Grilling season is upon us! There is nothing like the flavor of grilled steak no matter what time of year it is or how many layers of clothing you have on or don’t while standing guard over the hot grate.
The truth is we live in WNY so for many this is the start of grilling season so make the best of it. As a butcher, I've received many different questions about grilling meats. I will try to condense the most important ones here so I am not writing an intriguing meat novel.
Gas or charcoal? Gas grills are quicker to heat up and just as quick to cool down, clean and put away. Charcoal is going to take more time to get to the proper temperature and can’t be turned off and put away quickly. In my opinion charcoal provides a much more flavorful end product with exceptional searing when done properly. I like a great quality lump charcoal over briquettes. Learning how to use your grill no matter what type is key to the cooking process. If you are using charcoal and pick up a bottle of lighter fluid, just forget about grilling and order takeout! Invest in a charcoal chimney and your steaks and body will thank you.
Humanely raised. No matter what your meat choice is, quality is most important. From birds through bison, there is a huge range of quality selections to consider as well as how the creature was raised. Try to educate yourself on how your meat has been processed. Any animal that is intended to be harvested for meat should be treated in the best way possible from start to finish — and by finish I mean you enjoying the final product on your plate!
Choosing a steak. There are many delicious steaks on the market and each brings friendly debates. Bone in or boneless? Leaner strip or tenderloin or a well marbled fattier ribeye? My favorite is always a dry-aged prime graded bone-in ribeye, the beefy flavor along with the melting delicious marbled tender meat is dinner and dessert! While we all choose our favorite steaks we tend to lean on the usual choices we find at most supermarkets. Strip, ribeye, tenderloin, porterhouse and T-bone. Lets try something new and talk about the intimidating skirt and flank steaks.
Skirt and flank are by far two of the most flavorful steaks you can eat. Skirt is actually the diaphragm muscle coming from the plate and rib section of the beef while flank is from the abdominal muscle. Both of these cuts have been gaining in popularity as carnivores are realizing they can cook this at home with results close to or better than the restaurant where they first tried it.
A trained butcher can trim the flank or skirt properly plus show you the proper way to cut it. The following techniques are for both the skirt and the flank. This is not something you grab on the way home from work and have done in 15 minutes once you get home.
Marinade. If you are choosing a marinade give at least 12 hours for it to take in all of the flavor. But as I said, the best way is the simple way. Here is what you will need: A good quality salt. For pre-seasoning, use Kosher or coarse sea salt and fresh ground coarse black pepper. For finishing use flaked salt and hopefully some beef tallow or butter.
The first fearful step is where we all get nervous and don’t want to over season especially with the salt. This is where you have to trust me. At least 30 minutes before you plan on grilling, season the steak liberally with salt and pepper. Go heavier than you normally would think you should! The salt should not pile up but should coat evenly over the steak creating a beautiful white dusting. Freshly grind the pepper the same way.
Grill. Always make sure your grill grates are clean and oiled. Get your grill as hot as you can get it. You want the grate to be so hot you hear the steak sizzle when you lay it on. Between the perfect amount of salt you applied and the high heat you are looking for the Maillard Reaction. To simplify, you want to sear the meat so the high heat reacts causing a caramelized crust on the outside to seal in all of the wonderful juices and create a delicious outside. For skirt and flank this will only take about four minutes per side. If your flank is a bit thicker go a minute longer. This isn’t a two step process with these cuts. You do not want to sear then put on indirect heat. The goal with skirt and flank is a tender juicy steak medium rare with a dark crust on the outside. After you have seared both sides, remove steaks from the grill and let them rest for 10 minutes. This is such an important step. Resting allows the meat to cook an additional 5 to 10 degrees while allowing the juices to redistribute throughout the entire piece.
Cut. A skirt or flank steak can be cooked to perfection and quickly destroyed if cut the wrong way. Because these both are a very coarse grained cuts of meat, they need to be cut across the grain and on a bias. Sounds difficult but it is not. The meat grain is so noticeable it is easy to see which way the long strands run, simply angle your knife so you are cutting thin angled slices against the grain. You will quickly find tender scrumptious pieces of beef heaven laying on your cutting board! Sure you could eat it like it is but take it one step further, finish it! After slicing, while it is still hot, drop softened or melted beef tallow (or butter if your local butcher didn’t have tallow) over the slices and yes a light sprinkle of flaked salt. The flaked salt is light and will enhance the flavors even more.
Enjoy. Grilling meats helps bring out the great flavors of each cut while giving you the great outdoors time that makes us all feel better! Find a reputable local butcher. A butcher can answer so many questions and give advice and in some cases better quality. Experiment with flavors. I always believe great meat tastes great with the simplest seasonings but if your into trying different combinations of flavors go for it!
Frank Dispenza owns Dispenza's Natural Meats with his wife, Rachel. The market, which features a small specialty grocery and fresh soups, is at 3130 Ridge Road in Ransomville. For more information, visit www.dispenza's.com or call 791-3400.