Whether the meat is cut too thick and overcooked or made mealy by a long marinade, beef satay usually has an unappealing texture-to say nothing of its lackluster flavor.
We wanted beef satay that would be every bit as good as it is on the streets of Thailand: charred, flavor-packed meat with a tender interior.
Our first step was to figure out the best cut of beef and how to slice it. We settled on flank steak, which contains plenty of evenly distributed fat. We found that halving the steak lengthwise first and then slicing the two long, thin portions on a slight bias yielded the optimal size and shape for skewering-and for consuming in a bite or two.
The key to a crusted exterior and moist interior was grill setup. We positioned a disposable aluminum pan inside the kettle of our grill, poured hot coals inside, and replaced the cooking grate. We then lined up the skewers over the pan. When we basted the satay, the coals smoldered just enough to impart a subtle smokiness and yet the heat was sufficiently powerful to yield a lovely burnished exterior-but not so hot that we had to flip the skewers more than once.
We decided to keep the marinade simple-just fish sauce, oil, and sugar-and ramped up the basting sauce with ginger and other flavorings, which kept the texture flawless and infused the meat with the flavors from the basting sauce. As for the requisite peanut sauce, we spiced up chunky peanut butter with Thai red curry paste and garlic. Coconut milk contributed body, chopped roasted peanuts offered additional texture, and a final hit of lime juice, soy sauce, and fish sauce lent brightness.