Grilled Steak (and the secrets of spice rub penetration)

14 Jul

After several days of hospital cafeteria food (which is quite expensive, mostly awful, and just not home-made), my mom was hankering for some steak. So as soon as my dad got out of said hospital, she bought some U.S.D.A. Choice top loin and we planned a Fourth of July celebration (see Perfect Grilled Fish and Grilled Potato Disks).

The scoring of the meat is subtle, yet critical (a bit like the unsung heroes of the clean-up crew….)

And then I, who had a hankering to do some fun experimenting with my dad now that he was out of danger, proceeded to screw up her day.

Once the paste is on, give it awhile to adhere and penetrate

“There’s this interesting Cook’s Illustrated technique I want to try…” begins the conversation, and next thing you know, Pedro’s on it with me, we are mucking about (dirtying kitchen stuff which she is mostly in charge of cleaning, because he does the cooking – and gets the glory, I might add. The cleaner-uppers are always undersung.) and everything is fun again. For us.

And penetrate some more while you prep other things

Except that —  his crazy-ass diet means he’s not gonna eat it, and since he’s cooking the fish from across the street (see Perfect Grilled Fish), me and Leandro are not going to eat it, so really, none of us had any business getting elaborate with Myrna’s steak craving. A bit of pepper and salt and the woman would’ve been happy. But far be it for Natalia and Pedro to leave well enough alone…

So we did this gussied-up steak and she hated it. Hated it. Almost spun out. I almost spun out.It had been quite a week and we were all close to spinning out, except that it was Fourth of July and we reeled it in and had a wonderful day, once we remembered what we were about.

I really liked it and Leandro ate the leftovers the next day (once the fish was gone) and proclaimed it The Best Steak Ever, and Padushi and Mommy the Best Cooks Ever… so I am sharing it with you.

The important secret here is that the scoring and the paste add flavor and depth,  AND make the rub stay on! Feel free to experiment with your own spice rub combinations, but be warned that the fish sauce is salty, so UNDERSALT with the rest.

And the next time, I promise, promise, promise Myrna to Keep It Simple. KISS, KISS, KISS.

And for those of you out there, a reminder. Don’t hug the cook without hugging the people who clean up after the cook!

Yeah, baby

Grilled Spice-Rubbed Steak


1.5 lbs beef top loin in two steaks

Scored in a crosshatch, about 1/16th inch deep and ½ inch apart


2 tsp tomato paste

2 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp adobo powder

Spice rub:

¼ tsp rosemary

¼ tsp turmeric

10 black peppercorns

1 clove

Mix all ingredients of paste together. Spread evenly over both sides of steaks. Set aside to rest an hour. (In the fridge, if you must. On the counter if you don’t worry so much about such things).

Crush all ingredients of spice rub together in a mortar and pestle. When steak has rested, sprinkle evenly over all sides of steaks. Rub in (this is a rub, after all).

Cook on a hot grill, about five minutes each side, depending on thickness of steak, heat of grill and desired doneness. Allow to rest before serving and accompany with simple sides that don’t compete.


10 Responses to “Grilled Steak (and the secrets of spice rub penetration)”

  1. natalia spice March 23, 2013 at 1:55 am #

    Hi, I log on to your blog like every week. Your humoristic
    style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing!

  2. susartandfood July 16, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I leave my prime rib, for example, out at room temperature for 2 hrs. before I pop it in the oven. People are so paranoid about this. We owned a restaurant and I guarantee chefs don’t keep popping the meat back and forth in the refrigerators. This looks great. Adobo powder, yum.

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy July 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      I just was at a backyard party where they tossed out the crudites because they were out too long! I was shocked….what an easy stir fry it would have all made….

      • Alex Marshall July 22, 2012 at 10:49 am #

        Natalia, I made the spice-rubbed steak and it was great! I thought it would be too strong, because I tasted the paste when I was putting it on and it was so intense. But once I had broiled the steak (no grill here in Brooklyn), it was wonderful. Everyone gobbled it up. I used a big 2 pound sirloin steak. Want to know what I served with it? I made a feast. Pizza bread, made from leftover pizza dough I had on hand that I had made from scratch. Red Swiss chard with yogurt and garlic (this is a great recipe); brussels sprouts seared in an iron skillet with olive oil and garlic, and then mixed with Parmesan cheese and pancetta; fresh corn on the cob; fingerling potatoes; all served with a nice Bordeaux. And some cucumbers to start with. For dessert, we had fresh peaches from the green market with vanilla and basil ice cream. Pretty nice huh? My excuse for cooking was having my nephew Danny over to babysit for free, so I thought I should make him and us a nice meal. He’s just 22, so he ate probably half the steak.

      • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy July 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

        Next time…invite ME!!!! Sounds fantastic; I am soooo glad the steak worked out for you!

  3. Mad Dog July 14, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    OMG – sorry your mom didn’t like it, that sounds like a terrific steak 🙂
    BTW what happened to Jam On – funny too, it sounds like jamon!

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy July 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      I need to re-post Jam On (jajajajamón!) from last year…it is a very popular post on search engines, cause everyone wants an easy peasy jam recipe….(strawberry rhubarb)

  4. Sue July 14, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    Hi Natalie,

    I found your blog today thru WordPress, I’m from SlimKicker (a healthy living/fitness app), and was wondering if we can do a giveaway for your blog readers?

    Our site basically turns people’s health/fitness goals into a level up game with challenges such as quitting soda for a week. We’re looking for new challenge ideas, so was thinking of holding a contest where your readers leave a comment on a health challenge idea, and we’ll pick our favorite challenge idea, use it on our site, and give the winner either a free digital health scale, slow cooker, or digital heart monitor.

    Let me know if you’re interested by email: sue (at)

    PS. You can choose not to publish this comment since it’s not really a comment, I just couldn’t find your email address =)


  5. thewindykitchen July 14, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I’ve been meaning to try this technique as well. it sounds delicious!


  1. Grilled Butternut Squash « Hot, Cheap & Easy - November 28, 2012

    […] Grilled Steak and the Secrets of Spice Rub Penetration […]

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