Recipe Review

For the Best Grilled Steak of Your Life, Add a Little Sugar

published Jun 4, 2021
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Credit: Maggie Hennessy

I’m finding that as I decrease my meat consumption, when I do eat beef I want it to taste like itself. No overwrought marinades or fussy dry rubs — just give me the intense beefiness of a well-marbled steak, impeccably seasoned and encrusted with char from a few turns on a searing-hot cooktop.  

Sugar coatings crop up now and again on food media as guarantors for a good meat sear, and I’m certain I’ve thrown brown sugar into some rub or another during my baroque marination days. But I never tried it on its own (with salt for seasoning, of course) until I saw this intriguing recipe for sugar steak tested by the culinary wizards at America’s Test Kitchen.

The method — in which you coat steak in a mixture of white sugar and salt, let it sit, then coat it again in the mixture before grilling it — supposedly originated at a historic steakhouse in Denver called Bastien’s. ATK loves the method for the rush of beefiness that follows an initial, although not overwhelming, hit of sweetness. The secret, they say, is in getting the ratio of sugar to salt right so you taste clean sweetness without bitterness. Here’s what happened when I tried it.

Read more: Why You Should Sprinkle Sugar On Your Steak from America’s Test Kitchen

Credit: Maggie Hennessy

How to Make Sugar Steak

Pat each side of the steaks dry with paper towels. ATK calls for 1-inch-thick New York strips to allow an ample crust to form without overcooking the interior.

In a small bowl, mix four parts sugar to three parts salt. For two steaks, 4 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of salt is plenty. Sprinkle each side of the meat with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the sugar-salt mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for an hour. You can also leave it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Take it out an hour before grilling to let it come closer to room temperature.  

Turn all burners to high and let the grill get screaming hot. Lower the heat to medium-high and scrape the grates clean. Use tongs to oil the grates with a paper towel doused in a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed. (For a charcoal grill, let the coals burn until they’re covered with white-gray ash; it will take 15 to 20 minutes for medium-high heat.)

Just before you start cooking, apply an additional teaspoon of sugar-salt to each side of the steaks plus several grinds of black pepper. Place the steaks on the grill. Cook for a few minutes on the first side, shifting by 45 degrees once halfway through to create beautiful crosshatches and help prevent burning. Flip the steaks and cook for another five or so minutes for medium-rare to medium, shifting them around once or twice with tongs to prevent burning. 

Remove the steaks from the heat, set them on a cooling rack over a baking sheet, cover with foil, and let rest for at least five minutes. Slice and eat immediately. 

Get the recipe: Sugar Steak from Cook’s Country

Credit: Maggie Hennessy

My Honest Review of Sugar Steak

I loved this method for its simplicity, the gorgeous lacquered char it creates, and how much it enhances an already delicious piece of beef. On first bite, you’ll get a hint of sweetness, which quickly gives way to deep, rich meatiness. In other words, it’s everything I love about steak, supercharged. 

2 Tips for Making Sugar Steak

  1. Splurge on quality, humanely raised steak. This recipe is all about savoring the beefy flavor, so it’s really worthwhile to splurge on a good-quality, humanely raised piece of steak. One 10-ounce strip was more than enough to satisfy my husband and me with a few sides. On that note, a strip was the right call here for its ratio of muscle to fat. A more richly marbled cut like ribeye may be prone to burning.
  2. Clean your grill! Sugar equals molten drippings equals flare-ups. As you can see from the impressive (read: terrifying) action shot, we hadn’t cleaned our grill tray sufficiently — although the extra smoke did impart some, ahem, nice flavor.