Tom Perini, proprietor of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, Texas, considers himself a chuckwagon cook, not a chef. He learned his trade while preparing meals on the wagon for ranch cowboys-a tradition he strives to preserve through his educational chuck-wagon cooking seminars, Texas Cowboy Cooking cookbook and the preparation methods at his restaurants. Although Perini has several signature dishes, some featured in his cookbook Texas Cowboy Cooking, he's known for cooking one of the best steaks in Texas.
Grilling the perfect steak starts with selecting the right cut of beef. Perini suggests grilling a rib eye, because it's intended for grilling and has a lot of marbling, which translates to flavor.
A cowboy's cook, Perini keeps his seasonings simple, using common ingredients he'd have on the wagon. He blends spices that will enhance the meat's flavor without overpowering it. His standard meat rub consist of coarsely ground black pepper, salt, cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, paprika, beef bullion.
When you step up to Perini Ranch Steakhouse, there's no mistaking the smoky mesquite aroma.
"We grill over mesquite not only because it's a native wood in Texas, but also because it cooks hot and produces the best flavor,"Perini says.
For those grilling at home, who might not have an abundance of mesquite or a mesquite-burning barbeque, Perini suggests sprinkling mesquite chips over the coals in your barbeque. You can buy a bag of mesquite chips at most grocery stores.
When heating a grill, Perini says to make sure it's hot enough that "you can't keep your palm a couple of inches from the grill for more than a few seconds."
Perini likes to grill his steaks right above the coals, so it catches a little bit of flame.
"I like a steak to have char marks on it,"he says. "That adds flavor."
Another key to grilling flavorful steaks is to not overcook them, so they retain some of their natural juices. For a rare steak, Perini suggests cooking it about five minutes on each side. A medium-rare steak should be grilled six to seven minutes on each side. Perini takes no responsibility for well-done meat, as it loses most of its flavor and tenderness.
For more information on Perini, read "A Cowboy's Kitchen,"in the July 2007 issue of Western Horseman, and visit periniranch.com.