All Bets Are Off
If you're looking to feed a crowd this summer, supplies for a casual backyard BBQ can add up quickly. The good news is that costly cuts of meat aren't your only option.
There's a whole world of off-cuts—aka the less popular and, therefore, less expensive pieces—out there for you to explore. Certain cuts of meat are fashionable, while others (even if they're just as good) tend to go under the radar. Like skirt steak, which NYC's Quality Eats chef and partner, Craig Koketsu, points out wasn't always sold at such a premium.
Koketsu, who's opening a new location of Quality Eats on Manhattan's Upper East Side this summer and another one in NoMad later this year, created a handy matrix for making the most of these cuts on the grill that you'll want to commit to memory, or at least save on your phone. He details the kinds of off-cuts that are best for grilling, plus the best way to prepare, cook and serve them. If you don't see what you're looking for when you hit the store, ask your butcher. (Pro tip: Use the money you save on the most important part of any BBQ—the booze.)
The first off-cut the chef recommends for grilling is the bavette, which he predicts is "going to have its skirt steak moment soon." Also called flap steak, it comes from the flap under the sirloin, next to the porterhouse and T-bone. "It might not be as marbled and fatty as skirt steak, but it's even thicker, so it cooks up better," Koketsu explains. Marinate it in garlic, soy sauce, sugar, rosemary and orange for a Cuban-inspired flavor that will form a nice crust on the grill as the sugars caramelize.
Another cut to look out for is the flat iron, which Koketsu started serving at Quality Meats back in 2006 after seeing Wylie Dufresne use it. "It comes from the shoulder blade and yields two really beautiful flat pieces of meat if butchered correctly." It can be tricky to navigate yourself, so ask a butcher to prep it for you. This cut doesn't need a lot done to it, so Koketsu recommends a rub that will flavor the outside and give it a nice char when seared on a hot grill. Because it's such a thin piece of meat, it's important to cook it fast over medium-high heat and let it rest when you take it off the grill.
Treat a petite tender similarly, using a rub and making sure to rest it before slicing into it. Bonus: This one is great even if you don't have a grill—or don't feel like lighting it up. It does better with an immediate sear rather than sitting on the grill for a while, and it's one of Koketsu's favorite ingredients for the home cook, since it requires a little more resting time (not ideal for a fast-paced restaurant kitchen).
For something chewier (in a good way), try the bone-in short rib. "Of all the steaks, this one has the most fat, which gives it the most flavor," Koketsu explains. "It really doesn't need a lot of adornment." Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the meat before grilling, and add some compound butter to finish it off, Koketsu suggests. But "you don't even really need the fat; it's like gilding the lily." If you are going that route, try his steak sauce butter, which mixes in anchovy, garlic, garlic confit, orange zest, chile flakes, rosemary and thyme. "It satisfies that tangy taste you're looking for when you're biting into all that fat." Pro tip: When you're grilling, create a valley in the middle of the charcoal and cook the meat on the grate above, so that when the fat drips down, it doesn't flare up by dripping on the coals themselves.
And if you're feeding a really big group, opt for the tri-tip, which can serve 10 to 12 people and narrows out on the ends. You can appease your family members who prefer things well done, while the rest of your party enjoys the medium-rare portion in the middle. Marinate the meat in an Italian dressing overnight, and when it's time to grill, Koketsu recommends a technique that harkens back to his own childhood BBQs in California, when he had the honor of lighting the coals. The trick is getting them red hot before putting fresh coals on top. "They have to be glowing red and ashy gray," he says.
Check out the matrix for more details on handling and finishing each of these cuts. You may never cook another tenderloin again.
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