Clueless when it comes to choosing meats to grill, beyond those expensive never-fail rib steaks? Read up and learn how to choose and grill even the cheaper cuts.
In the meat department, we have ever-creative and colorful titles given to meats by our butchers. Sandwich steak, family steak, finger steak, and my all-time favorite – mush steak. Really? Find me a cow with fingers, or a cut called “mush” and I’ll pay you.
On to the beef. There are 5 primal kosher cuts of meat: chuck, rib, brisket, plate, and shank. Each cut comes from a different part of the cow and thus will benefit from different cooking methods.
The 5 Kosher Cuts
- The rib is a tender part of the cow, with good marbleization, and therefore is best suited to dry heat cooking, aka grilling, broiling or roasting. The exception to this rule is the Deckle, or top-of-the-rib, which is great for stews, pot roast or cholent.
- Chuck is a tougher cut, so to get the most flavor out of it, it should be cooked with moist heat, at low temperature, like braising or stewing. Chuck is also used for ground beef to make hamburgers! More on that later. Sometimes, chuck can be cut in such a way to make it useable for grilling. Those cuts are usually labeled chuck minute steak, filet steak or split steak.
- Brisket is also tough, and needs low and slow cooking to tenderize all the connective tissue and make it super flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth. Hence all the pulled brisket we’ve been seeing lately. Brisket is also hugely popular in the smoked BBQ scene.
- Plate is quite fatty, as it’s cut from the belly. This is where we get the delicious skirt and hanger steaks, as well as short ribs. The steaks are best if marinated (to tenderize) and then grilled very quickly over high heat (it will dry out if left on the grill too long). Short ribs are best when braised in a smoky BBQ sauce with lots of onions. Yum. Note: Soak hanger and skirt steak in water for 30 minutes before cooking to reduce saltiness. Also, don’t season with salt as you would other cuts of meat.
- Shank is very tough and bony, which is why it is mostly used for soups and stocks.
Now that you know where the meat comes from, and the characteristics of each cut, you will be able to ask your butcher where that “mush” steak was cut from, and how you should go about preparing it.
But, Esti, grilling meat every other day is so expensive! And imagine my big teenage boys asking for seconds, I’ll need to rob a bank this summer! Not to worry, I’ve got you covered.
Expensive vs. Inexpensive Cuts
The most expensive cuts of meat are rib steaks, ribeye, Delmonico steak, brick roast (aka French or chuck eye roast), surprise steak (aka rib cap) and 1st cut brisket. Cheaper meats include kalichel, top of the rib, chuck steaks, and deckle. All the rest fall somewhere in between. An interesting factoid: London Broil is not a cut of meat, but rather a cooking method – marinating the meat, then grilling and slicing thinly against the grain. Butchers cut it from many parts of the cow, including chuck, flatiron/oyster blade, and shoulder.
Can you substitute a cheap cut for an expensive one? Depends. Certain cuts, like 1st cut brisket, are too lean for high heat like grilling and will be tough and rubbery. However, chuck has loads of flavor, so if you get one of the alternative chuck steak cuts, it can work if you grill it quickly (although it might me a bit chewy). Marinated London broil is also a good cheap alternative. To help cheaper meats get more tender and flavorful, a good tip is to score the meat, which is cutting very shallow slits on the surface to allow spices or marinade to penetrate better. Another interesting note, real filet mignon is actually cut from the loin, so it’s not kosher. What the butcher sells as filet mignon is the center of the rib.
Here are a few more tips before I share some awesome, easy recipes to kick your bbq game up a notch this summer.
- Season your meat as close to cooking time as possible. The salt will draw out the moisture from the meat if left to sit for too long, and that will result in dry steaks.
- Invest in a good meat thermometer. The top of the line brand is ThermaPen, but it sells for upwards of $85 (also available here). More affordable options are ThermoPop at $34 and Lavatools Javelin at $27. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature between 165 and 175 degrees. Meat is at 130-135 for medium-rare, 140-145 for medium, 150-155 for medium-well, and 160 and up for well done.
- REST YOUR MEATS! The cooking process makes the juices collect in the center of the meat, so slicing immediately after cooking, is essentially like popping a balloon. Allowing the meat to rest will give the juices time to redistribute itself evenly throughout the piece of meat so that you have the most succulent juicy bites from start to finish.