For An Unexpectedly Delicious Steak, Try A Little Sugar

A good steak goes a long way, no matter the cut. It doesn't take much -– some seasoning and the right technique –- but when it's done well (not well done), a steak can be pure perfection. Think back to the best steak you've ever had; maybe it was grilled with a simple dry rub or seared in a skillet with herby butter. Think about that salty, flavorful meatiness you bit into, that rich-and-tender combo that only a well-executed steak can deliver.

Now imagine this: a steak even better than the best steak you've had — one that's a little different than what you're used to, and maybe you can't quite put your finger on why, but it's noticeably more delicious. The secret? A little sugar.

After a Washington Post reporter successfully made a sugared steak, she called it, "The Best Damn Steak I'd Ever Had." And America's Test Kitchen wholeheartedly agrees with that sentiment. So a little sugar seems to turn a good steak into the best-you've-ever-had steak. Let's find out why this is a technique that's worth a try.

Why does sugar take your steak to the next level?

Lots of recipes include brown sugar as part of the steak rub because it brings a hint of sweetness to its savory seasonings and helps to tenderize the meat. Bastien's Restaurant in Denver –- whose slogan is "Home of the Sugar Steak" –- is famous for its sugar rub, made with sugar and spices and intended for marbled cuts of beef like Ribeye or NY Strip (as noted on their menu). Sugar on steak isn't new, and there's a reason people are onto it.

It all comes down to the crust. When a steak is rubbed in sugar and then thrown on the grill or seared in a hot pan, the sugar itself caramelizes as the steak cooks. This results in a beautifully shiny, perfectly crisp, just-sweet-enough outer crust to cut into -– all while keeping the meat inside nice and tender for that ultimate balance of texture and flavor.

After James Beard award-winning chef Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington tried some sugar on his Kobe beef for the first time, he told the Washington Post that the steak not only looked amazing but, when it came to flavor, the sugar surprisingly didn't make it overly sweet. "The crust in fact adds to the enjoyment," explains O'Connell, "that is, the contrast between the succulent interior and the exterior's crust."

How to make a sugar-crusted steak

The good news is you don't even need a fancy rub with hard-to-find spices and seasonings to produce the ultimate steak –- all you need is some sugar and salt. For a grilled sugar steak, America's Test Kitchen recommends a ratio of four parts granulated sugar to three parts kosher salt. This will make sure the crust maintains some sweetness, but with enough salt to season the meat.

Their technique is to coat the steak –- the thicker the better -– with the sugar-salt rub, let the meat rest (anywhere from an hour to 24 hours), and then apply the rub again just before you cook it. When you grill the steak, they recommend moving and rotating the meat around the grill to prevent burning. When the steak is finished cooking to your desired doneness, let it rest uncovered so that caramelized, crispy crust can set in place. That sprinkle of sugar really creates a mouth-watering crust — one diners are sure to love.