The Summer Grilling Guide: Grill baby, grill!
Welcome to the world of meat, a land ripe with possibilities beyond your wildest dreams. This is meat.
A place where the slightest change in decision of cut, grade or cooking apparatus constitutes a new set of rules. Innovations in technology, local farms and controlled feed have transformed the landscape of the culinary game, and turning to your butcher for advice has never been more imperative.
We spent an afternoon with the affable Russ Robinson, owner and operator of Choice City Butcher and Deli in Fort Collins, Colo., to truly learn the story of meat.
Find the Cuts...
It all starts with two main categories: worked and non-worked meats. Worked meats are the sets of muscles working the hardest to keep the grazing animal mowing lawns each and every day. This includes the shoulders, thighs and legs. Because they are working the hardest, the meat is tougher. Tenderizing these cuts requires long cooking periods at low heat with plenty of moisture to break down the meat; not the ideal situation for grilling. Your briskets, chucks, rump roasts, flanks and shanks are all worked meats.
On the other hand, non-worked meats are ideal for grilling. Located in the mid-section of the animal where they help to maintain posture and are rarely truly worked, these meats are naturally tender. Furthermore, they have more fat, providing a delicious flavor and juiciness that only intensifies when cooked. Rub these meats in salt and pepper, place on high heat and, in a short period of time, you’ll have a perfectly grilled steak. More expensive cuts of meats like the New York strips, rib eyes and tenderloins are all non-worked meats.
If money is a concern, reach for the butcher cuts, a cheaper version of the grilling steak that came on the market within the last 15 years. On the cow’s inner arm and along its diaphragm are what butchers call lazy muscles, extremely tender muscles that aren’t used. From here, you get the Flat Iron steak and the hanger steak, both packing the best bang for the buck. Butchers used to take these cuts home to their family. Hence the name butcher’s cuts. When saving money is your mantra, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Choosing the cut is half the battle. Like choosing a car, you can’t pick a model without considering the brand. Depending on the age of the animal and the marbling on the steak, the USDA grades meat on three levels: prime, choice and select. Prime is the cream of the crop but makes up only 2 percent of the U.S. meat market, and even that can only be obtained at high-end restaurants. Choice meat and select meat are the next two grades. Butchers and grocery stores offer both grades, so it’s important to distinguish between the two. Marbling is the place to start. More marbling translates to a higher quality of meat and a more flavorful cut. Once you’ve chosen the grade, it’s time to dust off the grill and change the world.
Then go Grilling
To achieve a delicious and juicy steak, abide by these simple rules. First rule: Clean your grill. This implies more than scrubbing the grates. Take a high smoke point oil such as peanut oil, and wipe down the grates as well. In essence, you’re seasoning the grill for the next cooking session. Second rule: Best ingredients create the best food. The fact that meat contains great flavor and only needs salt, pepper and garlic, doesn’t mean the salt should be iodized, the pepper refined and the garlic powered. For salt, try a kosher salt or a French brey salt from the Island of Rey; for pepper, grind your own hickory-smoked peppercorns; and for garlic, cut a fresh clove for each steak. The difference will be palatable. Third rule: Use a thermometer. Probe thermometers cost $10 and can make the difference between a perfectly cooked steak or a dog treat. Invest early and reap the taste dividends. Fourth and most important rule: Surround yourself with your favorite friends and your favorite alcoholic beverages, and let the good times roll.
New York Strip
Famous for its tender texture and delicate flavor, the New York strip comes from the short sirloin located along the back of the cow at the bottom of the ribs. Location of the cut is of importance because the strip inherits its unique properties from being a meat that’s rarely worked and therefore highly tender; more tender than a ribeye and more flavorful than tenderloin. A crowd favorite, the New York strip needs a dusting of oil, salt and pepper, and a nice hot flame to compliment a backyard party.
Buffalo has less fat, cholesterol and calories than fish, chicken and turkey. If that matters to you, great, but the succulence and sweetness of buffalo is hard to deny. It’s also important to note that a buffalo ribeye cooks in half the time as a beef ribeye. Perfectly grilled buffalo should have a depth of flavor, juicy center and tender heartiness that almost peels apart at the touch. Magnify the taste with salt and pepper.
The tenderloin is one of the most sought-after parts of the cow — along with the sirloin (NY strip) — because of its extreme tenderness. Cut from the middle of the cow, it has an extremely low fat content, which gives it a delicate softness that parts like butter at the touch of a knife — think filet mignons. Still, some argue that the tenderloin’s tenderness comes at the price of flavor. If you’re one of these believers, a rub or side sauce will help to qualm these concerns. Tenderloins cook on high heat, short heat and dry heat.
The ribeye is a top choice for grill steaks, and it’s easy to see why. Packed with marbling and fat, ribeyes are loaded with flavor and moisture as the fat disperses into the steak while cooking and coats the grill, providing a delicious char and a one-way trip to flavor country. A non-worked cut of meat, ribeyes are cut from the center portion of the rib steak, lending to the steak being tender without sacrificing flavor. Simply add a delicious salt-and-pepper rub, toss it on the grill under high heat for a short time, and taste the rib eye’s renowned flavor.
Clean farms and control over what animals eat have influenced the way butchers recommend cooking pork. Healthy pork can now be cooked to medium-rare and rare temperatures that save the flavor. Some butchers go as far as eating the meat raw, although it’s not adviseable. Pork absorbs marinades well but is low in fat and therefore dries out quickly when overcooked. When choosing pork, look for slight marbling within the pork filet. Great pork marbling signifies a tasty piece of meat that will be moist with flavor no matter how long you cook it.
Sausages combine the best characteristics of meat into one mouth-watering and perfectly seasoned delicacy for your grill. To avoid the cooking faux pas associated with sausage, regulate your heat. Too much heat and you’ll undercook the center, overcook the outside and bust the casing. Too little heat and you’ll dry out the sausage. Our recommendation: cook the sausage over medium heat, alternating between direct and indirect heat. It takes discipline to attain the perfect sausage, but with our help, you could be the best.