Last year Kirk happened upon on article on the America’s Test Kitchen website explaining the benefits of cooking steaks with sugar. I was skeptical, but he was intrigued. After using this technique more than a handful of times to prepare our steaks, I am now a believer.
The Basic Sugar Steak Technique
The idea is to use a mixture of 4 parts sugar to 3 parts salt to season the steaks. The sugar encourages the formation of a crusty caramelized exterior on the meat during grilling. The salt counterbalances the sugar and creates a burst of beefy and meaty flavor in contrast.
What We Discovered
During Kirk’s research into Sugar Steaks, it occurred to him that our Sweet Red Rub is almost the perfect ratio of sugar and salt for this technique. It contains savory BBQ spices, along with kosher salt, red chile, garlic, onion, cayenne and a good amount of sugar.
Previously, we had reserved this rub for smoking port butt or ribs, but never thought to try it on steak. Would it work? Heck yeah, it worked! Not only that, but these were some of the best steaks we’ve ever grilled at home or had out.
First, the crust that develops on the meat during grilling is so deeply caramelized it almost borders on a shiny mahogany finish. Second, the flavor is insanely robust and meaty, unlike any steak I’ve ever eaten before. The first bite offers up a barely imperceptible sweetness that is so fleeting my tastebuds almost forgot to register it. Once my palate processed that subtle sweet hint of sugar, it was immediately flooded with savory flavors, picking up the red chile and spices in the rub, the salt, and the beefiness of the steaks. I hate to use the word umami, but it’s the first word that comes to mind and is perhaps the best description of the flavor.
An unexpected perk was the wondrous elixir left on the cutting board as the juices from the sliced meat commingled with the seasonings on the crust of the steak. It left behind a delicious, meaty puddle perfect for dipping pieces of steak into or dragging a crusty hunk of bread through.
Steak Grilling Tips
Here’s few grilling tips that we follow every time we grill steaks whether we’re using this technique or another.
- Always preseason. Preseasoning steak about 40 minutes before grilling draws out water from the meat in turn mixing with the salt and creating a brine on the surface. After 40 minutes or so, the steak will have mostly reabsorbed this brine working it back into the muscle structure.
- MSG is not the enemy. Kirk’s preferred preseasoning mixture is 3 parts Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt to 1 part MSG. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is a flakier salt that’s able to cover more surface area without making the meat too salty. We cook with Morton’s in the kitchen, but for the grill we stick with Diamond Crystal. If you feel strongly about the use of MSG, leave it out, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a bag of Doritos or a bucket of KFC chicken without issue, then you probably do not have a sensitivity to it. Just a note, none of our seasonings contain MSG.
- Give up the quest for a perfect crosshatch. Sure, it’s pretty, but a perfect grid pattern seared onto the surface of a steak means that there is lots of flavor real estate that’s been left behind. Instead, Kirk sears the entire surface of the steak, creating a deep flavorful crust.
- Invest in an instant read thermometer. Don’t rely on poking, prodding, or slicing open a steak to determine doneness. Instead, buy a really good instant read thermometer. We recommend the Thermoworks brand and it never lets us down.
- Thicker is not necessarily better. For this technique, we like to use a thinner bone in ribeye. We can grill these hot and fast without the risk of burning the sugars in the rub or overcooking the steaks.
Sugar Steaks: the AlbuKirky Seasonings Way
Note: this is not so much a recipe as it is a description of how we use this technique.
AlbuKirky Seasonings Sweet Red Rub
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
2-4 Bone-in Ribeye Steaks
- Pat each side of the steaks dry using paper towels.
- Preseason each side of each steak with a light dusting of 3 parts Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and 1 part MSG (see note above). Leave out the MSG if you have a sensitivity to it or prefer not to use it. Follow with a sprinkle of AlbuKirky Seasonings Sweet Red Rub. Sit aside at room temperature for 40 minutes to an hour.
- Set up grill or Big Green Egg.
- Right before grilling, season once more with another light dusting of the MSG and Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. Follow with one more application of Sweet Red Rub.
- Place steaks onto the hot grill. Move the steaks around and flip every couple of minutes to encourage the development of a deep caramelized crust and prevent the sugars from burning.
- Using an instant-read thermometer (such as a Thermapen) temp steaks and remove them when they have reached the desired doneness.
- Let sit a few minutes and enjoy!
Grab yourself a bottle of our Sweet Red Rub and give these Sugar Steaks a try. You won’t be disappointed!