Aaron Franklin's Firepit Ribeye Will Be The Star of Your Summer BBQ
The legendary pitmaster shares his recipe for a côte de boeuf, which he dry brines before letting the flames do their work.
At the ripe age of nine, Aaron Franklin’s daughter Vivian is already a steak connoisseur.
“We're raising a little food snob. No doubt about it,” Franklin says. “If a steak is overcooked, she gets really annoyed. And I get it. Overcooked steak is pretty sad. I kind of feel bad because she's eaten some really great dinners at home in her short life, and I'm not setting her up to have a very successful future enjoying the simple experience of going out to restaurants.”
Widely regarded as one of the most influential pitmasters in America, Franklin is most famous for his Texas-style barbecue. It’s not uncommon for people making the pilgrimage to Franklin BBQ, his James Beard Award winner’s restaurant in Austin, to stand in line for three or four hours to get a plate of his smoked turkey, pulled pork, and legendary brisket.
Franklin is magnanimous about sharing his hard-won techniques and trade secrets. From his television show to his Masterclass to his cookbooks, he’s mapped out numerous paths for backyard barbecuers to follow. His new cookbook Franklin Smoke: Wood. Fire. Food., which he cowrote with Jordan Mackay, continues this legacy and reads like a greatest hits album. Within are insights on fire building, smoker modifications, and even some of the lessons he learned as a restauranteur after a massive fire shut his restaurant down for three months in 2017, and then the COVID pandemic forced a quick pivot less than three years later.
The crown jewels of the cookbook are, of course, the recipes. Franklin provides blueprints for a handful of his signature dishes, including brisket, beef ribs, turkey, and côte de boeuf — a double-bone ribeye cooked over an open fire The latter recipe, served with a horseradish cream sauce, has emerged as a family favorite.
“It's definitely not in our regular rotation,” Franklin says. “It's a huge, super-expensive piece of meat. But it's something I'll pull out for a special occasion like an Easter dinner or a Christmas dinner. Or if we are going camping with a bunch of friends.”
Franklin’s côte de boeuf is remarkably simple to prepare, though good barbecue always requires one important ingredient: time. Franklin salts the meat at least 24 hours before cooking and rests it in the fridge until it’s time to build the fire. Chefs utilize dry brining because it helps steaks brown better and develop a crisper crust. It also produces juicier and more flavorful results by using the meat’s own moisture to form the brine that then soaks back in.
Among the challenges people may have when wanting to make côte de boeuf is finding the cut. In the United States, it’s more commonly known as a standing rib roast, but you’ll likely have to ask a butcher to custom cut a two-bone selection as most are sold at least twice that size.
The second challenge is building and maintaining a proper fire. Two hours of indirect cooking require a coal bed that’s up to the task, before cranking the heat at the end to reverse sear the steak. It’s equal parts art and skill, a topic that Franklin covers from multiple angles in Franklin Smoke. But, as the recipe below shows, Frankling doesn’t skimp on the details.
The final challenge to a successful Franklin-style côte de boeuf? The weather.
And Franklin dissuades people from trying to be a hero when mother nature doesn’t cooperate with their dinner plans.
“You want to plan ahead to dodge the rain or the wind,” he says. “But it is possible to finish it indoors. It’s sacrilege to say this. I'm shocked that I'm hearing it. But you could do it in the oven if the weather really turned bad on you.”
It’s a turn unlikely to impress a certain nine-year-old steak aficionado. But Franklin isn’t one to let a perfectly good cut of meat go to waste on principle: “The famous gambler once said, sometimes you got to know when to hold ‘em and you got to know when to fold ‘em.”
Aaron Franklin’s Firepit Côte de Boeuf
Serves 4 to 8
- 2 two-bone rib steaks (approx 2-3lbs) , trimmed and tied
- Kosher salt
- Water, beef stock, or vinegar for spritzing
- 4 Tablespoons melted tallow or grape seed oil for coating
- Horseradish Cream Sauce (recipe follows)
- Liberally salt the exterior of the steaks and set them on a baking sheet. Let the steaks air-dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.
- Build a firepit fire, burning down six to eight logs to create a nice coal bed, then maintain another couple of logs burning on the side to supply coals.
- When it’s time to start cooking, clear the burning logs off the coal bed so you have just coals to cook over. The logs can continue to burn on the side.
- While the first logs are cooking down, remove the meat from the fridge to temper it a bit before putting it on the fire.
- When the coal bed is ready, stand the steaks vertically on the bone on the grate.
- After the bone is browned, turn the steaks onto a side, making sure to not turn the spinalis side (the ribeye cap or muscle that runs along the outside of the steak, opposite the bone) to face the flames from the burning logs. The spinalis is the most tender and flavorful part of the rib eye. It will always cook past rare, but it’s good to protect it from too much heat so it retains its moisture.
- Keep the steaks over low to medium heat on the cooler areas of the grate. Move them around fairly frequently, flipping them at the same time. While you’re flipping, keep a spray bottle full of water handy to prolong the cook by spritzing the steaks to cool the sides and keep the crust from drying out too much.
- Slowly build a crust on the side facing the heat and then flip the steaks to let that side cool while the other side cooks. Do this repeatedly until a digital thermometer inserted into the side of each steak in the middle reads 110° to 112°F.
- Once the steaks are up to temperature, them off the grate to rest.
- Add some wood to replenish the coal bed until it is raging hot. After the steaks have rested no less than 30 minutes and for up to 1 hour—however long it takes to get the fire really hot again.
- Gently coat the steaks in the tallow and throw them back on the grate for a couple of minutes on each side, until the crust sizzles.
- Remove the steaks from the heat. When the steaks are cool enough to hold, slice between the bones to create two rib-eye steaks.
- Slice the meat off the bone, leaving the bone in place, thus retaining the shape of the original steak. Then cut across the steaks, fanning from the bone to obtain nice long strips.
- Arrange the slices on a platter and include the bones. Serve horseradish sauce alongside.
Horseradish Cream Sauce
Makes 1 1⁄ 2 cups
- 1 cup / 240g sour cream
- 2/3 cup / 140g prepared horseradish
- 2 tablespoons / 28g champagne vinegar
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Fine sea salt
- In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, horseradish, vinegar, and lemon zest and mix well.
- Season with salt.
- Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving. The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
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