WASHINGTON: The summer BBQ season officially begins with Memorial Day. And every good barbecue begins with meat. And those in the know know that not all meat is created equally. As consumers become more aware that the value of a piece of prime beef is more than a price point, they are seeking new ways to purchase prime quality beef, chicken, and fish. Unfortunately, the local butcher or fishmonger is a thing of the past replaced by large box stores that sell proteins wrapped in plastic on styrofoam trays. And really, there is just a lot wrong with that. Or you can use one of the online sites, like Meat The Butchers to find quality meats.
The secret that chef’s know
When you purchase a steak in a quality restaurant, the taste is remarkable. With little more than some sea salt and white pepper, a nice garlic (with just a bit of olive oil or butter) massage, the quality steakhouse delivers a bit of this is why I will never be a vegetarian heaven to your plate. Their secret is the quality of the steak and the skill of the chef. But really it is the quality of the steak.
What makes a quality piece of beef, chicken or pork:
There are keys to the secret of great grilling and they start with your shopping. You can look for local farmers that sell chicken, pork and beef products, find a trusted butcher, or shop on-line to find meat that is:
Shop for proteins raised by farmers who care for the planet, their animals and your quality demands by avoiding the use of hormones or pesticides and provide their free-range animals plenty of fresh, clean water.
From happy cows, pigs and chickens –
Humanely raised cows, pigs and chickens are healthier. Industrialized farming leads to stress (we have all seen the pictures) and the release of harmful stress hormones into the meat. Not healthy for the animals or you.
Raised on natural food and habitats –
Beef designated as “grass-fed” means the animal was allowed to graze at pasture. This means happier cows and less chance of meat tainted with E. coli bacteria.
No Antibiotics –
Antibiotic laden meat means that you may become more vuneralbe to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
No Growth Hormones –
Not good for the animal, not good for you.
If you do not have access to a quality butcher or meat market, try Meat the Butchers. The consumer website is an offshoot of The Premier Meat Company that services restaurant, hotel and other commercial clients. In addition to sending quality beef, pork, chicken and fish to your door, the company is working to educate consumers on how to buy the best possible product.
“We put a lot of our marketing budget into consumer education,” says Hadar ____. “Consumers do not understand the difference between quality protein and not quality protein. They also do not understand that quality beef, for instance, is much more satisfying to the eater, meaning they can eat less. ”
According to their site some things to look for when purchasing beef:
The specks and swirls of white fatty tissue that leads to better flavor and juiciness.
Red meat is fresh meat. However, supermarkets are known to dye their meat to make it look fresher.
If purchasing in a store or from a mail delivery service, choose meat that is vacuum-sealed.
Free Range Chicken matters –
Free range chickens, turkeys and quail are different from supermarket poultry. Living outdoors, naturally, there is less chance of meat born bacteria. A fresh natural diet means a better flavor.
Chicken free of hormones and antibiotics –
Because it is not healthy for the chickens or you. Also, the chicken should be air-chilled, not frozen.
Meeting Meat the Butchers
Speaking with Hadar Almog of Meat the Butchers, she explains that every piece of meat that comes into her store to be sent out has a known province.
Where it was raised, how it was raised, processed and shipped to her Los Angeles location. Almog speaks of “traceability” meaning that she can track any meat to the animal, when it born, how it was raised, even the well being of the animal when it is slaughtered.
Which is key to serving better-flavored meats to your family and friends.
“We have a variety of purveyors for high-end prime beef,” says Almog “We go to the Midwest for our Angus cattle, the popular. Our chicken comes from Petaluma Poultry and our pork is sourced from Niman Ranch.”
Unfortunately, the bigger box and chain stores support industrialized farming, however, groups like Meat the Butchers offer do provide to your door in forty-eight hours or less quality proteins at prices not that different from a quality butcher.
All of which makes a difference to your barbecue success.
Grilling the perfect steak:
Be it ribeye, porterhouse, or NY strip, steak is a grilling favorite. But how do you make them steakhouse perfect?
