Head to Head Steak Recipes

The Great Steak Challenge is a contest from Beringer Vineyards that’s taking place this summer and fall.  There will be several regional steak competitions, with the winners all going to Beringer Vineyards in Napa Valley for the finals.  I thought, “Steak and competition, two things I love!”  So I found myself thinking of ways to fix steaks this past weekend.

Some of you will know that I’m big on good steaks, and find that artisan steaks, as championed by the Artisan Beef Institute, to be some of the best steaks I’ve had.  Here’s the rub, though… I mostly prefer my steaks with nothing but some salt and pepper, maybe a drizzle of olive oil.  The competition, however, is for steak recipes, and I don’t think s&p steaks will be make it far in a steak recipe competition.  Too bad, as anyone will be hard pressed to change my mind…  Start with a great steak, and let it be a great steak!

I’ve noticed every time I’ve done a steak tasting that I go for Charolais steaks about every time as my favorite.  The steaks have a bit more adventurous flavor, a good chew, and just scream “STEAK!” to me.  If these are my favorites, then any recipe would have to have seasonings that stand up to the beefiness without overpowering it.  A really spicy, thick sauce may result in only tasting the sauce, not the steak.

As I started thinking, I thought I’d start with a coffee base, mostly because I think it’s a great flavor with red meat in general, giving more of an earthiness than just being coffee.  I had a couple of thoughts.  One was to use coffee and bourbon together, along with some sugar; this is basically a Cafe Royale.  Another, thanks to my mom, was to use coffee and wine together, which made sense in a competition that includes pairing a wine with the steak.  I couldn’t decide which to try, so I tried both of them!

I did a marinade along with a rub, and the marinade was used to cook down as a sauce, too.  Coffee doesn’t lend itself to dainty, refined use; it’s more rustic and bold, which suits me just fine.  The ingredients I used were pretty straightforward: espresso/coffee, brown sugar/molasses, salt, pepper and ancho.  I also used some butter in the final sauce.  One sauce got 3 tablespoons of Maker’s Mark whisky, and the other used a cup of wine (I used an Imagery Merlot).

The rub had the same ingredients, minus the wine or bourbon, and used ground coffee beans instead of brewed espresso. 

I put the brewed espresso with either the wine or bourbon, seasoned, and put the steaks in the marinades for about 40 minutes, 20 minutes on each side.  I made the rub while this was happening, and started up a chimney of lump charcoal to get the grill going with a 3 zone fire.  The rub was ground coffee, brown sugar, s&p and ancho.  The one change I would make to the recipe would be to add a couple of sprigs of fresh time to the marinade and sauce.

When the steaks came out of the marinade, I patted them dry and applied a heavy dusting of rub to each side, letting the steaks set for a few minutes while I put the marinades in sauce pans to cook down.  I brought the liquid to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer.

Along with the steaks, I washed asparagus tips I had gotten earlier in the day from a local farm, the first fresh produce of 2010 from local farmers!  They looked great, and grilled really well, too.

The steaks went on the cool side of my Weber kettle grill, with the lid on, for about 5 minutes per side, then over the hot part of the fire for about 30 seconds or so per side, to crust up the rub a bit.  The asparagus grilled along with the steaks once I first turned them over, and I finished the asparagus while the steaks rested under aluminum foil for a fre minutes after being done.  I seared the steaks on the hot side of the fire when they go to about 110-115 degrees F, and they were about 125 F when I removed them from the grill.

I sliced up both steaks (which were NY Strips), and put the sauce directly over the steak, and added the asparagus tips on the side.

The verdict for both my wife and me was that we prefered the sauce with wine over the whisky, though both were good.  I think the wine/espresso mix just worked better.  The whisky version would make a great porkchop, though!  I’ve entered my full recipe on the Beringer Vinyards site… hopefully, I’ll find out I make it to a regional competition!

About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.


  1. Breathless – those steaks not only sound great they look great. I’m also a huge fan of those dry-aged Charolais steaks but still, wow.

  2. Carrie, it was a bit tough to put a sauce on one of my last Charolais steaks, but it actually turned out very well. If I get picked, I’m definitely using Charolais for the competition!

  3. Curt, I’m totally with you on S & P as the perfect steak rub but I also get that this is a contest and has to be something different.

    I like your rub and I hope you go far in the contest.

  4. Hi Curt,

    These steaks look mouth-wateringly good! The combination of the Merlot and coffee is quite an interesting one, we’ll have to try it. Good luck with the competition!

  5. Wow those steaks look amazing. Good luck with your competition.
    Just to let you know, if you want a chance to will Cowboy Ribeye Steaks which are top quality steaks, you can enter the how2heroes grilling sweeps. Check out the link below:


  6. This is a great post, I really enjoyed reading it and salivating over the steaks. I wish I had the talent to work with meat that you seem to have!

  7. Molly,

    That looks like a great contest. The cowboy steaks look great, too; I just wish they were Charolais instead of Angus. :) I’m not anti-Angus, but prefer Charolais.


    By the looks of your blog, you do just fine with food in general. :)

  8. Wow, those look amazing! I never heard of a coffee rub or marinade with steak. This is some I’d love to try! Now just have to convince my husband!

  9. Sorry .. but we be a caffene (sp) free receipe box!
    Because of medical issues ….

    Looks and sounds good …………
    but for the coffee….

  10. I’m with you on using only S&P with a little olive oil. I prefer the meaty flavor to any masks. These look really amazing though. I think I would love the wine sauce better too. Good luck in the competition!

    (We just did a post about our favorite dinner- filets with roasted garlic potatoes. http://kitchenconundrum.com/2010/05/filet-with-garlic-roasted-new-potatoes/ )

  11. Liz, the coffee is more earthy than ‘coffee’ when it’s all done, but it’s good!

    Omeghan, you can use decaf instead for everything, no problem!

    FL, thanks… It was!

    Renee, the filets look great, though I’m a grill snob and prefer my steaks that way. :)

  12. That looks so clean and tasty.

  13. Another great article – I’m going to try this one!

    Tim Bryan
    Pitmaster Green Leaf BBQ Competition Team

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