"Simple and subtle" are the grilling watchwords for Sgt. Michael Clawson of Salt Lake City.
He's one of 10 Marines who will compete at New York's Times Square tomorrow for "Command of the Grill," a national steak-cooking contest sponsored by Weber-Stephens Products. A reservist trained as a heavy machine gunner, Clawson has been in the Marine 12 years and is currently stationed at the Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City.
Finalists were culled from 10 grill-offs held at Marine Corps bases across the country last fall as part of a fund-raiser. Weber-Stephens Products (makers of gas and charcoal grills), compiled an 80-page cookbook of the competing steak recipes and recipes of famous former U.S. Marines called "Command of the Grill: A Salute to Steak." All proceeds from the $10 book will go to four charities that benefit Marines wounded or killed in the line of duty and/or their families. The book is sold at www.commandofthegrill.com or locally at Ace Hardware stores.
Clawson said he entered with few expectations of winning after all, he was a "kid from Salt Lake" competing in Kansas City, a town known for barbecue. "I just showed up because all the contestants got a free grill."
In his recipe, Steak Fajitas with Rocky Mountain Rub, he tried to recreate the flavors of Utah's outdoors, where Clawson often hunted. He recalled that the elk often ate wild sage and rosemary growing on the hillside, and that those flavors come through subtly in the elk meat, he said.
Since contest rules didn't allow him to grill steaks from elk that he hunted and butchered himself, he decided to try to create the same rosemary-sage flavor in his beefsteak recipe. But he wanted to enhance, not overpower, the meat's flavor.
"People seem to be really into flavor overkill nowadays, but I think meat should taste like meat and not something else. I do a really basic spice rub."
Clawson advises those who might want to try their hand at grilling elk: "It cooks fast, and because it has a low fat content, it can dry out quickly. Grill it over low heat for a short amount of time."
He said he cooks at home, "but I don't really enjoy it. I do enjoy grilling steaks, though."
His wife, Priscila, will accompany him to New York to the finals, which take place during Fleet Week. This is the annual time when Navy and Coast Guard ships dock in the New York harbor, so thousands of sailors and Marines are in the city. In addition to bragging rights as the national Commander of the Grill, the winning Marine takes home more than $5,000 worth of prizes, including a luxury Weber gas grill and dinner for 10 made by chef and cookbook author Jamie Purviance.Some famous former Marines with recipes in the cookbook are Utah actor Wilford Brimley, former football player Art Donovan, country music star George Jones and former "Tonight Show" announcer Ed McMahon.
STEAK FAJITAS WITH ROCKY MOUNTAIN RUB
2 skirt steaks, about 1 pound each and 3/4-inch thick
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
With a fork, poke each side of each steak 3 or 4 times to allow the marinade to seep inside the meat. In a small bowl, mix the marinade ingredients. Brush marinade evenly over both sides of each steak. Let steaks stand at room temperature 20-30 minutes before grilling.
2 ripe Hass avocados
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine the guacamole ingredients in a medium bowl and stir with a fork until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon celery salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl and crush them between your fingertips to release the oils in the herbs. Just before grilling, brush the minced garlic from the marinade off the steaks. Then season the steaks on both sides with the rub, pressing spices into the meat.
1 medium red onion, sliced crosswise into 1/3-inch slices
2 medium red or green bell peppers, seeded and cut into flat sections
Extra virgin olive oil8 flour tortillas, each 8 inches in diameter
Lightly brush or spray the onion and bell peppers on both sides with oil. With the lid closed, grill the onion, bell peppers, and steaks over direct high heat (500 to 550 degrees) until the veggies are tender and steaks are cooked to desired doneness, turning once. The onion will take 8-10 minutes, bell peppers 6-8 minutes and steaks 5-7 minutes for medium-rare.
Remove from the grill and let the steaks rest 2-3 minutes. Cut onion and bell peppers into bite-size pieces. Wrap the tortillas in a foil packet. With the lid down, grill the packet over direct medium heat (400-450 degrees to warm the tortillas, about 2-3 minutes, turning once.)
To serve, cut skirt steak against the grain into 1/4-inch slices. Place the warm tortillas, sliced meat, onions, peppers and guacamole in separate serving dishes. Let each person make his or her own fajita by placing the fillings down the center of each tortilla. Wrap and serve warm. Makes 4 servings. Sgt. Michael Clawson Marine Corps Mobilization Command, Kansas City