The Great Steak Shootout

With some surprising results


With the weather rapidly changing, it’s just about time to put the grill away for the winter. Well not for all of us, but many will have to wait months to enjoy a great grilled steak once again.

As a final celebration for this grilling season, I spent a day gathering up provisions and several different cuts of meat in order to see what would be the most popular among a group of enthusiastic carnivores! Among the likely subjects were a New York strip steak, a Flank Steak, a Top Sirloin steak and, my favorite, a Flatiron Steak.

All of the steaks were marinated in a simple blend of olive oil, red wine, onions and herbs for several hours, and then grilled over hardwood charcoal. The marinade was then used as a simple sauce base, prepared as the steaks cooked. The results were fantastic, with a unanimous winner among the steaks and a surprising wine to pair with them.

What to expect: Pinotage

Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is considered to be one of the classic grapes from South Africa. It can produce a very distinctive wine with a hint of rubber on the nose that leads to a rather fruity palate, with notes of banana, plum and cherry. While the grape imay be high in tannins, the wine is produced in a broad range of styles.
All of the steaks were cooked a fine medium rare over a hot, hardwood charcoal grill. The steaks were sliced and presented with the finished sauce on the side so everyone got a chance to try the meat alone and with the sauce. Some reserved marinade was also used as a dipping sauce, with garlic and additional herbs added to create a sort of Chimichurri sauce.

The least favorite steak was the Flank steak. It was perfectly cooked with a nice chewy texture but with little marbling, it trailed in the flavor department.

The next in line was the New York Strip streak, which was tender and tasty, but neither as tender not as tasty as other cuts.

Our runner up? The top sirloin steak was excellent with a rich beefy flavor and chewy but not tough texture it worked well with the marinade and the sauces and benefitted from a bit of extra thickness allowing it to develop a nice char without any sign of overcooking.

And the winner was, hands down, the Flatiron steak. Richly flavored, fat is flavor after all, yet meltingly tender it was a superb, succulent piece of meat that handled the infusion of flavor from the marinade effortlessly and stood up to the saucing without missing a beat. This lowly cut of meat, long a secret among foodies, is fast becoming a favorite, and more expensive too boot.

It’s no surprise that the Flatiron steak won our little completion. It’s been determined by testing that this cut, from the inside of the shoulder, is the second most tender of the cow, second only to the tenderloin! Unlike many Filets however, the flatiron steak is rich in flavorful marbling and beefy flavor.

Marinade serve two functions, infusing flavor and tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. The marinade I used includes a modest amount of red wine, which supplies acid as well as flavor, but relies on the oil to imbue the meat with layers of flavor. With a cut as tender as this you need to be careful not to over marinate the steak. Over marinating occurs when a cut is left in a marinade for too long but is also likely when that marinade is too acidic.

To download a printable PDF file of this recipe click here.

Red Wine and Herb Marinade

In a nonreactive bowl combine thoroughly:

1 Cup Extra Virgin olive oil
1/3 Cup Red Wine
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley leaves, minced
2 tsp Fresh Rosemary leaves, minced
1 tbsp Fresh Oregano leaves
2 fresh bay Leaves
½ tsp Celery seed
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp freshly cracked black peppercorns

I like to let this marinade infuse overnight before using it.

When ready to use, place the marinade and the steaks in a Ziploc bag. Expel as much air from the bag as you can while sealing it, and then thoroughly massage the meat to evenly distribute the seasoning.

Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

About 30 minutes before you want to grill begin preparing the grill. I use direct heat for a flatiron steak since it’s relatively thin and I want a nice char on my rare to medium rare steak.

Remove steak from marinade and wipe clean of most of the marinade solids.

In a non-reactive saucepan heat the marinade to a simmer and cook until the volume is reduced by about 20%, approximately the amount of water based liquids in the pan. Once the water has cooked off the onions will begin to cook. I let them sauté until they have just begun to gain some color then remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool. Before service I add the juice of half a lemon and 2 tbsp of minced parsley leaves to help refresh the sauce.

That is a very simple marinade and dipping sauce for steak that not only enhances the flavor of the meat but also builds a flavor bridge to any wine that will be served with this dish.

We tried several wines with our steaks.

The bold, young Zinfandel, 2006 Ridge Geyserville to be specific, was a solid match but its richness didn’t cut the richness of the steaks. In fact it worked best with the lean flank steak.

