We're deep into the start of grilling season here, and we all know that the greatest part of grilling is feeding guests, right? There are few things I like more in life than kicking back on the deck or in the yard with a few close friends, a few close beers, and a hot kettle full of glowing coals, the sizzle of a juicy steak providing the soundtrack.
For me, to be a successful intimate cookout, I want to maximize flavor and pleasure while minimizing the amount of effort and time spent hovering over the flames. I'd rather mingle with my guests than with the smoke coming off my meat (just barely, that is). Large, relatively thin cuts of meat like flank steak make this incredibly easy to do.
Sure, you can grill a big 'ol ribeye for your company, but when you talk well-marbled, premium cuts of beef, prices quickly rise into the stratosphere. Luckily, even relatively inexpensive cuts of meat can be plenty tender and flavorful provided you treat them right.
Before you fire up that grill, check out the official Serious Eats Guide To Grilling. Got it? Done? Ok, let's move on to the meat.
Flank steak comes in at about 1/3 the price of a good ribeye or strip steak. Not only that, but since it comes in large slabs, it's a heck of a lot easier to cook. A single two-pound steak provides ample half-pound portions for four diners and cooks through in a matter of minutes. Go ahead and throw a second one on the grill if you're really hungry.
A simple sprinkle of salt and pepper is enough for this flavorful cut, but if you want to really impress your guests, a quick marinade will add flavor to the mix. Contrary to what you may think, marinade actually does not penetrate particularly far into meat—even over the course of a few days, the bulk of the aromatic compounds in a marinade will travel mere millimeters into the meat (the exception being salt, small sugar molecules, and some acids). In reality, a marinade is mostly a surface treatment, and not much benefit lies in marinating for more than half a day or so. If you'd like the flavor of the marinade to completely coat your meat, your best bet is to reserve some marinade and simply toss your meat with it after it has been cooked and sliced.
This steakhouse-style marinade combines the sweet and savory elements of a good steak sauce with the savory umami qualities of soy and a hit of heat from mustard. It's a balanced sauce designed to hit all your pleasure centers.
Get the recipe: Grilled Flank Steak With Steakhouse-style Marinade »
And head this way for more tips and recipes for marinated flank steaks.
Grilled Romaine Salad with Spicy Ranch, Tomatoes, and Fried Onions
I'm a firm believer that once the grill is lit, the fire must not be wasted. That means that when I'm cooking a couple steaks for dinner, you can damn well bet that all of my side dishes will be coming off the grill as well. This actually works out perfectly, as the steaks need at least a few minutes to rest after coming off the heat (for more on that, see here). The coals have cooled down just slightly, and the temperature is perfect for grilling off some vegetables.
Hearty romaine holds up nicely on the grill, the outer leaves getting a tender char while the inner leaves retain a cool crunch. A spicy ranch dressing made by mixing prepared dressing (or homemade) with a bit of the adobo sauce from inside a can of chipotle chiles adds a good amount of kick, while cherry tomatoes and fried onions add texture.
To Drink: Fresh Watermelon Margaritas
There's something that seems a bit off on the surface about drinking pink fruity drinks next to grilled meat, but these guys pack a surprising wallop of tequila. Thirst-quenching and mind-stretching at the same time, the perfect combo for a warm spring evening.
Get the recipe: Fresh Watermelon Margaritas »
For Dessert: Grilled Rum-Glazed Pineapple with Toasted Coconut and Ice Cream
We started the night on the grill, may as well finish it off the same way. The syrupy glaze for the pineapple can cook down in a saucepan right on top of the grill while you're eating your steak. After that, all it takes is a few minutes on the grill for the pineapple to char, a couple scoops of ice cream, and a sprinkle of toasted coconut.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.