The ribeye as a rite of passage

by Brian Clarey

SAM’S MEAT 1511 Twain Road Greensboro 336.375.0141

I had red meat on the brain. Maybe it was because of the huge spread in Esquire this month extolling the virtues of good, American beef. Maybe it was because the end of summertime makes me think of char grilled flesh. Or maybe it was because it’s been so long since I’ve had a good steak that my body is craving some seriously dense protein

But more likely it was because my fish-head vegetarian wife left town with our daughter and I was charged with the care and feeding of our two boys, both of whom have been raised in a household where red meat — and steaks in particular — don’t come around much. Well, I took care of that. Just a few hours after the women pulled out of the drive, I popped some potatoes in the oven, hustled the boys into the car and made for a little meat market I know just around the corner from our house. “Okay, fellas,” I said. “We’re gonna eat like men tonight.” Does that sound sexist? Perhaps, but in our house, when the women are gone, my boys and I know that our hours will be filled with yard work, video games, televised sports and steaks. Guy stuff. I only wish they were old enough to drink scotch. Sam’s Old Fashion Meat is the kind of place that sells farm fresh produce and eggs with two yolks, local molasses, fish with the heads still on them. It’s the kind of place with a guy in a stained apron behind the counter who will hand-pick your steaks and wrap them in white butcher paper, the kind of place where, if you’ve a mind to, you can buy 20 different kinds of steak and barbecue sauce. I eyed the T-bones, the sirloins, the roasts under the glass. I briefly flirted with the notion of pork. And the I settled on three absolutely beautiful ribeyes, impeccably marbled and cut two inches thick. The ribeye, for my money, is the most flavorful steak you can get. More tender than sirloin, fattier than filet, more meat than a T-bone and tastier than a NY strip. These babies weighed in at just under a pound each, and because of their thickness, I would have to employ technique to get them to a perfect medium-rare. First I set a pan on the burner and got it good and hot. What’s that? You say a purist only cooks steaks under a broiler or over an open flame? Well you have been misinformed, my friend. Yes, as Homer Simpson says, “Fire makes it good.” But a searing-hot saut’ pan can also do wonders for a ribeye, creating a crust on the outside and allowing some control over the temperature — control you don’t have with charcoal. The steaks get a little sea salt and black pepper on each side — no need for MSG-laden seasonings, thank you — and into the pan they go. Soon the house filled with smoke, drawing the boys away from the PlayStation 2 and into the kitchen, where their salivary glands betrayed their lust for beef. “How long before we can eat?” the 8-year-old wanted to know. “Just a few minutes, buddy.”

A four-minute sear on one side, and then the other. A steak should be flipped exactly once. Then I plated them with the baked potatoes — butter and sour cream, because we’re not exactly counting calories here — and served them up. “Wow,” said the 6-year-old. “This is gone be really manly.” “Yes it is, son,” I said. And we lay into the steaks. The boys seemed to prefer the lean, round center of the cut. But their old man likes the rind, which under the high heat has become something crispy, chewy and bursting with flavor. I speared some of those pieces off their plates with my fork. “Why doesn’t Mommy like this?” asked the 8-year-old. “She doesn’t think it’s healthy,” I say, “and she doesn’t like the taste.” He shrugs and then finishes everything on his plate, gristle and all. His little brother keeps up as best he can. “I am loving this,” the boy says. And then we are silent for a while, leaning back in our chairs and chewing as the meat fever settles in. And it’s all I can do not to offer them coffee and cigarettes after it’s all over.

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