Our Cabernet entry, the 2005 Silver Oak Alexander Valley, didn’t really stand up to our marinade though the herbal elements in the wine did bring out the herb notes from the marinade. This might be a better pairing for a broiled or pan seared version of this dish.

Our winning wine was the 2006 Warwick Old Bush Vines Pinotage. With a deep smoky tone, bright acidity and reserves of jammy red toned strawberry fruits this offered both complimentary and contrasting notes that meshed perfectly with the steaks.  Perhaps a wine better served with food than without.

And that was that. While we were grilling to celebrate the end of the season we were, in fact, breaking in a new grill. It was a successful inaugural fire and I look forward to following up with more grilling adventures, sooner or later.

Red Wine and Grilled Steak: A Classic Pairing with a New Twist

2006 Warwick Old Bush Vines Pinotage
This has the classic banana tone on the nose that is typical of Pinotage, but it's backed up by wonderfully aromatic notes of smoke and leather with a dry, earthy tone. On the palate the sharp tannins and solid acidity of the wine support slightly chewy dried strawberry and raspberry fruit notes that lead to a long, savory finish

Red Wine and Herb Marinade
Marinades serve two functions, infusing flavor and tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. The marinade I used for these steaks includes a modest amount of red wine, which supplies acid as well as flavor, but relies on the oil and herbs to imbue the meat with layers of flavor.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Very timely - I'm still feeling the after effects of 'porterhouse for 3' at Peter Luger's from last night. Already hankering for more.

    I've not used red wine as a marinade, but it seems a simple addition. Will give it a try over the weekend.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 10:34 AM

  • Thanks very much! I saw - and lost - an article on pan-seared steaks from your site about 2 months ago, so this is helpful. Can the steaks be pan-seared and finished in the oven while the sauce is prepared?

    Oct 16, 2009 at 1:29 PM

  • Snooth User: cjinca
    177438 31

    since we grill our steaks all year (and did even in NJ and Toronto!) I look forward to trying this! Is "flatiron" sold under that name? Are there other names for that cut - sounds great!

    Oct 16, 2009 at 2:08 PM

  • Snooth User: moldavi33
    150558 5

    Great ideas, I'll have to try some of these out before it gets too late.

    Steaks can also be great in winter, if you're willing to fry them in a pan. Last night, I had some pan steaks in a tomato/Carmenere sauce over rigatoni. It was fantastic!

    Oct 16, 2009 at 2:27 PM

  • Snooth User: nvansicklen
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    211788 552

    I prepared a steak this past weekend that would have paired perfectly with the wine above. I pan seared the steaks on high for about 2 minutes on each side and then I used a poured a can of french onion soup over the steaks while they simmered/baked in the oven. Great little trick.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 3:16 PM

  • Snooth User: stangel
    149208 2

    What red wine did you use in the marinade?

    Oct 16, 2009 at 4:04 PM

  • The '05 Silver Oak - big buttery popcorn nose - might be better suited for a high oil fish, such as Sea Bass...but I had it (SO) with T-Bone (NO MARINADE - DRY SEASON ONLY) on gas grill last weekend and I thought the wine paired up just fine. Tonight I will decanter a 1999 Bordeaux and see how it goes with a lean Buffalo ribeye steak...

    I stopped marinading steaks as I really prefer dry aged and dry seasonings (red/black pepers/sea salts/some olive oil but only using a sprayer over the seasonings)...if you gotta add all this other liquid to your meat...well...why not just make a bowl of gravy and dip your toasted baguette in it.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 4:22 PM

  • To answer some questions about Flat Iron steak cuts, you can usually not find them at the meat counter with the other prime cuts but they may have either vacuum sealed or in the cut meats section. This is not the same as Flank Steak...with beef prices down you can do the same with a NY Strip and not blow a hole in your wallet.

    Buffalo is more expensive, but wow!! Please try it if you haven't had any (if they have it fresh cut and not sealed). It is very surprisingly delicious, and amazingly tender....and I'm in Texas where we like to eat our best cows!

