A STEAK PRIMER: The best for grilling (we've got 6 options!); Tips on buying and preparing --- almost everything you need to know
By Bill Daley
But what type of steak should you buy? Well, rib-eye remains the favorite across the United States and the bigger the better.
Whatever the steak cut is, be it an old favorite or something new, there are certain factors you should consider in choosing a steak.
Marbling, the amount of fat distributed within the meat, is the most important indicator of quality for consumers, says Randy Waidner, corporate executive chef for Chicago-based Gibsons Restaurant Group. "There's more flavor, more tenderness," he says.
The USDA grades beef quality and labels cuts accordingly, and marbling is a major factor in determining the rating. "Prime" has long been considered the best, followed by "Choice" and "Select."
The challenge is, as Morris notes, that there may be some Choice or Select cuts that are as tender as Prime but at a lower price. To help consumers find those cuts and make wiser choices, the USDA has launched a new program to tag cuts as "USDA Certified Tender" or "USDA Certified Very Tender" based on specific, objective criteria.
Bone-in can make a difference too.
Tougher cuts, like hanger and skirt steaks, can make for delicious eating if tenderized in a marinade for a few hours or overnight, says Frody Volgger, butcher at Tony Caputo's Market & Deli in Salt Lake City. Try a teriyaki or ponzu sauce, perhaps accented with mustard and black pepper, he says.
Whether you'll be cooking for dad or he'll be grilling up a steak himself, we've got the details (with photos so you know what you're looking for) on nine of the best cuts for the grill. Each should be seared over direct heat, then finished in a cooler part of the grill. Thinner cuts (flank, skirt, hanger) should cook with just the searing.
(Shoulder top blade steak.) Boneless and cut from the shoulder clod top blade roast, each steak averages 8 ounces, with a thickness varying from 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch. Section: chuck
(Also known as Delmonico or cowboy steak). Sold bone-in or boneless. Section: rib
(New York strip, Kansas City strip, top loin, Delmonico, shell steak.) Sold bone-in or boneless. Section: short loin
(London broil, jiffy steak.) Boneless. Marinate before cooking; slice across the grain for tenderness. Section: flank
The diaphragm muscle. Boneless. Marinate before grilling; slice across the grain for tenderness. Section: short plate
(Butcher's steak, hanging tender.) Boneless. Marinate before grilling; slice across the grain for tenderness. Section: short plate
Sources: National Cattlemen's Beef Association; The New Food Lover's Companion.
Tips on buying and preparing steak
Here are tips on buying and preparing steak.
Speak up. Tell the meat cutter or meat counter person what you're looking for. How many people are you feeding? Do you want individual steaks or a big Flintstones-size slab to share? Does he or she have any tips on cooking it?
Read the label carefully. Look for the name of the cut, quality grade and, possibly, cooking instructions.
Think big: Steak size is not mere machismo. A thicker steak cooks more slowly on the grill so there's less risk of overcooking it, says James Peisker, co-owner of Porter Road Butcher in Nashville, Tenn. Go no thinner than 1 to 1 1/4 inches, he says.
Prep: Bring steaks to room temperature before grilling. Sam Garwin, general manager of Craft Butchery in Westport, Conn., recommends rubbing coarse salt generously over the meat 10 minutes before cooking. The salt will promote a brown and crusty exterior, she says. Garwin doesn't like seasoning meat with black pepper before grilling. The pepper burns and turns bitter, she says. Peisker, however, does pepper his steak before cooking it. It's still delicious, he says.
Sear: Place steaks over direct heat. Sear 3 to 5 minutes a side to build char, says Randy Waidner, corporate executive chef for Gibsons Restaurant Group. Don't try to force the steak off the grill rack; the meat will release itself when ready.
Finish cooking: Once seared, move the steak away from direct heat. Cook over indirect heat, covered, until desired doneness is reached.
Test for doneness: An instant read thermometer works well. Foodsafety.gov, a website operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends a cooking temperature of 145 degrees, which is around medium doneness. Voggler uses his thumb instead. Raw steak is "loose and mushy," he says; the meat firms up as it cooks.
Rest steaks: Let the steaks rest for 2 to 5 minutes, Peisker says so that the juices redistribute inside the steak.
ANOTHER WAY AT STEAK
Ryan Farr, a San Francisco butcher (4505 Meats), restaurateur (4505 Burgers & BBQ), and author ("Whole Beast Butchery" and just-published "Sausage Making") cooks his steaks in a different way.
Farr seasons his 1- to 2-inch steak with lots of salt and black pepper and cooks it slowly in a 250-degree oven until the meat's internal temperature reaches 125 degrees (132 degrees for medium rare, according to his website, 4505meats.com). Cooking can take 30 to 90 minutes depending on the thickness and temperature of the steak. Farr then sears the meat on the grill, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
"It is beautifully charred and pink," Farr says of the finished steak. "It's the only way we recommend." DAD'S RIB-EYE
Rib-eye steak for Dad --- or anyone else. That's what a number of top meat cutters and butchers across the country recommend. And not just any rib-eye, either.
"If you have a very gluttonous (event) planned, the monster of all steaks, the granddaddy of all steaks would be the tomahawk rib eye," says James Peisker, co-owner of Porter Road Butcher in Nashville, Tenn. This is a 2- to 3-pound bone-in steak where the bone is frenched, trimmed of meat and fat, to provide something of a handle, he says.
"It is impressive," agrees Scott Fader, general manager of Petty's Meats in Longwood, Fla., of the tomahawk steak, which is his choice as well.
At Craft Butchery in Westport, Conn., they're selling "Big Daddy Rib-Eyes," bone-in 5-pounders running three inches thick.
"They're manly-looking," chuckles Sam Garwin, Craft's general manager. "They are fun to do on the grill."
Even regular rib-eyes are impressive. Peisker, commenting on their appeal, describes them as "larger, definitely fatter and definitely more flavorful than other steaks."
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