temperature of 350 degrees. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes (or more) until the steak is cooked to your desired level of doneness. For rare, pull the meat off the grill at an internal temp of 120 degrees; for medium rare, 125-130 degrees.
Remove the meat to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Stovetop and oven directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large cast-iron skillet on medium-high to high heat. Hold the steak fat-side down to render a little of the fat into the pan. Then sear each side until nicely browned, about a minute or two each.
Transfer the steak (if using a cast iron pan, can place the whole pan in the oven) to the oven to finish to desired doneness, anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness and size of the steak and how well done you like it. For rare, pull the meat out of the oven at an internal temp of 120 degrees; for medium-rare, 125 to 130 degrees.
Remove the meat to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serve steak with remaining chimichurri sauce.