A record 83 entrants traveled from across the Lone Star State May 16 with their grills in tow and a common destination, the 6th Annual Texas Steak Cookoff, Beef Symposium and Tourist Trap in downtown Hico. And, just in time for summer grilling and Father’s Day, the top two Backyard Chefs shared a few tips and tricks for making your barbecues a sizzling success.

Kenny Heath brought his team, the Lake Whitney Meat Company, to the event for the third consecutive year. While Heath admits the first year was a bust, he left determined to wow the judges and meat loving festival-goers with his grilling prowess and special seasoning. With the assistance of his cousin and fellow teammate, Heath McDonald, of Conroe, Heath worked to perfect his technique, and his determination paid off as he walked away in 2008 with the first place plaque and $2,500.

In 2009, however, newcomer Adam Greene brought his team, Circle H Steaks, from Carlton, just a hop skip and a jump from Hico, and stole the show with his simple grilling style and took home the top prize. Heath and the Lake Whitney Meat Company took home this year’s second place prize and $1,500, and also took third in the hors d’ouvres division, with a recipe that won first place in 2007.

Although Heath slipped one in the rankings, he said he is more proud of this year’s second place finish since the number of entrants almost tripled since he competed in the fifth annual event.

What makes a perfect steak?

Heath and Greene agree that the three most important factors in grilling the perfect steak are selecting the right meat, having the perfect fire and keeping the seasoning simple.

The Meat

“The first thing, of course, is to start with a good steak,” Heath said.

In selecting his steaks, Heath chooses the cuts with the least fat and explained that avoiding fat laden slabs of beef prevents excessive burning and charring since dripping fat fuels the fire.

Greene said, however, that a little bit of fat is essential to serving up a tender, juicy steak.

“I look for marbling in the meat,” Greene said. “Thin, white streaks of fat throughout the muscle.”

The Fire

Greene said a hot fire, made of hot coals and without big flames is essential.

“You want the fire hot enough that you can’t hold your hand above the grill for more than three and a half seconds,” Greene said.

With an array of options when it comes to fueling your fire, from propane, to charcoal and a variety of woods, both chefs have their favorites.

Greene said he prefers to cook with wood and said mesquite wood burns hotter than oak and creates “good, hot coals” while leaving behind a tasty mesquite, smoked flavoring.

Heath said he uses a combination of charcoal and Hill Country mesquite.

The Seasoning

The two great backyard barbecuers agree on a few things when it comes to seasoning.

First, topnotch chefs never share all their secrets and second, award-winning steaks rely more on the flavor of the meat than marinades, sauces and an excess of herbs and spices.

“I don’t marinade,” Greene said. “Quality meat makes good flavor. More ingredients don’t make a better steak.”

While Greene was protective of his award-winning recipe, Heath was willing to share one of his special touches.

“I spray a low sodium soy sauce on the steaks,” Heath said.

Heath puts the soy sauces in a typical household sprayer and showers the steak just prior to throwing it on the grill.

“I call it a wet rub,” Heath said. “I do not marinade.”