August 8, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Burning love
for grilled steak

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

August is great for grilling, and since meat prices are expected to rise this fall, this may be just the right time to indulge in a thick, juicy steak.

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Before buying steak for grilling, check out the beef’s marbling and how darkly colored it is, and ask what the cow was fed.

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Additional Photos Below


Bring the meat to room temperature, or close to it, before grilling. This is especially important with a thicker cut that you want to cook to medium rare without overcooking the outside.

Marinating breaks down enzymes in the meat, which helps to tenderize it and adds more flavor. But unless they're grilling a cut of meat that's a little bit tougher, steak fans tend to take a hands-off approach.

"With a ribeye or the Delmonico, (I add) a little olive oil, salt, pepper and maybe a little garlic powder," said butcher Matt Fournier. "I'm a purist when it comes to a nice cut. But something like the skirt steak or even a flank steak, those are cuts that are good for marinating."

The biggest mistake people make with steaks is cooking them too long, Fournier said. "A nice cut, it shouldn't be cooked over medium," he said. "Well, even with cheaper, less expensive cuts, because then they get even worse. The skirt steak actually works out better if you cook it more towards medium. It becomes less chewy, actually."

Don't be afraid to use high heat. Make sure the grill is hot, Fournier said, "like, hot hot. Smoke-the-kitchen-out hot, so you get that nice sear."

As a general guideline, for a medium rare steak that's about an inch thick, cook it for four minutes on each side. The fattier the steak, the quicker it will cook.

Don't flip the steak more than once.

After you take the steak off the grill, let it rest for 10 minutes. During cooking, the juices migrate to the outside of the steak. Letting it rest allows the meat to resorb all that juicy goodness.

"If you cut it too soon," Spangler cautioned, "you'll end up with a big pool of liquid that really should be in your meat."

– Meredith Goad, staff writer


Generally, steak does not pose the same sorts of food safety issues you'll find with ground beef. That's because the inside of a steak is considered sanitary, since it's not ground up like hamburger, a process that can spread pathogens throughout the meat.

Cutting the steak, however, can introduce those bad bugs that can make you sick.

"If you take a raw piece of meat and stab it with a fork, that clean cavity on the inside is no longer necessarily clean," said Jason Bolton of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. "You may have just introduced what was on the surface. So use tongs to put the steak on and flip it, and make sure those are washed between touching raw and cooked. These are little things that people don't necessarily think of.

"When you use a thermometer, you're supposed to wash it after every use because you don't want to put something that's now contaminated back into a cooked product."

If you use a meat thermometer, cook the steak to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature recommended by the USDA. If you're eating outside, don't let your steak sit out longer than an hour if the temperature is at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.


SOME CUTS of beef are known by several names, which can get confusing for the consumer standing in front of the butcher's case. Here's a rundown of some common cuts and their aliases:

RIBEYE: Also known as beauty, Delmonico, Spencer, fillet or market steak

SKIRT STEAK: Fajita or Philadelphia steak, diaphragm, fajita meat, inside skirt or outside skirt steak, beef plate skirt steak boneless


TENDERLOIN STEAK: Filet mignon, fillet de boeuf, tender or fillet steak, tournedos, Chateaubriand, tenderloin medallion, tenderloin tips

NEW YORK STRIP: shell, strip, club, chip club, country club, sirloin strip or Delmonico steak



JASON BOLTON, an assistant professor of food safety at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, recommends the book "Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef" by Mark Schatzker (Penguin Books, $16). "For the steak enthusiast, it's a great read, and you learn a lot," Bolton said. "A lot of it is backed up with scientific information."

FOR A GREAT collection of steak recipes, try "Steak With Friends" by Chicago chef Rick Tramonto (Andrews McMeel, $35). This cookbook not only gives you the basics on different cuts of steak, it contains 150 recipes for classic dishes such as Steak Diane and steak-friendly side dishes such as creamed spinach and twice-baked potatoes with Irish cheddar.

GOT QUESTIONS about choosing a piece of meat or food safety? Call Jason Bolton, assistant professor of food safety at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, at 581-1366 or email him at

But how do you select the best cut of meat to throw over the coals? And how do you keep yourself from ruining it before it hits the dinner plate?

To marinate or not to marinate? Corn-fed or grass-fed? Ribeye or Porterhouse?

Here, to help you get the most out of the final weeks of summer, is our steak grilling guide.


Look at the marbling. Good marbling means the fat should be evenly distributed throughout the steak. Avoid steaks with large clumps of fat in the red meat, or big chunks of fat along the edges.

Look for dark coloring, but not too dark. A dark red means the iron in the steak has begun to oxidize, which can be a result of improper aging. This is not a food safety issue, but an issue of quality, says Jason Bolton, an assistant professor of food safety at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Ask what the cow ate. Most beef sold in U.S. grocery stores is corn fed.

"It's tough to get a good piece of meat in the U.S., in the sense of we feed our beef for the most part a product that doesn't have a whole lot of flavor," Bolton said. "If it's fresh corn, yes, it can have a fair amount of flavor. When the diet is a benign kind of corn concoction, sometimes it's hard to get really meaty-tasting meat, essentially."

Grass-fed beef can have a more intense beef flavor. A grass diet finished with corn produces better marbling.

People who were raised on corn-fed beef may find some grass-fed meat too gamey, however. It really comes down to personal preference, like choosing a glass of wine that you like.

Bolton suggests experimenting a little. Go to the farmers' market and talk with beef producers there about how they raise their cows and what they feed them.

At Rosemont Market, the butcher shop carries mostly local grass-fed beef. But butcher Jarrod Spangler says one of his meat suppliers produces a more traditional grain-finished beef that uses barley instead of corn to produce a "cleaner fat."

"The type of fat that's in corn is not all that great for you," Spangler said, "but barley-fed meat is higher in omega 3s and things like that. I don't think you would even know it was fed barley."


Remember the old game David Letterman used to play with his audience, "Know Your Cuts of Meat?" Well, we don't have fancy steak dinners or boxes of meat from New York butcher shops to give away, but here's a little lesson on which cuts of beef are best for your grill.

They range from prime cuts that cost a little more to less expensive choices that will still please your palate.

We've also included some more unusual cuts that you'll only get from a local butcher.


Your steak comes from one of nine parts of the cow: The rib, short loin, sirloin, round, shank, brisket, flank, chuck and plate.

This high-end cut, the first cut from the shoulder on the rib loin, is very popular, probably because it is so tender and has such generous marbling.

Matt Fournier, a butcher at Pat's Meat Market, says this is one of his top three favorite cuts of meat for the grill.

"It's very marbled," Fournier said. "There's a little diamond of fat in the middle and it's like the steak becomes three sections. It's just full of flavor, and it's tender and it's got the fat. It's not a health-conscious cut by any means, but it's definitely one of the most flavorful."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A good cut “shouldn’t be cooked over medium,” says butcher Matt Fournier.

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