Grilling season is here and with Father’s Day right around the corner, let’s have a look at some cuts of beef for the grill.
As the sun starts setting in the late afternoon, the sweet smell of barbecue wafts through the air. Whether it is the delightful smell of sizzling pork fat or the smoky scent of charcoal, it definitely makes you drool with hunger for a juicy steak or burger.
So, you head off to the meat counter of your local grocery store and ask for a great steak – but what is a great steak?
All meat is good if you can take advantage of the best properties of each particular cut.
If you cook a piece of brisket medium rare on the grill you will chew it for a week and, similarly, if you roast a piece of filet well done it will be dry.
Generally, meat is divided into 3 groups:
- Pieces from the loin. These tender cuts have little connective tissues and are usually grilled hot and fast. Served rare to medium, these cuts are succulent and juicy.
- Rounds from the hind leg, middle meats from the lower waist, and a few select cuts from the shoulder. These pieces lend themselves to marinating and grilling but also to roasting over lower heat. They are also enjoyed on the rare to medium side but can be cooked a little more.
- Cuts from the shanks, neck, brisket, and shoulder. These cuts should be slow roasted or braised for a long time to break down the collagen in the connective tissues. Braised beef shanks, smoked brisket, and stew made with cuts from the neck area of the shoulder are best slow-cooked so that the end result can almost be eaten with a spoon.
Group One cuts commonly sold are:
- Filet mignon or tenderloin. This is the most tender cut of all and usually the most expensive. There really is no other substitution for a nice filet. Usually the whole filet is about 15-20 inches long and about 3-4 inches wide, weighing 3-5lbs trimmed. The front end is wider, and the tail tapers off into a thin piece. Steaks are cut into 1-2 inch thick rounds, or the whole piece can be roasted and sliced after it is cooked. End pieces are often cut up for kabobs. Plan about 6-8oz per person as there is little to no waste. The tenderloin is very lean, tender, and mild-flavored. Being lean, the filet goes well with richer sauces, like Bearnaise, and can be wrapped in bacon. Preparation of tenderloin is; rare, 125F, medium rare, 135F, medium, 145F, well 160F. The end result is most desirable if you cut the time a bit short and let the meat rest for about ten minutes, as it finishes cooking.
- NY strip steak or top loin steak. This is the rear half of the back muscle, the front half is the ribeye. NY strip steaks are very tender, about a step under the filet mignon. They are just as tender as the ribeye, but leaner and slightly milder. They are about 3 by 6 inches wide and usually cut 1-2 inches thick, weighing 10-20 oz. There is usually a little waste on the fat cap if the steak has been trimmed. This is a classic steakhouse cut of meat, served with pretty, crossed grill marks. It can be topped with grilled onions, mushrooms, horseradish sauce, brown sauce, or a variety of others, or – just plain. Cooking temperature is like that for filet. If you prefer it on the rare or medium rare side, avoid the end piece which has the sirloin running through it and a tough connective membrane.
- Ribeye steak or entrecote is the front part of the back muscle. It has a stronger and beefier flavor and more fat and marbling running through the meat. The closer to the neck it is, the more fat runs through the meat. It will be beefy and juicy. The back end is a little leaner and milder. Steaks are usually the same as the NY strip, 1-2 inches, weighing a little over half a pound to a little over a pound. There is usually a little more fat on this cut to take into consideration. Cooking and serving is the same as for the NY strip, though lighter sauces are better as the meat is richer.
- The most popular bone-in steaks for the grill are: bone-in rib steak or Cote de Boeuf, porterhouse, T-bone, and bone-in strip steak. The bone-in rib is often cut with one solid bone in the steak at which point it will weigh 2-3lbs and comfortably feed at least 2 people. You can have the butcher cut it thinner for personal size steaks. If you grill the larger one, it is important to let it properly rest before you carve it. Porterhouse, T-bone, and bone-in strip steak are cut from the loin, which has the NY strip and filet mignon connected to it. The main difference is where on the loin it has been cut from. At the very end, you will get a large filet but the top loin may have the sirloin running into it. This is the porterhouse steak, and there are usually only 2-3 on the loin as the filet should be 2-3 inches wide. Next are the T-bones with a slightly smaller filet and a nice strip steak followed by the part closer to the ribs where the strip steak is. These steaks are usually cut 2-3 inches thick and feed 2-3 people. As with the bone-in rib, you can ask the butcher to cut them thinner for your need. When cooking the bone-in steaks, it is usually better to cook them on a lower temperature to ensure that the meat cooks evenly near the bone. Getting a thicker one, which you carve after, will often give the best result.Here you can see the difference of a Porterhouse on the left and the T-bone on the right.
- Sirloin steak or top sirloin is at the end of the loin. This steak is usually cut 1 ½ -2 inches thick and ranges from 1 ½-2 ½ lbs. It is a more economical version of grilling steak and often grilled whole and sliced to serve. The sirloin has a few areas of connective tissue, or silver skin, which you should be aware of and cut out when serving. The tenderness is slightly below the NY strip and it is lean and mild. Cook at a slightly lower heat then the strip steak after initial searing and make sure to rest the meat before carving.
Dry aged T-bone
In choosing the meat, there are often several selections of each. Some of the most common are: select, choice, and prime. This has to do with the amount of marbling (fat) running through the meat. The higher the grade, the more marbling the meat has, and this will, in turn, make it juicier and more tender. Grass-fed beef is very lean and dark red. It has a rich, beefy flavor and very little marbling unlike conventional beef which is finished with grain feeding. This gives the conventional beef a milder and more marbled quality. Some stores offer dry-aged beef which has been hanging in a temperature and humidity-controlled room and aged in the same manner as salami or prosciutto ham. It is usually aged at least 3 weeks and loses 15% or more water weight. It is then cut, and the outside trimmed off. It has a rich, beefy aroma and a shiny texture. The natural enzymes make it very tender as well as flavorful. Dry aged beef cooks faster than regular due to the lower water content.
We will cover the other cuts in the next couple of articles.
- Clean your grill grates well then rub them with a paste of water and salt. This will prevent meat from sticking.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper at least 10 minutes before cooking as it will get a chance to penetrate, and also draw some water out giving you juicier meat.
- Before you put the meat on the grill, pat it dry and then oil it lightly. Being dry, it will sear quickly, staying juicy. Wet pieces create steam and cool off the grill. Too much oil will create flames, which will make the meat taste like kerosene; not enough will make it stick.
- Let the meat rest at least 10 minutes before serving. This will allow it to finish cooking. As you are grilling, the heat drives the juices to the center of the meat; resting it allows the juices to flow back into the fibers giving you a juicier steak.
Let’s fire up the grill!