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Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Make Cheap Steak Taste Good

Is there such a thing as a good, cheap steak? A superior rib-eye, Porterhouse, or T-bone steak is a wonderful thing, no doubt about it. But few of us can afford to indulge in them very often. What about all those other cuts of beef, many of them far less expensive? My mission -- to experiment with cheap cuts and figure out how to make them tender and tasty, and avoid that "liver-y" taste and texture that sometimes results. (I even found out what produces this livery flavor -- it comes from muscles that are active and have a lot of a protein called myoglobin, which is rich in iron.) A bonus for those who watch their saturated fat intake: Cheap cuts of meat tend to have the least amount of fat.
I've experimented with quite a few different cuts and techniques for inexpensive cuts of meat. Here are some things I found out:
  • Skirt steak works great when it's marinated for several hours. Either have your butcher cut it in strips (make sure against the grain) or cut it yourself, before or after grilling -- again, against the grain. It is delicious and a classic in fajitas.
  • Flank steak is often mentioned as an inexpensive cut. But where I live, it's sort of mid-range in price. Like skirt steak, it has a pronounced grain and works well with a marinade, and cut across the grain, as in Korean-Style Beef.
  • Flank steak and skirt steak are best medium-rare, or, most, medium. This happens quickly since the steaks are thin. These meats also cook more evenly if they are flipped more often -- once every minute or so.
  • Top sirloin is one of the least expenisve steaks, but it can easily get that livery flavor. In one experiment, I tried a side-by-side comparison: I got four different pieces of top sirloin, in two identical pairs. In each pair, I marinaded one of each for 4 hours in a standard steak marinade and salted the other one in a technique I found on The Steamy Kitchen Blog. The marinaded ones looked better, so my husband and I were both very surprised to discover that there was no contest: The salted ones far exceeded the marinaded ones, both in texture and flavor. They were delicious. To do the salt technique, take the steaks out of the refrigerator about an hour before cooking, and heavily salt them with kosher salt. If you'd like, you can rub other seasonings on as well. Some juice will be pulled out of the meat -- don't worry about this. Before cooking, rinse the steaks (really), and pat dry. You can add pepper at this point, but no more salt. They will be perfectly seasoned. I have also seen instructions to leave the salt on them for up to 3 hours.
  • All Inexpensive Steaks: Make sure steaks are at least room temperature before you cook them, as fast cooking makes them less likely to develop the myoglobin. Warming the meat before cooking produces the best results. You can either by put the meat in a zippered-type bag which is submerged in warm water, or for thick cuts (from Cook's Illustrated Magazine) cooked in a warm oven (275 F. for 20-25 minutes). When the steaks are warmed up, they only need quick cooking in a very hot pan or on a grill to finish them.
Following these tips will turn inexpensive steaks into surprisingly delicious meals. For more help, see Recipes for Every Cut of Steak at's BBQ/Grilling site.

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