Chef John Manion's Steak Recipe Is Made With Fire

While many steak houses eschew a flaming grill for an infrared broiler, Chicago chef John Manion has made a career out of cooking with live fire.

With childhood roots in Brazil (his father, who worked for Ford, was transferred there for work), Manion spent his career capturing the flavors South America in his Nuevo Latino cuisine, first in 1999 with Mas followed by Otro Ma and La Sirena Clandestina (via Chicago Tribune). His latest, the live-fire restaurant El Che, opened in Chicago in 2016 and is an homage to the cooking he experienced as a kid visiting the southern part of Brazil. However, the restaurant has a distinct Argentinian twist, inspired by his travels to the country in the aughts (via Plate).

The Chicago Tribune writes that the flames in El Che's wood-fired hearth throw so much heat, it can be felt at the tables close to the open kitchen. Food is positioned over the flames using hand cranks, ensuring exact cooking. Manion tells Plate that he refuses to install any additional cooking appliances — no gas hookups, no ovens — to ensure his cooking focus remains on his custom grill. According to ABC7 Chicago, 90% of El Che's menu uses the live fire, including some cocktail elements.

Making Chef Manion's open fire steak

Since Manion's such a fan of the flame, it stands to reason that one of the secret ingredients in his tomahawk steak recipe is the fire pit. Speaking to Inside Hook, he explains that while waiting at least 15 minutes for the wood-burning fire to rage, drill a hole in the tomahawk, thread it with food-grade steel wire, and hang the trussed steak over the open flame. You don't even have to touch the meat; let the fire do its job.

While the tomahawk slow-roasts for 45 minutes, Manion bastes the steak with a meat-butter. This, however, is not your traditional butter; as Chicago Food Magazine explains, Manion's concoction uses meat fat and garlic cloves. After processing the meat scraps to form a hamburger-like consistency, put it in a Dutch oven over low heat until the fat renders from the solids, a process that can take several hours but is well worth the time. After straining and cooling, whip in the garlic and salt for a meatier take on the usual butter-finished steak.

With steak cooked like this, it's no wonder the Chicago Tribune's restaurant critic Phil Vettel hailed Manion as the "Master of the Flame" at the Critic's Choice Dining Awards (via Chicago Gourmet).