Spice Hunting »

Your guide to the world of herbs and spices—how to spot them, where to get them, and how to cook with them

5 Great Spices for Grilled Beef

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Sure, we've talked about grilled lamb already, and we've dabbled with chicken. But let's be honest: If you're grilling this summer, you're grilling beef. Sure, great beef—be it a fat porterhouse, a svelte skirt steak, or a classed up filet mignon—doesn't really need anything more than salt (and fine, maybe some pepper and butter), but a few choice spices don't hurt.

Good beef is at once sweet, grassy, and full of mineral flavors. That sweetness takes to the smoky, caramelized heat of the grill better than most other meats. When spicing beef, stick to adding just one, two, or at most three flavors—you really want to keep the meat front and center. I look to pre-cook marinades and post-cook sauces and garnishes as ways to dress up my beef without hiding its flavor.

Cumin

Cumin

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

I've mentioned cumin before when talking about lamb, and while the two may be happily married, beef is cumin's mistress. The brash, grassy flavors of cumin play off the mineral qualities of good beef beautifully, and rendered beef fat is just the thing to toast and fry the seeds until they pop. Use cumin seeds on beef kebabs or as part of a spice rub with coriander for skirt steak tacos.

Dark Chiles

20100122-best-chili-roasted-chiles.jpg

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Dark, rich, smoky and fruity chiles—think ancho, pasilla, and cascabel—are our go-to spices for chili con carne. And they're great with grilled beef, too. Mix ground chiles into a lime juice marinade with cumin and coriander for a Southwestern-style approach to skirt steak or tenderloin, or blend the soaked chiles into a salsa after grilling. Either way, all you need is some warm tortillas for a complete meal. Okay, and beer.

Pink Peppercorns

Take a break from the black pepper and break out the pink stuff. Pink peppercorns are more delicate and fruity than their piper nigrum cousins (well, more like third cousins or next door neighbors—the species aren't that closely related). Sprinkle some freshly ground pink pepper on a warm steak for slightly pungent floral flavors and an incredible, unexpected aroma. Like black pepper, pink peppercorns are great in a pan sauce for ribeye. Also, pink peppercorn mayo. On burgers. Just saying.

Seven Spice Powder

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Delicious, well balanced, and easy to use, seven spice powder is awesome on red meat. Dried orange peel, mineral seaweed, nutty sesame, and a hint of chile bring out the most and the best of beef's complex flavor. Sprinkle it on steak at the table, or blend it into ground beef for burgers.

Berbere

Yeah, I've mentioned berbere before, but it really is a multi-tasking spice blend that belongs in the front row of your pantry. Toast it slowly with minced onions and plenty of butter, then blend the sauce until smooth. It's absolutely brilliant on sirloin. Like, "most amazing steak sandwich ever" brilliant.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

Add a comment

Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: