Wyoming or Bust: Grilled Rib Eye Steak Cut the Cowboy Way

Hope everyone had a wonderful week. I know we sure did. Kiddo celebrated his 20th birthday this week in a big way – by retracing some fond childhood memories “out west”. Yeah, I know, we live in California, can’t get any more American west geographically speaking than California unless we move to Hawaii, but when it comes to a western cowboy attitude, nothing compares to Wyoming.

I know, I’m all about posting a few memories and a recipe or two, but I’d like to take a moment here and promote a wonderful place to call “home” in Wapiti, Wyoming. Wapiti is situated about half-way between Yellowstone’s east gate and Cody, Wyoming with easy access to both. You can take in all the wonder of Yellowstone by day, and the sights of Cody by night. Cody is home to the Buffalo Bill Museum, a nightly rodeo throughout the summer and the Irma Hotel, built in 1902 by Buffalo Bill.  There’s even a shoot ’em up western gunfight right outside the hotel. And let’s not forget about Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone, with its ever-changing thermal features and abundant wild life is never the same visit from one day to the next. The fresh air (away from the geysers – those do smell), the beautiful meadows and wide open spaces are spectacular. At the end of the day, you’ll want a place to stay that is quiet and relaxing. A place to sit and take in the stars, to ponder and reflect at the end of a perfect day.

Rand Creek Ranch is just the place – with cozy cabins, the most comfortable beds and friendly owners. Krystal and Joel not only welcome you to their ranch when you arrive, they continue to socialize with their guests in a unique way – with fireside chats each evening around a campfire. Guest gather, share their adventures of the day and get to know one another. Krystal bakes up fresh goodies each morning, leaving her wonderful muffins or coffee cakes on your porch along with fruit and juice to greet you each day. She even has a cookbook, which of course I’ve added to my collection. The recipes all look yummy and the pictures of the ranch are wonderful. If you ever travel to the Yellowstone area, I highly recommend you stay at Rand Creek Ranch for a relaxing get away you won’t soon forget. For more information, here’s a link to the ranch with all the details: http://www.randcreekranch.com/index.html

Obviously, I’m feeling rather western after such a wonderful vacation from life. It’s only fitting that I share a little cowboy cooking.  There are two things that are synonymous with cowboy cooking – grilled meats and a good pot of beans. These are foods that are easy to cook while out on the range. And let’s face it, we all love a good cut of steak sizzling on the grill. Just thinking about it will get my mouth to water.

Cowboy Cut Rib Eye

Standard Bone In Rib Eye

Let’s start with what the heck is a cowboy steak? A true cowboy steak is a rib eye steak with a long section of rib bone still attached, known as the “handle”. It’s said that cowboys of the old west used the rib bone to pick up their steak and eat it right off the bone, hence the name “cowboy cut”. The steak can weight as much as two or three pounds (for a double-cut), and stand as much as three inches thick. A true cowboy cut with the long rib bone isn’t something you can get from your local grocery store, even if it has a butcher’s counter. Most grocery stores receive their meat already cut into sections, with the long-handled rib bone removed. I’ve chatted with a couple of butchers at my grocery stores, and they are all of the opinion that the bone is more a matter of presentation rather than flavor. While bone does add flavor, the “handle” doesn’t actually come in contact with the meat so you will have the same flavor results with a thick cut of bone-in rib eye. While I was disappointed, I reasoned that the extra bone was an additional cost that truly isn’t necessary. If you feel you absolutely need a true cowboy cut rib eye, you can order them online for about $50.00 per 22 oz steak.

Grilling a steak that is this thick is a challenge. First, you’ll want to season and salt the steak well before grilling. A day in advance is great, but at a minimum, give yourself at least an hour or two. The most common mistake when salting meat is to do so just before grilling. As rumored, salt does draw out the moisture when first applied. It also breaks down the proteins and tenderizes the steak. So while the moisture is drawn out initially, allowed to sit, the meat will then reabsorbs its juices, drawing your seasonings deeper into the meat. Secondly, you’ll want to brush the meat itself with olive oil prior to grilling. This will prevent the steak from sticking while aiding the searing process. Thirdly, unlike a typical 1-inch steak, you’ll want to cook the thick cowboy steak in two stages – direct and indirect heat. Direct heat sears the meat, giving it that nice crust and beautiful color. Indirect heat cooks the interior of the meat without burning. A two or three-inch thick steak will take a while to cook – as much as 20 or 30 minutes depending upon thickness and prefered “doneness”. To help in the overall grilling, you should let the steak rest on the counter about an hour or two before grilling, depending upon thickness. This will allow the steak’s temperature to even out before throwing it onto the grill. The best “fuel” for grilling is real wood or coals. Since the coals may need to last a while, be sure to stoke a full chimney. Pile the coals at one end of the grill, with ample room at the other end for indirect cooking. After about 20 minutes, check the internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. The best way to cook a steak is medium-rare, warm in the middle while retaining its natural juices and tenderness. The longer a steak cooks, the tougher the end result. For medium-rare, you’ll be looking for an internal temperature of about 130 degrees. Keep in mind, once the steak is pulled from the grill, covered and allowed to rest, the internal temperature can raise as much as five degrees. Let’s get to grilling . . .

Cowboy Steak with a Dry Spice Rub
1 Double-Cut Rib Eye Steak (about 2 1/2 lbs)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
½ tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons finely ground coffee or instant espresso
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Butter Baste Finishing
4 tablespoons butter,
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, pressed
leaves from 1 sprig of tarragon

Mix the spices for a dry rub. If you’ve got a jar handy, simply place all the ingredients into the jar, close the lid tightly and shake away. If not, simply whisk until well blended. Spray or LIGHTLY brush steak with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with rub, and massage into the meat. Let rest on the counter at least an hour or two before grilling.

While meat is soaking in the rub, make the finishing butter baste. Place the ingredients for the butter baste into a small sauce pan and heat over low heat until the butter melts, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow flavors to marry nicely. Keep warm and fluid when ready to use.

Build a fire for direct and indirect grilling.  Place steak over hot coals, close lid and sear about 7 minutes, turn and sear other side for about 5 or 6 minutes longer.

Move steak to cooler side of the grill. Brush steak with finishing butter. Cook about 8 minutes longer with the lid closed. Turn, brush with finishing butter and continue to grill about 6-8 minutes longer with the lid closed.

Transfer steak to a warm (not hot) serving platter, cover with foil and allow steak to rest about 10 minutes before carving.

For a real, authentic cowboy dinner, serve with ranch beans and plenty of corn bread. Grilled corn on the cob is another nice touch.

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