Mezcal Is Your Ace Up The Sleeve For Quick, Smoky Grilled Steak

People love the kiss of the grill, that smoky, carbonic flavor that can only be derived from exposure to live fire. But let's be honest, for that flavor to really develop, you need a bit more time than a "kiss" allows. Not a problem when it comes to items that need to be rather thoroughly cooked, like chicken. But how do you develop that char-grilled flavor when the meat may only need to cook a few minutes per side? The secret lies in a boozy ingredient from south of the border.

Mezcal is tequila's sultry cousin, less prone to partying than sophisticated sipping. Both are made from the agave plant, though tequila must be made strictly from blue Weber agave, while mezcal can be made from any variety. Another critical difference is how the agave is treated — while agave for tequila is roasted in an oven, agave for tequila is cooked in an earthen pit fired with wood, exposing it to smoke. And that is precisely what makes mezcal a fantastic tool in the grilling arsenal.

As part of a marinade, mezcal brings plenty of smoke, along with a range of other flavors that can be earthy, floral, sweet, and spicy. When paired with other ingredients in a marinade and with the right cut of meat, mezcal can impart your grilled steak with an incredible depth of flavor that accentuates the beefy umami notes.

Adding smoke and more

The point here is to make a marinade that both works quickly to flavor the steak and works with a cut of beef that doesn't need to spend a lot of time on the grill. While there are lots of cuts and ways to go about grilling them, we're focusing on fast, high-heat grilling. Flank and skirt steaks fit the bill as both are lean, relatively thin cuts that are best cooked quickly to remain moist and have a pronounced meaty flavor that works well with assertive marinades.

As mezcal hails from Mexico, flavors from Mexican cuisine are a natural fit for a marinade, plus skirt and flank steaks make for fine fajitas. With your mezcal, include aromatics, herbs, acid, and oil to ensure that your marinade is well-rounded. Minced garlic, onions or scallions, oregano, lime or orange juice, and olive oil work to both flavor the meat and mellow the mezcal. And though they are not Mexican ingredients, soy sauce, fish sauce, or Maggi sauce, in small amounts, actually dial up the salt and emphasize the umami. If you desire a caramelized crust, include a small amount of white or brown sugar, which develops the char and is another balancing agent.

For a skirt steak, marinate your meat for as little as 30 minutes or up to a few hours. When you're ready, slap it on a well-oiled, screaming hot grill for a few minutes on each side, then rest, slice, and enjoy.