Grilled Rib-Eye with West African Black Pepper Sauce

JJ Johnson

Henry at Life Hotel and Fieldtrip, NYC

Alexander Smalls

The Cecil and Minton's, NYC

Veronica Chambers

Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day

“Some people think it’s terrible to put anything on a well-cooked rib-eye, but this sauce is special and worth it. In West Africa, pepper sauce is the equivalent of ketchup or Tabasco. It’s on the table everywhere you go: It’s a tomatoey hot sauce made with Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. At the restaurant, we do a mustardy black pepper sauce: less heat, more tang. It’s delicious.”—James Beard Award nominees JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers 


Grilled Rib-Eye 


  • 4 (1 1/2-inch-thick) bone-in rib-eye steaks (about 1 1/2 pounds each) 
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 

Black Pepper Sauce 

  • 2 tablespoons cubed unsalted butter
  • 2 sliced shallots
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/3 cup brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups veal or low-sodium beef stock
  • 1/4 cup whole black peppercorns, soaked in 1 cup water overnight, drained
  • 2 tablespoons jarred green peppercorns (optional)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste 


Prepare the rib-eye: let the steaks stand at room temperature for 1 hour.  

Make the Black Pepper Sauce: in a 2-quart saucepan, melt one cube of butter over medium heat. Stir in the shallots and sprinkle with salt. Cook until the shallots become translucent, about 5 minutes, then add the mustard and thyme. Continue to cook the mixture for about 3 minutes, and then pour in the brandy to deglaze the pan. Let the sauce simmer and reduce by one quarter, about 5 minutes.

Add the stock and peppercorns and bring back to a simmer. Once the sauce has reduced by half, about 15 minutes, stir in the cream and pepper and simmer for 5 additional minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and using a stick immersion blender, blend in the remaining cubes of butter until the sauce is completely smooth.

Make the rib-eye: preheat a large cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Rub the steaks with oil, then season with salt and pepper on both sides. When the grill pan is smoking hot, place the steaks in the pan, making sure to not overcrowd the pan.

Grill the steaks, turning frequently and pressing the edges and bone into the hot pan to sear them, for 12 to 15 minutes for medium-rare, or longer if desired. Remove the steaks and let them rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

To serve: top the rib-eye with the black pepper sauce.

Note: thoroughly pat your steaks dry before oiling and seasoning.


Excerpted BETWEEN HARLEM AND HEAVEN: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Copyright © 2018 by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photographs by Beatriz da Costa.


Serves 8