When used primarily for grilling, hot-burning mesquite adds a distinctive sweet-earthy flavor to foods. Unless it's first burned to embers, it generally is not used for hours-long smoking, such as for pork shoulder, as it can lend a bitter taste. But it is ideal for quick grilling and light smoking for fish and steaks.
Make Ahead: The steaks need an hour to marinate in the refrigerator.
Servings: 4 - 8
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 boneless rib-eye steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick (10 to 20 ounces each)
- 4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper, or more to taste
- 4 teaspoons salt
Use about 1 tablespoon of the oil to brush both sides of each steak, then use about 1 teaspoon of the pepper (or more to taste) to season both sides of each steak. Place the steaks on a plate and refrigerate for 1 hour. Let the steaks sit at room temperature for 1 hour before the grill is ready.
You'll need 4 chunks of mesquite for a charcoal grill or 1 cup of mesquite chips for a gas grill. If the grill grate can be adjusted, set it as close to the heat source as possible.
Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them on one side of the cooking area. For a very hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 1 or 2 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill. If using a gas grill, preheat to high (650 degrees) for 30 minutes. Wrap the mesquite chips in an aluminum foil packet, with a few holes poked in it to allow smoke to escape.
When the coals are white-hot, add the mesquite chunks. Let them burn for about 10 minutes. When the fire starts to subside but is still lively, place the room-temperature steaks over direct heat. If using a gas grill, place the packet of mesquite chips between the grate and the burners/briquettes, close enough to the heat to induce smoke.
Grill the steaks on one side for about 3 minutes; use tongs (not a fork) to turn them over and grill for about 3 minutes on the second side. That will give the steaks a nice, deep char.
Transfer the steaks to the indirect-heat side of the grill and turn them over to the first side. Season each steak with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Close the lid and grill for 2 to 3 minutes, then uncover, season with the remaining salt and turn the steaks over. Close the lid and grill for 2 minutes. The steaks should have a charred, rich-brown exterior that glistens with juices.
An instant-read thermometer inserted from the side into the thickest part of the meat should register 130 to 135 degrees (for medium-rare).
Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
From Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin.
Tested by Chris Stanford.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.