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All Bets Are Off

Your cheat sheet for grilling off-cuts (and feeding a crowd for less)
How to Grill Off-Cuts
Photo: Anze Buh/Getty Images

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.

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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.

 

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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.

  • Bavette

    The Cut: "Also known as Flap Steak because it is cut from the sirloin flap in the bottom sirloin, adjacent to the Porterhouse and T- Bone. It is moderately chewy, with good beefy flavor and eats like a thick skirt steak."

    The Prep: "The Bavette takes well to zesty marinades, e.g. garlic, soy, balsamic, black pepper, sugar, & rosemary."

    The Fire: "Create a valley with your coals (Stack 'em high on the rim of your grill, and slope your valley downward to the center) and place the steak in the center of the valley; Due to the thickness of the cut and the sugars in the marinade, unless you want your steak up in flames upon contact with your grill, a medium hot heat is preferred. Cook approximately 3-4 min per side."

    The Final Touch: "Similar to a skirt steak, the muscle is striated— be sure to slice against the grain. Serve with simple cured orange slices, quick pickled red onions, and cilantro."

    Credit: Craig Koketsu, Executive Chef of Quality Eats.

    Illustrations: Abigail Redington/Tasting Table

  • Flatiron

    The Cut: "It's cut from around the shoulder blade, hence its alias Top Blade Steak. This cut has only been marketed since 2002 when researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences discovered it while looking for under- valued cuts of beef."

    The Prep: "The Flatiron needs a little oomph, so I recommend a spicy Cajun rub."

    The Fire: "Get your grill as hot as Hades - this Is a lean cut that does well with a little char. Place steak on direct heat for 2-3 minutes a side."

    The Final Touch: "Make sure to let your meat rest (approx 10 min), and let your guests do the slicing on their plate. This is a lean, thin cut, and if you cut into it prematurely, it will bleed out like Giovanni Ribisi's character in Saving Private Ryan."

    Credit: Craig Koketsu, Executive Chef of Quality Eats.

  • Bone-In Short Rib

    The Cut: "This well-marbled and rich cut is like eating a slightly chewier Rib Eye. Its high fat content helps it get that nice crunchy brown exterior that's usually associated with the much pricier prime cuts of steak. Ask your butcher to cut a long bone short rib lengthwise through the bone into 1" thick strips."

    The Prep: "Salt. Pepper. Done."

    The Fire: "Bring back the Valley of the Coals; this is a fatty cut that could flare up. Because of the bone, this will take slightly longer to cook through, about 4 minutes per side. And screw the crisscross grill marks— leave your steak alone and be patient."

    The Final Touch: "Serve with steak sauce or simple maitre d'hotel butter compounded with fresh chives, parsley, chervil and tarragon."

    Credit: Craig Koketsu, Executive Chef of Quality Eats.

  • Petite Tender

    The Cut: "Billed as one of the most tender cuts of the steer, second only to Filet Mignon, this muscle (Teres Major) comes from the shoulder like the Flatiron, but looks like a mini tenderloin."

    The Prep: "Don't let the name fool you, this cut can take aggressive seasoning. Raid your spice cabinet and pile it on."

    The Fire: "This is for the night you just don't feel like prepping your grill. This cut takes best to a hard sear in your cast iron pan. Sear on all sides for a total cooking time around 7-8 minutes."

    The Final Touch: "Give this a solid rest before serving. Another lean meat and you want to make sure you maintain all the juices."

    Credit: Craig Koketsu, Executive Chef of Quality Eats.

  • Tri-Tip

    The Cut: "Like the Bavette, it's also cut from the bottom sirloin. Named for its slightly triangular shape, this larger steak is the quintessential family-summer-grilling cut."

    The Prep: "Dump a bottle (minus a 1/4 cup) of your favorite Italian dressing over it. Let sit in the fridge overnight."

    The Fire: "Quintessential entertaining cut for larger parties. Because of its triangular shape and larger size, you'll end up with some more cooked ends if you are trying to get to med-rare in the center. Always great to have a variety to appease all preferences. Use a thermometer and cook for 10-12 min until your thermometer reads 125-130 degrees. The last few degrees will carry over while resting."

    The Final Touch: "A simple salad of fresh tomatoes and green beans lightly dressed using the reserved Italian dressing."

    Credit: Craig Koketsu, Executive Chef of Quality Eats.

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