Steak-grilling success starts with the right cut of meat

When it comes to preparing steak at home, the quality of the beef is an obvious starting point, but sometimes the home cook’s options are limited.

The most common grades of beef available to the American consumer are Prime, Choice and Select. Dave Zino, executive chef of the Beef Checkoff program of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said most of the Prime steaks across the country go to high-end steakhouses, which might explain why that $45 steak tastes better than your own. But don’t despair.

"Choice is still a pretty good grade of beef for steaks," Zino said. (To determine if the meat is Choice, simply look at the label.)

One tip, he said, is to look for steaks that have the most marbling, the white flecks of fat distributed throughout the meat.

"The more of that you have, the more tender and juicy the steak’s going to be," Zino said.

He also recommends shopping at a store where you can ask the butcher to cut your steaks for you. Most meat-case steaks are fairly thin, he said.

"A good, thick, 1-inch steak will put you on a better playing field with a high-end

steakhouse," he said.

Zino recommends rib-eye as "a great grilling steak," as well as New York strip, filet mignon and flatiron.

"Another favorite of mine is the flank steak, which needs to be marinated," he said. "Pat it dry. If you don’t pat it dry, it will inhibit the browning. The browning process also introduces flavor to the beef."

Rib-eye also is a favorite of John Schenk. Schenk may serve top-quality steaks as executive chef of Strip House at Planet Hollywood, but when he’s cooking at the Schenk House, he said he will "literally buy in the supermarket."

Rib-eye is an optimum cut no matter the brand or grade, he said.

"That cut is very much marbled, just by where it is on the cow," he said. "Without spending a maximum amount of dollars for prime, you can get a very good steak at any supermarket."

Don’t rush things, advises Erick Stecher, executive chef of Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse at the Golden Nugget,

"Make sure your grill is properly preheated," Stecher said. "And then another trick is to bring your steaks out as close to room temperature as possible.

"Season it before you place it on the grill. If you have a few minutes, let the seasoning get imparted into the meat."

And don’t stoke the flames too much.

"You want to cook over medium heat," Zino said. "If we cook at too high a temperature, we run the risk of charring the outside without the inside being cooked. If it’s too low, we won’t get that brown (look)."

And don’t overcook it, Zino said.

"It’s also important for consumers to remember that steak on the grill is best enjoyed between medium rare and medium," he said. "The last thing I like to see is for a consumer to take a nice steak home and then char it up and dinner’s ruined."

Zino recommends 145 to 160 degrees, as read on an instant-read thermometer. Puncture the steak from the side, he said, "and you don’t want to test it every 30 seconds."

Schenk recommends 120 degrees for medium-rare, "a little bit up or down of that for rare or medium."

The chefs said they generally prefer bone-in cuts for added flavor and, Schenk said, "it is just a little bit more dramatic on the plate. And if you’ve got dogs, there you go."

Stecher said another important tip is to not move the steak right away when you put it on the grill.

"You want to let it stick," he said. "You want a nice sear on the outside of the steak before you actually touch it."

Start it on a high-heat area of the grill, let it set for 2 or 3 minutes, then flip and let the other side sear, he said, before finishing the cooking process on a cooler area of the grill.

And don’t be in a hurry to serve.

"The real secret," Schenk said, "is to let the meat rest after you grill it – for about 5 minutes or so. That allows the muscle to relax, almost like a roast, where the juices go back into the meat and stabilize the temperature that it’s cooked to."

Then, he said, pop it back on the grill for just a few seconds.

"Get that outside surface crackling, sizzling, and you’re good to go," he said. "That’s one of the most important things. You eat with all of your senses. It really engages you."

If you have a less-than-Prime steak, Schenk suggests adding some flavor.

"You can always use a quick little herb butter – shallots, thyme and maybe a little bit of a grain mustard," he said. "Using Prime meat, you really don’t want to do any of that; it’s really about how great the meat is."

Zino also suggests compound butters, as well as rubs, and marinades for less-tender cuts.

"Don’t be afraid to season well," Stecher said. "We use coarse-ground pepper and kosher salt. We also finish our steaks with whole butter – serve them on hot plates with whole butter and brush our steaks down with drawn butter."

For recipes and more tips, go to www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com.

BEEF TOP LOIN STEAKS WITH GRILLED BALSAMIC VEGETABLES

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons garlic-pepper seasoning (divided use)

2 boneless beef top loin (strip) steaks, cut 1 inch thick (about 8 ounces each)

1 medium red onion, cut into 12 wedges

1 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise in half

1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon fresh oregano or thyme

Salt

Bring vinegar to a boil in small saucepan. Reduce heat; simmer about 3 minutes or until reduced by half. Set aside.

Press 1 teaspoon garlic-pepper seasoning evenly onto beef steaks.

Soak two 10-inch bamboo skewers in water 10 minutes; drain. Thread onion wedges onto skewers. Brush onions and cut sides of squash with oil; sprinkle with remaining teaspoon garlic-pepper seasoning.

Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals; arrange onion skewers, yellow squash and zucchini around steaks. Grill steaks, covered, 11 to 14 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, 11 to 15 minutes) for medium rare (145 degrees) to medium doneness (160 degrees), turning occasionally. Grill squash 8 to 12 minutes (7 to 11 minutes for gas) and onions 12 to 15 minutes (13 to 16 minutes for gas) or until tender, turning occasionally.

Remove onions from skewers; toss with reduced vinegar, oregano and salt, as desired. Carve steaks into slices. Serve with onion mixture and squash; season steak and squash with salt, as desired.

Makes 4 servings.

– Recipe from Beef Checkoff

RIB-EYE STEAKS & SUN-DRIED TOMATO MUSHROOM SAUCE

1 tablespoon butter

4 ounces mixed wild mushrooms, sliced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 can (14 to 14½ ounces) beef broth

1/3 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato spread

¼ teaspoon pepper

Salt

½ teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2 beef rib-eye steaks or beef top loin (strip) steaks, cut 1 inch thick (about 8 ounces each)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (optional)

For sauce, heat butter in saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add mushrooms and garlic; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until mushrooms begin to soften. Remove mushroom mixture from pan; set aside.

Combine broth, wine and cornstarch; add to same pan. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 1½ cups. Stir in mushroom mixture, sun-dried tomato spread, pepper and salt, as desired.

Meanwhile, press coarsely ground pepper evenly onto beef steaks. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Place steaks in skillet; cook 12 to 15 minutes for medium rare to medium doneness, turning occasionally. Remove to platter; keep warm. Add mushroom sauce to skillet; increase heat to medium-high. Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until browned bits attached to skillet are dissolved. Spoon sauce over steaks; sprinkle with thyme, if desired.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

– Recipe from Beef Checkoff

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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