Start by searching for the freshest meat. Make it easy, and order from a purveyor like Meat The Butchers. If buying in the store, look for a bright red color. The meat should be soft but firm to the touch. The blood should be red, not brown and the meat should smell clean and a bit sweet.
A good test for steaks is shared by one of Italy’s finest Chefs, Valter Roman of the Tuscan Chef Cooking School. Put your thumbnail into the beef; when you remove your nail, its imprint should remain in the meat for a few seconds, then fade away.
You really want to spend the extra money to buy quality meats, particularly if you like steak very rare.
Steak cuts and cooking styles
Different cuts have different textures and call for different cooking styles. A prime rib, for example, has a lot more fat, which produces a softly textured, sweet meat that pairs well with horseradish sauces. A prime rib or porterhouse does well with a minimum of pre-preparation.
Tried and true is to let the meat sit on the counter until it reaches room temperature, covering it with a light rub of a little quality olive oil, salt, white pepper and crushed garlic.
Those flavors will soak in while the meat is warming. Never put ice cold steak on the grill. It will cook quickly on the outside, but remain raw on the inside.
Most American connoisseurs prefer their steak medium rare; if you’re French, you’ll probably prefer it rare. You never want to overcook steak. The longer it is on the head, the tougher and drier it will become.
Medium rare steaks have a bright pink center, not the translucent bleeding red color of raw beef. The juices should be red, but they should be clear and light, not dark. (The juices should never actually look like blood, even when the meat is raw.)
Prime Rib and Porterhouse
Cooking prime rib or porterhouse steaks requires a hot fire that will quickly sear the outside of the meat. If you cook it too slowly, the fat will melt and the meat can fall apart.
These steaks should always be served medium rare at the hottest.
If your family likes a medium to well-done steak, consider sirloin.
Sirloin, a less expensive cut with little fat, requires a moderate, even temperature to cook more slowly. It is a denser meat that slices well for platter serving. This steak will benefit from an overnight marinade and a slow grill.
Sirloin can also be slowly precooked in the oven, like a roast, on a very low heat so that it stays very rare in the center.
Just remember that the lack of fat in the meat means it can and will dry out. It needs to be well marinaded and cooked with extra fat, kept covered or wrapped in foil while precooking.
What temperature should a steak be?
A quality piece of meat should not be served over 145°F. Well-done is over 165°F; rare is 125°F. I do not suggest serving a T-bone or strip steak rare, because it does not allow the fat in the steak to melt, and the fat is where the flavors reside.
However, if you like a rare steak try it with a filet because the flavor resides in the meat itself and not in the fat.
The time to start checking is when you can really smell the flavors of the steak, not just smell the initial burn you get when you toss it on the grill.
Ask your butcher, or search online, for suggestions of cooking times based on the thickness and cut. A rule of thumb is, for a medium sized cut, say one inch to one-and-a-half inches in thickness, to cook it is five minutes over direct heat (rotating it at 3 minutes) on a hot grill on one side, then flip for three to four minutes. Press the center with your thumb, if mushy, cook for another minute on both sides.
If the flesh is firm and springs back, it should be medium rare.
Check, but as few times as possible; every time you puncture your steak, it loses juices.
At 130-135°F, take it off the direct heat, putting it on a plate on an upper shelf of the grill or covering to the side, and let it sit (rest) for 5-10 minutes. The temperature will rise another 10°F as it rests.
Garnish the plate and serve.
Buying Ground Beef
Fresh ground beef is relatively easy to buy, but what makes it tricky is not the freshness, but the fat-to-meat ratio. As in your steaks, its all about the fat.
For more flavorful burgers, try 80 (meat)/20 (fat) ground beef; for a healthier version try either a 85 (meat)/15 (fat) or 90 (meat)/10 (fat). You can purchase a pound of the grass feed, very lean meat, and mix it with a half-pound of an 80/20 mix to introduce some fat.
This gives you that grass-fed, quality beef flavor and the fat that makes a good burger juicy.
