Grilled Steak with Spicy Chipotle Chile Rub

Cinco de Mayo is largely an American invention, but growing up in Southern California I thought is was as real as the Forth of July. I have always celebrated it, and this year made the only Latin-themed recipes from the May/June issue of Cook’s Illustrated; Grilled Steak with Spicy Chipotle Chile Rub, with a side dish of Pinto Bean and Corn Dip with Cilantro. This recipe is very similar to the 4-1/2-star Latin Spice-Rubbed Grilled Flank Steak, except the beef is more tender (and slightly more expensive). The recipe also delivers on it’s claim to overcome the problem of dry-crust that often plaques leaner cuts of meet.

Delicious meal for a made-up holiday

The recipe slightly scores the meat to allow for deeper penetration of the seasoning, and uses salt mixed with tomato paste and a few other water-soluble spices (onion powder, garlic powder) during the “salting phase”. The spice rub was made by toasted whole spices on the stovetop in a skillet, then ground using a spice grinder. Finally, because the recipe called for a lean cut of beef I sprayed the steaks with vegetable oil just before grilling, which gives the crust a head start in becoming moist.


  1. The tongs used when flipping the first steak did remove crust in one spot. I was more careful when flipping the second steak and the problem didn’t reoccur.
  2. I will post the “Pinto Bean and Corn Dip with Cilantro” in 2 or 3 days.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $14.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/Low.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Dinner:  6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 boneless shell steaks, about 1″ thick (about 1-1/2 pounds)

Spice Rub:
2 dried chipotle chiles
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Vegetable oil spray

  1. In a small bowl, mix together equal amounts of tomato paste and fish sauce. Add kosher salt, onion powder and garlic powder.
  2. Use paper towels to dry both side of the steak. Use a chef’s knife to create a cross-hatch pattern on both sides of the steak, with the slits cut 1/16″ deep and 1/2″ apart. Evenly rub the tomato/salt mixture on both sides of the steaks, and place them on a wire rack. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
  3. With about 30 minutes to go, completely open the bottom and top vents of the grill. Light a chimney starter filled with charcoal.
  4. Remove the stem and seeds from your chiles and tear into 1/2″ pieces. Place a 10″ skillet over medium-low burner, and toast the chiles, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes and whole peppercorns for about 4 minutes; until they begin to smoke. Empty onto a small plate and allow to cool for 5 minutes, before grinding in a spice grinder. I used a small coffee grinder and processed until it was coarsely ground.  Empty into a small bowl and mix together the remaining spices: sugar, oregano, and cinnamon.
  5. Evenly sprinkle half the seasoning mixture over each side of the steaks, pressing until the mixture becomes moist. Spray the steaks lightly with vegetable oil spray, before flipping to season the second side.
  6. Grill the steaks over the hot-side of the grill, covered, until the outside is charred, about 4 minutes per side. Move the steaks to the cooler side, cover, and continue cooking until the desired internal temperature has been reached. 125-degrees is medium-rare, 130-degrees is medium, etc.
  7. Allow steaks to rest on a clean wire rack, loosely tented with foil, for 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain.

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