My Farm to Table newspaper column in Peterborough This Week profiles Brad Watt of Rare and offers tips for the perfect steak.
Brad Watt of Rare Grill House has cooked me some of the best steaks I have ever had in my entire life.
My. Entire. Life.
I have both cooked and eaten more steaks than I can possibly count. I know beef. So this is saying a lot.
As a result, I have become more and more curious as to how he produces such consistently great steaks out of his Brock Street kitchen.
There had to be a secret, I thought. And I was going to get to the bottom of it. Not only that, but I was going to share the secret with my readers, so that all of you could reproduce these mouth watering cuts on your barbeques at home.
Perhaps, I pondered, it is the source. After all, Watt sources the bulk of his meat from local farmers and knows exactly where his beef comes from, how it is treated, and how it is butchered. But many of us eat local meats. SO that couldn’t be the whole story.
Then, I thought, it might all be a matter of technique. Perhaps Watt does something that us mere gill mortals don’t.
And so, for the sake of BBQ lovers across Peterborough, I tracked Watt down in his Rare Grill House kitchen. Surely I could find the secret that elevates his steaks from the merely mouthwatering to the miraculous.
Sure enough, I was quite surprised when Watt shared his grilling tips with me. They went against the grain of what most grill veterans swear by. They revealed that the perfect steak comes, not fine science, but more from instinct.
Ladies and gentleman, Brad Watt of Rare uses “The Force” to grill his beef.
And those are his words, not mine.
His mention of Jedi mind-tricks piqued my curiosity, to say the least. So I took careful notes.
Now, before I get to his secret ways, I should offer up a brief introduction to the man behind Peterborough’s finest grill house.
Brad Watt hails from PEI – which shows in his laid back, down-home demeanor. He took to cooking during high school because he wasn’t interested in working at his parent’s locally owned Canadian Tire store.
His first gig was at Captain Scott’s Fish and Chips, which Watt refers to as “the best on the island.”
Finishing high school, he attended Humber College’s Chef Training program and then headed back home to work for a few different restaurants, including the legendary Dalvay by the Sea Restaurant in PEI National Park – perhaps the Island’s finest dining.
Since then he has worked in some of the best kitchens in the country – from the East Coast to the West.
Eventually he settled in Peterborough.
“I really enjoyed the culinary scene here,” he recalls. “As well as the sense of community. It felt like a good fit for my wife, Kate, and I. It felt like a home.”
With the wealth of experience he had gained as Chef in top-flight kitchens across Canada, Watt was well prepared to open Rare.
It was an immediate success. Rare quickly gained a reputation for the best steak in town.
And the secret to these steaks?
“Well, first of all,” Watt says, “you need to choose the right steak for grilling. For the backyard BBQ, I tend to go with good cuts of local Rib-Eye or Strip Loin. They should have some good fat marbling in order to have both juiciness and flavour.”
The meat should be brought to room temperature. You can add a touch of salt and pepper right before cooking.
Before putting the steak on the BBQ, you’ll want to make sure it is preheated.
“It should be blazing hot. Ripping hot. A white-hot grill,” he stresses. “Get your BBQ raging as hot as you can before putting your steak on.”
Watt then surprised me with his next bit of advice.
“So many people suggest that you should only flip a steak once,” he says. “Ignore that idea. Turn it as many times as you like until is cooked.”
“Sure, you’re not going to get those lovely looking charred grill marks,” he admits. “But it is all about how the steak tastes, not how it looks. Many cooks will overdo their steaks in order to get them to look like that.”
How well should you cook a steak?
According to Watt, to how people prefer it. But for best results a Rib Eye should be cooked to medium.
“There are a connective tissues in a Rib-Eye that benefit from cooking a bit longer,” he explains.
For something like a Tenderloin?
“Rare,” he says. “Tender steaks like that will not benefit at all from extra cooking times. It will only take away from the taste and texture.”
As for timing, he refused to give any precise numbers.
“Every cut of meat is different,” he advises sagely. “No two steaks are the same. Every BBQ is different. Every situation is different.”
There are some hints, however, when it comes to doneness. Such as juices.
“If the juice coming from your steak is red, it is still very rare,” he explains. “Pink means it is more towards medium. It is white or clear, it is overdone.”
Some chefs use a quick read meat thermometer. Rare will be between 120 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit, medium-rare around 130. Medium will be around the 135 mark. Remember that steak will continue to cook for a few minutes once you take it from the grill. So cook to around 5 degrees less than you want it.
Watt, as I have mentioned, goes by gut. “Use the Force,” he says with a smile. “Once you have gotten comfortable with your BBQ, you’ll get the feel of when a steak is done correctly. You’ll learn to take thickness, cut, weather, into account and just know when it is done.
And the remarkable thing is just how right he is. While I do use guides and recommendations when I cook my steaks, there is always a point when I say: “You know? I bet it’s done.”
And it is usually perfect.
I had just never thought about it before.
And perhaps that is the one true secret that Watt shared with me: Don’t think about it too much. Don’t fret. Just enjoy.
Both the eating and the cooking.