Making the perfect patty
The trick is to buy enough meat for your hamburger buns. An 80/20 patty will shrink by almost half when it’s cooked, while an 85/15 patty will only shrink by about one-third; a 90/10 patty will stay almost the same size.
There is nothing worse than a small hamburger patty hidden inside an enormous hamburger bun. A good rule of thumb is to make three patties per pound of meat.
You need to make your patty, once flattened larger then the bun all the way around so once shrunk, it fits.
Marinades, rubs and basting
Marinades, rubs and basting can add a lot of flavor to your meats. Marinades are used on tough pieces of meat like tri-tip, skirt steak or flank steak. The proteins in these cuts need the acid in a marinade to help break down the muscle fibers.
Marinades work best if they’re left on for at least two to three hours. If you have cut of beef that’s really tough and large, leave it soaking in the marinade for up to two days. The flavor of the marinade will penetrate deep into the meat.
Rubs are a mixture of seasonings rubbed deep into the fibers of the meat. Rubs are best used before grilling with any type of protein (steaks, hamburgers, chicken). The key to rubs is to use a little bit of oil and rub the seasonings into the meat. It will create a nice, crusty layer.
Basting uses s a liquid like a barbecue sauce, honey mustard or an orange soy sauce reduction. Bastes are painted onto browned meat.
Basting is best done toward the end of cooking; the mixtures can have a lot of sugar in them, and if you baste meats too early, the sugars can flare the fire and end up burning your perfectly cooked meats.
When you baste at the end, the baste reduces and caramelizes onto the meat, leaving a delicious outer layer of flavor.
When you grill you can use all three of these techniques. The flavors of the marinade, baste and rub should be similar or complementary to prevent them from fighting over your taste buds.
One trick to cooking meat and enjoying your event is to undercook your meat ahead of time, then before serving finish it off on a low grill.
If you cook to serve, check your meat with an instant-read thermometer and remove it from the fire when the temperature reaches 10 degrees below ideal; the meat, particularly thicker cuts, will continue to cook after it is removed from the grill. A steak should be allowed to sit for five minutes or so before slicing to allow the hot juices to settle into the meat instead of running out all over the plate.
If you slice the steak before serving, a sprinkle of coarse sea or Kosher salt will help to settle any liquids.
Follow these tips and you will be able to enjoy your party without stressing over raw meat, dry meat, and a ruined meal.
Here are the ingredients of some favorite rubs and bastes. Combine to your favorite flavor profile, adding a little more or less spice or other flavors to suit your own tastes:
Marinades: Orange juice, beer, olive oil, water, parsley, onion
Rub: paprika, salt, orange zest, dried parsley
Baste: reduced orange juice, soy sauce and honey mustard, lemon juice
Herbs of Provence:
Marinade: white wine, onions, garlic, leeks, lemon juice
Rub: Herbs of Provence, salt and pepper
Baste: juice from grilled lemons and oranges, and Dijon mustard
Marinade: onions, barbecue sauce, garlic
Rub: Creole seasoning
Baste: barbecue sauce
Making Perfect Spare or BabyBack Ribs
Making a perfect grilled rack of ribs requires a bit more than just buying some ribs and slapping on some Baby Ray’s. But we are here to help.
There are two basic cuts of ribs most people find in the grocery store. The spare cut is from the underbelly of the pig. They’re the least meaty and most fatty of all pork and contain long bones with a thin covering of meat on the outside and between the ribs.
Although they have the least meat, they are considered the most flavorful due to the amount of fat.
Baby back, also known as loin back or back (when small), are short, easy to hold and meatier than spareribs. Containing loin meat, backs are less fatty and usually smaller; a whole rack of back ribs weighs between 1 1/2 and 1 3/4 pounds. Baby backs are a narrower slab of the back cut from the rib end and are sometimes called riblets.
Two other types of ribs are country and St. Louis style.
Country-style ribs are cut from the shoulder end of the loin and have the highest meat-to-bone ratio with the least amount of fat. Often country-style are mistaken for pork chops because you usually need a knife and fork to eat them.
