Aaron Franklin's new cookbook is out, and although it's about meat, it's not exactly what you'd expect from the king of barbecue.
Franklin's first book, "Franklin Barbecue," was all about the different ways of cooking meat slowly and for a long time, including the brisket that played no small part in his winning a James Beard Award chef award in 2015. His new book, "Franklin Steak: Dry-Aged. Live-Fired. Pure Beef." is about steak. Steak and brisket are both beef cuts, but when it comes to cooking, they are totally different animals, so it makes sense that Franklin could write a whole book about each. The book officially came out last week, and he'll be a BookPeople for a book-signing event at 7 p.m. on April 19.
The book is packed with insights into fire, charcoal, the beef industry, different cuts of meat and different ways to cook them. I've rounded up 10 tips to help improve the steaks you cook at home.
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Know your cuts: Porterhouse, ribeye, T-bone, strip, tenderloin, hanger, flat iron, tri-tip and skirt steak are all considered "steak," but each one requires a slightly different technique. The book opens with a two-page decision map to help you know what to do with each one of them, depending on if you're cooking inside or outside or if there's a bone in the cut or if the cut has been dry-aged. Boneless ribeye and tenderloin are the only cuts that are best cooked in a cast iron skillet inside. All the others taste best when cooked over a live fire.
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed: Even though Americans' palates are trained to like grain-fed beef, the production system required to produce it is too costly on the environment and on the animals themselves. Grass-fed beef is better in a number of ways, but you have to find a source that does it right. Some grass-fed beef can be raised in environments that aren't ideal for the animals — such as feedlots where they are served grass pellets, which is legal — and can create gamy and tough meat.
Wet aging: If you've purchased a cut of beef and it's sealed in a Cryovac bag, the beef is technically wet aging inside that bag. Unlike dry-aging, which can go on for weeks, wet aging peaks at three weeks, so eat it before then.
Fat isn't the only key to flavor: We're all told over and over again that fat is flavor, but Franklin and co-author Jordan Mackay write that the best flavor comes from the genetics of the cow, what the cow ate and how it lived. Marbling matters, but it's not the only indicator of a flavorful steak. "If you really want steak with great flavor, you have to seek out meat of character — not just graded Prime," they write.
Be choosy: Buy steak from the butcher's case if you can, but if you're buying from the packaged area, choose the freshest steaks that have good marbling and no sign of browning, which isn't unsafe, but it can indicate that the steak has been sitting around for a while. Salt & Time is one of the best places in Austin to buy steaks, hands down.
Go bone-in if you can: The authors write that bone-in is better not because it adds more flavor, but because it provides structure and insulation to the steak, which slows down the cooking time. This allows you to cook the steak more evenly and prevents you from accidentally overcooking it.
Charcoal rocks: The authors aren't big fans of sous vide or gas grills, but you can't go wrong with charcoal. (Except don't get the quick start kind, which is saturated in lighter fluid. Get the untreated kind and use a chimney starter instead.) Franklin uses a method he called the Franklin Formation, which includes a log of wood next to the fire-red charcoal, which adds smokiness from the wood while also creating a heat barrier so that half of the grill becomes even hotter while the other half of the grill is cooler and can offer a place to utilize indirect heat.
Crust and done: When it comes to cooking the steak, you have two goals: creating a savory, robust crust on the outside of the meat and reaching proper doneness inside. Dry heat, dry meat and high heat will create the Maillard reaction, which is the key to the crust, and knowing how the heat is permeating the meat will help you know when the steak is cooked just right. For the least-cooked meat (rare), you'll want the hottest heat, but a medium rare steak needs slightly less heat and more time on it. Also, thickness matters, and you'll never have a steak cooked all the way through evenly unless it's well-done and that's not the best way to eat a steak. The contrast between a slightly underdone center and a seared exterior is why we crave steaks in the first place, they write.
Don't skip the salt, ever: Salt is the only seasoning you need to make a perfect steak, but knowing when to salt it matters. They did an experiment to find out when the ideal time is to salt a steak and determined that 48 hours before cooking created the most flavor and best texture throughout the meat. If you don't remember to salt the meat two days ahead of time, try to salt it at least 4 hours before cooking.
Flip frequently, rest quickly: Don't believe the one-flip myth. Flipping meat frequently encourages more even cooking and a Malliard reaction in more places on the surface, not just where the meat is touching the grill or pan. The oft-repeated advice to let meat rest is worth following, but you don't have to let the steak rest for a long time. Five minutes is enough for most steaks, unless it's a super thick steak, and then you'll want to make an aluminum tent over the steak to keep it warm and let it rest for 20 minutes.