    Oct 16, 2009 at 4:28 PM

  • I like to rub steaks on both sides with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper. Sear a couple minutes on each side in an oven safe pan (I like the Logic cast iron with raised ribs). Once seared, put the pan with the steaks in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about seven minutes or until done to your liking. If you like more seasoning, try Montreal seasoning.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 5:34 PM

  • Snooth User: Johnbo
    215967 1

    Can't believe you didn't include a rib eye cut.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 5:39 PM

  • Who says you have to put your grill away for the winter? I live in NH and grill over charcoal all winter long for that smokey flavor. I particularly like grilling when it is snowing. It feels like beating mother nature. You just gotta put on your coat, hat and gloves. That reminds me, it's time to stock up on lump charcoal. The stores stop selling it for winter. Thanks for the great article.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 5:43 PM

  • Snooth User: BillReddy
    128251 25

    After bringing up the steaks close to room temp, I like to dry rub Nature's Seasoning (basically salt and pepper and not overpowering).

    On a grill, sear at high heat for a couple of minutes a side. Then pull the steaks off the grill, baste with olive oil on both sides, and put back on the grill to finish.

    Comes out buttery.

    Q Creek, does oven searing work similar to a grill?

    Oct 16, 2009 at 6:15 PM

  • BBQ season is all year round for this foodie........even in the snow! :)

    Oct 16, 2009 at 6:25 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Problem I've had sometimes with wine-marinades for steaks is when emergencies happen, plans change and the steaks get left in the marinade too long. Then, I suppose, there's always sauerbraten. ;-) Anyone have any wine suggestions with that dish? Usually have it with beer and schnapps, myself...

    Oct 16, 2009 at 7:16 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    And too bad, Greg, that the word is getting out on Flatiron steaks, and prices now rising. Hope the same thing doesn't happen to Spencers (a variation on a ribeye, Johnbo) and Hangers...

    Oct 16, 2009 at 7:27 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Finally, not too surprised, Greg, that you didn't feel the Silver Oak stood up to the marinade. Looked for a review of the wine, but couldn't find one you did.

    Would also be great to hear about any wine matches you recommend for buffalo (tip of the hat to Jimmy Crackhorns above). When I was wee, my great grandfather used to mumble at table about how great that meat was compared to beef...

    Oct 16, 2009 at 7:38 PM

  • Snooth User: Charles Emilio
    Hand of Snooth
    223188 174

    I strongly recommend using olive wood to cook your steaks. Gives a gorgeous flavour to the meat.

    Ive never marinated steak before. I marinate lamb, pork and chicken.

    I will give this a try

    Oct 16, 2009 at 8:21 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    thanks for the great response everyone!

    Where to begin?

    First off, I'm not putting away my gill! I'll get out there when i can and grill year round but I know of lot of folks are wrapping up the season and moving the cooking indoors so I figured this would be a good incentive for them to get out there and fire up the grill one last time.

    Which brings me to the second point. this should be fine to do indoors, I might opt for broiling the meat as opposed to baking it but that really depends on the cut.

    i do not think the flatiron is old under any other name.

    I used a bit of of each wine in the marinade. The acid is more important than the flavor with this, rather gentle, marinade.

    99 Bordeaux is the perfect match for a nice, lean cut of meat.

    I chose to marinate these steak since they were rather ordinary cuts from the supermarket. i marinate a ot of my meats, mostly in a brining solution but that's another email.

    No rib eye since there were four people and everyone chose a steak.

    Sauerbraten? Beer is a good choice, as are high acid reds, think Austria and even Germany! Even better, just pull the steaks from the marinade and wipe dry before leaving the kitchen.

    That's odd about the silver oak. Definitely wrote it up. Into the ether I guess. i'll report it Monday, notes are in office.

    The Silver Oak was just flabby and woody with the steak. The fruit intensity just wasn't there, or rather wasn't supported by enough acid perhaps.

    Buffalo is fantastic meat, sweet, beefy, tender and lean. I like it with very lean Syrah, a nice St. Joseph or a lesser vintage of Hermitage. I've also had great luck serving it with old Lagrein.

    Oct 16, 2009 at 8:48 PM

  • Snooth User: branpam
    235475 1

    Flat iron steak is great! Soak in Stubb's ready-made beef marinade for 30 minutes (no need to tenderize, only for flavor). Grill medium rare and cut on the diagnal. Fantastic!!

    Oct 16, 2009 at 11:53 PM

  • Snooth User: curioso
    178152 3

    Last night I pan grilled 2 x 1.5 inch Angus Eye Fillets. For preparation, make sure streaks are at room temperature, rub with olive & black pepper.

