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A Cumberland Island Feast: Hi Bräu Style

A few weeks back I packed up some beef and headed on a camping trip to Cumberland Island, Georgia, with some of the guys. If you’ve never been to Cumberland Island, you have to consider checking it out. Most of the island is protected and in its natural form. Huge live oaks covered in Spanish Moss, pristine dunes, and more seashells than I’ve ever seen.

I’m always excited to bring beef on trips to share with friends and family. A steak never tastes as good as when it’s shared with friends and accompanied by a cold beverage. This trip was extra special for one reason though: one of the “guys” is a professional chef. Went to school for it and everything. Now I consider myself a pretty good grillmaster, but Chef Thomas Martin is next level. My comfort zone is the classic steak. Salt, pepper, high heat sear, and serve. Thomas can prepare a steak in more ways than I knew existed. 

Cumberland Island is only accessible by ferry, and everything must be packed in and out. I’m not going to lie, we packed heavily. I don’t think anybody had many clothes or necessities, but we had more food and beer than any normal human thinks is necessary for a weekend trip.

If you’ve followed our journey with Hi Bräu from the beginning, you may know that the way we keep our “On Tap” varieties and announce our “Special Releases” was inspired by the craft beer industry. Steak may be my first love, but craft beer is my second. We had stouts, porters, lagers, sours, winter warmers, winter ales, and just about anything to share over good food around the fire. Again…we packed heavily. 

We had several great meals. Chicken thighs in homemade chicken stock, a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes, and “Nana’s Grilled Cheese”, which is a grilled cheese sandwich dredged in eggs, French Toast style, and cooked on the flat top grill with three different cheeses. Holy moly. 

As good as all of the meals were, let’s face it: I’m here for the beef. And the beef delivered. Our first meal was Hi Bräu Beef Stew. Chef Thomas started the base with the leftover homemade chicken stock, which was now flavored with garlic, herbs, and the chicken bones and skin. One of the keys to a great beef stew is to coat the beef in flour and then lightly sear it before adding it to the soup. The only problem? No flour. Brock saved the day with a great idea. Pancake mix-coated beef! Turned out amazing. 

Chef Thomas seared the beef and pancake mix, along with a lot of the vegetables, and then added everything to a stock pot on the flat top. Did I mention that all of these amazing meals were made on nothing more than a flat-top propane grill and an open fire? Good food doesn’t require expensive tools. After everything was simmering in the pot, we went on a hike around the island. 

Upon returning, we were in for a treat. The beef was falling apart tender and the flavors had concentrated into the best beef stew I’d ever eaten. It went down well with a thick stout as the sun set over the live oaks. Always amazes me how a few common ingredients can be combined to make a masterpiece. 

The second night was our grand beef finale. I selected four steaks: a Grass Fed and Finished South Poll Denver Steak, a Grass Fed and Grain Finished Angus Sirloin Steak, a big Grass Fed and Grain Finished Ribeye Steak, and a Grass Fed and Grain Finished American Wagyu Ribeye. We were about to eat them all over a four-hour feast. 

Now, my plan is always to cook all of the steaks the same so that people can compare the different cuts and finishes. That’s because I’m not a chef. Chef Thomas had a much better idea. Each steak was prepared differently and enjoyed using different cooking methods. 

First, the Denver. Chef Thomas did this in a way I couldn’t even begin to cook: Steak Diane…or at least his spin on it. Chef Thomas used what we had. Plenty of garlic, leftover stock from our beef stew, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Instead of flaming it with cognac, he used bourbon, something we had plenty of (when we arrived). Few things look cooler than a flame-covered steak. The result was a savory, smoky treat. Denver steaks are big on flavor, so it held up well to all of the other flavors without being overpowered. 

Next up was the Sirloin. This was done in a simpler style. Pan-seared in garlic butter and finished with salt and pepper. Simple and effective. Garlic is always a great steak compliment, and the richness of the butter adds to the flavor. 

I was most excited to try the Wagyu Ribeye, and it was up next. I had previously tried all of the other finishes, but I had just picked up the Wagyu from the butcher and wasn’t sure what to expect. We decided to do this in a traditional Japanese style. We cut each of the three distinct muscles present in a Ribeye into quarter-inch slices and lightly salted them with kosher salt. From there, we seared each one on the flat top using medium, not high heat. This allows more time for the rich marbling in Wagyu to render into the meat. The verdict was that it was fantastic! I believe it was eaten faster than any other cut. 

All we had left was a hearty Ribeye. When I asked Chef Thomas how he’d do the last cut, he said that he wasn’t…he wanted me to prepare it. Talk about pressure! Pretty sure this is the first time I’ve cooked for a professional chef. When in doubt, I decided it was best to stick to what I knew. 

All through my school years, I was an avid camper. Most of my early cooking was done way back in a pasture over an open fire or a Boy Scout camp. Cooking over an open fire is my comfort zone, and I figured that would be my best bet. 

I went with my classic steak recipe. Dry the steak with paper towels, dry brine with salt and pepper, and a LOT of heat! I put the grill grate down close to the fire and let the flame lick the steak as it cooked. On a steak like that, I like four minutes on the first side and three minutes on the second. Though I feared that I might overcook it or burn the outside, it turned out exactly as I had hoped. Great crust on the outside and medium rare on the inside. Mostly, I was glad that the guys enjoyed it. 

I couldn't tell you which cut was my favorite, but I do know that everything tastes a little better when enjoyed around a campfire with friends. Or maybe we drank enough beer that it didn’t matter. Either way, I know that a good steak, more than probably any other food, provides a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fellowship. I hope that when you’re looking for something to share with friends, you’ll go to your freezer for a cut of Hi Bräu Beef.

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