St. Louis-style are among the most popular types. These are a further trimmed spare rib with the breastbone removed as well as cartilage and tips, creating a rectangularly shaped rack of ribs.
Country-style and St. Louis style ribs will most often be available from a butcher; shopping at the supermarket you will most often find your choice limited to baby back and spare.
When it comes to understanding ribs, the first thing to remember is that it’s all about the fat content. Spare ribs are hardier and easier to cook than baby backs as the meat won’t shred during the process. However, spare ribs have less meat per rib so you want to plan three-fourths to a whole rack for a moderate to heavy eater.
My preferred method of cooking spare ribs is a warm, slow bath for spare ribs versus the dry sauna suggested for baby backs.
Put spareribs in an oven-safe dish deep enough to submerge them beneath a combination of water with 1/2 can of beer or a shot or two of bourbon, basil, mustard seed, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. You can also add wedges of onion, garlic, and carrot for additional savoriness.
Place in oven, covered, at 200 degrees for four to six hours, until the meat is fork tender. Ribs are “cooked” at 145 degrees, however, they are still going to be chewy and less flavorful. Cooking spare ribs to 200 to 215 degrees (in the bath) will help to break down fats and tissues make them soft, easy to eat and succulent.
Remove the ribs from the bath, dry with paper towel and let them cool. You can either wrap them in foil and place in the refrigerator to cook “tomorrow” or wait until they cool before you remove the “membrane” from the back of the ribs.
Using a thin or boning knife, carefully slip the blade between the membrane and the back of the rack. The following video shows removing the membrane from raw ribs. I find it much easier to remove the membrane from the parboiled ribs that have cooled.
Once the membrane has been removed, season your ribs. I prefer a dry rub at this time, adding a wet sauce prior to grilling. Your dry rub can be made at home or purchased. Ingredients, depending on your tastes, will include garlic powder, paprika, mustard powder, salt, pepper, dried coffee grounds, cumin, onion powder and brown sugar.
The following can be added to create your own special rub.
For one rack of 12-15
- 1 tablespoon of coffee beans (freshly ground)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon black pepper (coarse-ground)
You can also add mustard, onion or garlic powder, depending on your taste.
Massage the ribs with a bit of olive oil and then sprinkle liberally on both sides with your dry rub massaging it into the oiled meat. Wrap in foil and place in refrigerator overnight or place back in a 200-degree oven for up to two hours while you create your sides and prepare for your family and guests. Unlike the baby backs, spare ribs are not as “delicate” and can go from oven to grill.
Start the grill but have the charcoal pushed to the side so it is not directly beneath the ribs. Unwrap the ribs and coat with your favorite sauce — commercial, homemade or “doctored” from the store.
To save time I like to start with a good sauce (a favorite is Miss Patti Labelle’s BBQ) that does not have high-fructose corn syrup as the sugar will be what burns on the grill.
In a saucepan mix the store bought with a couple of shots of bourbon, a scant handful of brown sugar, salt, pepper and spices to your taste. A favorite trick is to ask the butcher or using a very sharp bone knife, cut off the top of the ribs where the “tips” – pieces of very flavorful meat around pieces of bone and cartilage, are found.
These pieces can be added to your sauce as it simmers, retrieved and given to your favorite eater (because they are a treat) or saved for yourself after the work is done.
You can also take those pieces and slow simmer in a vegetable broth along with onion, carrot, garlic, celery salt, until liquid is reduced by 2/3. Strain and add to either commercial bbq sauce or create your own by adding:
- 1 tsp of liquid smoke
A bit of ancho or chipotle chili powder can add some zest to your sauce.
Simmer until thick. A trick is to save some of the rib tip liquid and BBQ sauce on the side for the table. Combine and bring to a rolling boil, strain through a Chinese cap or fine strainer until silky and smooth. Return to heat to thicken.
Grill the ribs over a not too hot grill — with embers to the side — as you are actually just warming the meat and adding that final grill taste. Have extra sauce to brush on them as you carefully turn them.
Remember, they fully cooked in their bath, the sauce and grill is to warm them and give them that rich, tangy flavor that makes ribs spec