I expected a strange look and a question or two from my dinner guests. After all, I was standing in front of a red hot fireplace with a wild look in my eye and a large flap of meat dangling from my fist. "Why aren't you using a grill?" one asked, which was easy to answer since I didn't have one. "You might use a cast iron skillet or your broiler," another offered before pointing out the obvious. "It would be easier."
And it would have. But I wasn't cooking a steak in the fireplace because I was worried about simplicity or ease. This was a matter of culinary adventure. Besides, it's not even that crazy. It's been done here, and over here too.
I let a massive oak fire burn down to coals and repurposed an oven rack as a cooking grate. A few extra logs help lift the rack to control the heat, but it was like trying to control a jet engine. The coals were very hot, and my steak burst into flames the second it hit the metal.
A little water bottle wasn't going to control this flare up. I felt like I was cooking on the surface of the sun. I used tongs and moved the steak almost constantly as the flames chased me around the spitting coals. I turned the meat frequently to help it cook as evenly as possible.
In that moment I recognized it: the way the surface of the meat bubbled away like sugar turning to caramel in a dry pan. This is exactly what a steak looked like as it cooked the infrared broilers I've seen at high-end steakhouses. I was cooking with the same heat the pros used.
I'll admit the char I ended up with on the exterior of my steak was a bit aggressive, but it was earthy and brash and worth it. I let the steak rest under a sheen of olive oil and a foil tent for 15 minutes before I cut into its ruby center and opened a bottle of wine.
This steak tasted more like a steakhouse steak than any other I have ever prepared -- grill, broiler or otherwise. While the fireplace was a bit theatrical, burning oak into coals may be my new go-to method for cooking steak for friends. If anything, the spectacle is impressive. And the meat is all the more delicious for the effort.
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