Suddenly we’ve gone from winter to spring, at least until the weather changes once again (we can only hope!). Time to get the grill brush out and get rid of that rust, and oil up the grill so you can think about the easy, fun task of grilling a perfect steak. Yes, grilling a good steak is a bit of an art. Of course, the better the meat, the easier it is to practice this art. A well-marbled strip or rib eye or T-bone, and we’ve only got to discuss a few details. But, with the price of meat so high, we are always looking for the less-costly cut. So, we’ve interviewed butcher Joe, asking him some crucial questions:
TP: What’s your favorite less expensive cut? Where does it come from on the cow? Alternatives? Any special tricks to make sure your grilling is a success?
JC: " "Teres major, also called a shoulder tender. It is off of the chuck, it’s the third most tender cut and is exceptionally versatile. Great for marinating or just with salt and pepper." (Note from TP: Joe (who is Tracy's husband) always has some in the case at Star Meats on Claremont, inside Star Market.) An alternative is the chuckeye, which is the chuck end of the ribeye. It’s a little tougher than a ribeye, with the same flavor and at about half the price. As for that grilling tip — Always put your steak on a HOT grill. You are searing the meat, not slow cooking it. If you like anything over medium rare, however, you’ll want to cook on an indirect heat."
TP: We all know skirt steak, which I personally love because the flavor is so good, but it’s gotten REALLY expensive. Used to be cheap fajitas meat. This is no doubt because it’s both become more well known, thus more popular, and has also been adopted as an alternative to the pricier cuts. I've always described it as "flap meat" but where exactly does that cut come from?
JC: "Skirt steak is actually NOT a flap meat, it’s a diaphragm muscle, attached to inside wall of the ribs, right next to the lung. Bavette steak is flap meat, which is the nearest meat to the skin connecting to the flank. The word “Bavette” is a French term that technically applies to a few different cuts of meat, though here in the US we typically think of this cut as either sirloin tip or flap meat." (Note from TP: Costco usually has "flap meat" / Bavette steak in the case. Treat it like a larger skirt steak- grill and then cut into sections, and cut each section across the grain for tenderness.)
Now, I just happened to have a gorgeous strip (also called NY) steak which got thrown on the grill last night. Remember, no matter what steak you grill, you want that grill (gas or wood/charcoal) to be HOT so you sear the steak, but watch for flare-ups when the fatstarts to drip, they will leave an acrid flavor if not stopped.
How to Cook that Steak
- Take your steak out of the refrigerator ½ hour before grilling. Season it with salt and pepper, and leave at room temperature. This gives the salt a bit of time to absorb into the meat, and enhances the flavor of the steak. It also warms it a bit, shortening grill time, and giving you a better chance of the edges not overcooking by the time the middle is done enough.
- Get the grill really, really hot. Make sure it is clean and lightly oiled, so the steak doesn’t stick to it or pick up bits of char. If you want, you can also lightly oil the meat.
- Your average 1 ¼ inch thick steak, cooked to medium-rare, will take about 10-12 minutes on the grill. Less if it’s lean grass-fed beef, which cooks MUCH faster than corn-finished meat.
- Figuring out when it’s done is a matter of feel, more than anything. Soft and squishy, the meat’s still quite raw. A bit springy, rare. A little bit stiffer, medium. And stiff as a board, it’s well done. How you like your meat is a matter of taste, and what you’re used to. Some cuts are better than others if you prefer more well done meat; the skirt and bavette steaks for instance, don’t get quite so dry. A well-done grass fed strip steak could be compared to cardboard.
- When I cook a steak, I plan on three turns — the first, after about 3 minutes, ¼ rotation, without flipping it. That way you end up with cross-hatched grill marks. The second, after 5-6 minutes, is a flip-over. The final turn, again ¼ rotation. This one is the least crucial, since you only really see one side of the steak. If it seems like the steak is getting too cooked, don't bother with it. Just get it off the grill.
- Rest your meat! Nothing is worse than cutting into a piece of meat where the juices are still bubbling around inside, and watching those juices run out, leaving a dry steak. Give it a couple of minutes to relax before you slice.
- If you’re grilling something like skirt of bavette steak, be sure to cut it across the grain. Simply cut segments about 4 inches wide, and then slice those the other way, and you’ll have tender meat.