Getting our outdoor grill cleaned, polished and ready for summer got me thinking about how much fun it would be to celebrate. After all, the first day of summer comes but once a year, so why not do things up right with an amazing menu and a few good friends to kick off the season!
What happened next I can only attribute to a momentary lapse of good judgment. I visited the website of Lobel’s of New York, “the best source for the finest and freshest USDA prime dry-aged steaks, roasts, specialty meats, and gourmet products that money can buy.” Unveiling the mother of all outdoor grills seemed like an event worthy of a few high-quality American Wagyu steaks delivered overnight on a bed of dry ice. I checked the price. Gulp! One 20-oz Porterhouse steak: $159.95—plus overnight shipping.
Just the thought of forking out more than a hundred bucks on a single steak jerked me back to reality with enough force to cause whiplash. Surely there has to be frugal ground somewhere between Lobel’s and what’s left of the buy-one-get-one-free hotdogs sitting in the freezer.
Professional butcher, John Smith, and author of Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$, says that the cheap cuts of beef are often the most flavorful. And also the toughest. But don’t let that discourage you from buying those meat-counter bargains. If you know the tricks you can buy the flavorful cheaper cuts of meat without ending up with meat that is bland and tough.
SELECT FIRST. Don’t get your mind set on what you’ll be grilling this weekend before you get to the store. That particular cut may not be on sale. Instead, go with an open mind. Zero-in on the cuts of meat that are in season, plentiful and well-priced. And if it’s really cheap? Buy extra for the freezer.
MARINADE. Marinade is the secret to making a tough cut of meat as succulent and tender as a prime cut. Just make sure your marinade of choice contains acids like vinegar, lemon, and wine. Acid breaks down the meat to make it tender. Enzymatic action from wine, beer, cider and soy sauce also help.
Here’s my favorite marinade for any cut of beef, even kabobs. This is so flavorful and loaded with tenderizing acids you’re going to understand why I call this a miracle in a jar.
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup white wine or balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons ground dry mustard
- 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons ground cloves
Combine all ingredients in a jar or other container that has a lid. Shake well until fully mixed. Pour over meat and cover. Allow to marinade overnight or longer, turning often.
TEMPERATURE. The only way to guarantee that your meat will be moist, tender, and cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer. Forget the “poke test” where you’re supposed to be able to discern a piece of meat’s level of doneness by poking at it with your finger. You need a decent thermometer that can get deep into whatever you’re grilling.