    For medium-rare: place on HOT grill pan (no oil) cook for one minute, turn heat to minimum, cook 3 minutes, turn, cook 2 minutes, stand, 2 - 3 minutes. Serve with dollop of Hot English Mustard or Horseradish.

    Salad: Cos lettuce and shaved parmesan, light aoli dressing with a little shaved garlic. Crusty baguette pieces for mopping up.

    Wine: 2001 Balnaves Coonawarra Shiraz. Lucky Country!

    Oct 17, 2009 at 3:52 AM

  • Flat Iron is a cut we feature as a "chef special "often here in Sparkle City USA, but with a recommendation for temps. ...rare to medium... It can get tough if grilled longer.
    We offer it dry rubbed and also smothered with grilled peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese, either way it is an economical cut and people are enjoying that fact.

    Oct 17, 2009 at 8:49 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Some other names I've encountered for Flatiron are chuck top blade steak (boneless), top chuck steak boneless, book steak, butler steak, lifter steak, petite steak, and blade steak. Some I've seen in market and some were passed down to me by my grandparents. Guess the names have changed a bit over the years.

    And Greg, I've noted similar problems with Silver Oak before. Don't really like that wine as much as I used to.

    So you think a good-year Hermitage is too large for buffalo?

    Oct 17, 2009 at 11:12 AM

  • Snooth User: fiona1605
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    188291 63

    Best wine to go with steak is Tannat preferable Uruguayan in my opinion.

    Oct 18, 2009 at 12:31 PM

  • Snooth User: vjbme
    83248 2

    Steak and a nice red simply doesn't get any better!! Flat Iron has become a favorite of mine, especially for parties. Chimichurri works well with it. I have some shrimp tossed with some chimichurri in the oven right now...can't wait!!

    I love pinotage...will search for the one you used.

    I will say one of my favorite wines to have with a steak was a Chenu, Haut-Jarrons Sauviny Les Beaune. Some may say it's too light...I say it was perfection!

    Thanks for the marinade recipe. I will definitely try it.

    Oct 18, 2009 at 7:37 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Pinot Noir, and Burgundy in particular, can pair very well indeed with a steak. the wonderful acidity in Pinot helps it slice through the richness of a steak. I've had great success with Pinot and pan seared steaks.

    DM A big Hermitage might just over-power the Buffalo. Depends on producer and cut of meat of course but if it i was me I'd be looking for a leaner vintage or appellation.

    Oct 19, 2009 at 7:18 AM

  • Snooth User: TRN
    160734 11

    My only complaint with this article is that you are letting more people in on the flatiron secret. Just like with secret, tasty, wines - the price wil get driven up.

    Oct 21, 2009 at 1:08 PM

  • Snooth User: dirkwdeyoung
    Hand of Snooth
    231231 328

    I am against marinading any choice cuts of beef, but I do apply generous salt and black pepper. My favorite is T-Bone, but sirloin is excellent, sometimes I find NY Strip to be too dry and tenderloin is definitely not to be grilled. I found a good trick which is to coat your steak with soft butter before adding your spices, it will provide an incredible crisp crust to your steak.

    Like other commentors I always bbq all winter, even when I lived in Wisconsin. The covered Weber grill is great for this. I found that placing meat in a 240 degrees oven to keep it warm will not hurt the meat as long as you don't leave it in there forever. I do this when entertaining a large group and I want to serve steak, I pan sear tenderloin and then leave it in the oven until ready to serve the rest.

    As for wines with my grilled steak, it is hard to beat Pauillac. But variety is the spice of life, so how about a nice aged Pecharmant, or St. Emilion and there are so many wonderful Italian Reds.

    Oct 26, 2009 at 2:25 PM

  • Snooth User: flyboy2
    328537 4

    OK so you've all got your favourite means of cooking steak.
    Beat this: Coals-preferably Southern African Leadwood -if available -for great aroma too-
    or in a pinch- really hot compressed charcoal briquettes.
    Avoid firelighters as they impart a Naftalene smell to the meat- but there is a neat trick to get rid of that smell- simply add all your onion skins to the fire!
    Surface: Stainless steel plate heated to maximum for quick searing.
    Use of salt: Only apply once ready to serve.
    Red wines of your choice- here in South Africa there is Pinotage, also produced elsewhere.
    Happy 2010

    Jan 02, 2010 at 2:14 AM

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