The Blog

  • Equipment Spotlight: Cast Iron

    The Incredible Hulk of Kitchen Equipment

    Cast Iron Skillet Steak Sear

    photo credit: Naotake Murayama cc

    When outfitting my kitchen, I’m a big proponent of picking tools and equipment that combine two ever-important qualities: cheapness and usefulness. Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty awesome things you can buy that do a damn good job of helping you cook like a man. HOWEVER, especially when just starting out as a new chef, there’s absolutely no need to get the flashy stuff. In my opinion, there’s nothing out there cheaper and more useful than a cast iron skillet.

    If you haven’t already, you should watch my video on how to sear (shameless plug!). That’ll explain in greater detail, but a critical step to achieve the best taste and texture is to sear the outside of meats and proteins. To do this, you need to get your cooking surface hot. Really hot. Many pots and pans, particularly the non-stick kind cannot handle the really high heats. Cast iron is the complete opposite. You can throw everything you can at cast iron – from high heat on your big burner to directly on your charcoal grill. No matter what, your cast iron will just stare you back in the face and say “That all you got?!”

    Ever wonder why high end steak restaurants serve your meal on a plate that’s hotter than molten lava? The reason is that it’s finishing the sear, helping the beef develop that crunchy outer texture. More than likely, back in the kitchen, celebrity chef and dreamboat Tom Colicchio had that steak on a cast iron skillet. I use mine all the time, from steaks to pork tenderloin to braising short ribs. If you don’t own one, then you need to drop your computer right now and go pick one up.

    One thing you should know is it takes a while for cast iron to get hot. You’ll know why once you hold one in your hand. It’s big, dense, and heavy. Say, for instance, you’re looking to develop a nice brown crust on a ribeye. To accomplish that textural wonderment, set your cast iron skillet on your stovetop burner cranked to high. Let it sit for a good five minutes. Then and only then, get ready for some smoke and add your steak to the pan.

    If and when you purchase cast iron cookware, you need to learn how to care for it. Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

    • Never clean cast iron with soap – Cast iron cookware is treated in a process called “seasoning” in which the surface is coated in oil and then heated to a very high temperature. By doing so, it helps ensure that the cast iron remains non-stick. If you clean the cast iron with soap, it breaks down that seasoning and can ruin the pan. It seems really weird and contradictory, but only clean the cast iron with hot water.
    • Always dry it with a towel after cleaning – One problem with cast iron is that it can rust. I’m super lazy about letting my cookware pile up in the drying rack next to the sink. There’s nothing wrong with that unless that drying rack is filled with cast iron. When water sits on cast iron for an extended period of time, the pan will rust, which is bad.
    • Reinforce the seasoning with light coating of olive oil – As I mentioned earlier, that process of seasoning helps keep the cooking surface nice and slick. One way to ensure that it stays that way is after cleaning, take a dab of cheap olive oil in a paper towel and wipe it across the inside of the pan. That thin layer of fat does the trick to keep your cast iron in great condition.
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  • Not-So-Pretentious Plating: Present Your Food Like a Pro

    Can I get the snobbery on the side?

    We’ve all seen it before. Flip on Top Chef or any other fancy-pants cooking show and you’ll be overwhelmed with all the over-the-top ways celebrity chefs present their food. While some of that fancy styling can look pretty cool, a lot of it is the chef just stroking their……ego. When cooking for yourself or for friends/family, you might look silly if you try to replicate Brian Voltaggio’s attempt to deconstruct a corn dog. Despite all of this, the way you present your food does make a difference. Today I’m going to show a few techniques to showcase your dishes without making it look highfalutin. You’ll get just the appropriate level of falutin.

    Always plate food in odd numbers

    Bacon Wrapped Scallops

    photo credit: Kristina Smith cc

    I don’t exactly know if it’s our innate eye of aesthetics or some sort of feng shui alignment of your chi, but dishes always look better when things are in odd numbers. This applies to the individual components and the plate as a whole. For instance, an entire plate typically contains a main course and two sides. When in doubt, plate things in threes. There’s a reason that when you’re out to dinner, you’re given five bacon wrapped scallops or three potstickers. If you ordered a sliders meal, two burgers would look incomplete and four would look…off. Keep this in mind before you’re ready to serve, as it can influence how you prepare your meal, particularly when slicing meat. I like to make pork tenderloin. There have been times where I’ve sliced it a little thinner so that I’ll end up with five pieces instead of four.

    Be careful of excess sauce and juices

    If there’s anything you need to know about proper aesthetics, it’s that a pretty dish is a clean dish. Sometimes if you take a piece of protein and go directly from the pan to the plate, the excess oils and juices will leak all over your nice white dish. Be careful about this, because these excess oils, grease, sauces, etc. really take away from the appeal of the final product. To counteract this, you can drain the grease and oil prior to plating or place your fish/pork/whatever on a paper towel before serving. You want to have control on how the sauces are distributed throughout the dish. If any oil or extra sauce is accidentally transferred from the pan to the plate, make sure you wipe it clean prior to serving to your guest.

    Color is king

    A great way to make your dish appear more appetizing is to prepare your dish with ingredients that have a bit of color. Obviously you’ve got some limitations with how colorful you can make it, depending on what you’re preparing. But you’d be surprised at the ways you can colorize your meal. For instance, I’ve made a pasta salad that called for bell pepper. Since bell peppers don’t just come in one color, I used green, red, and yellow to make the final product more festive. If you don’t have that kind of flexibility, strategically placing a garnish or bit of sauce underneath your protein can add that needed splash of color.


    And guess what – this post has three sections! Isn’t it pleasing to the eye? So meta!

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  • Bratwurst – Adding Flavor with the Parboil

    Bratwurst? More like brat-best!

    Guten tag! Welcome to Oktoberfest, the time of the year where we eat various wiener-shaped foods.


    Brats

    photo credit: Kurt Nordstrom cc


    German food is some of the heartiest and most comforting. My favorite: the bratwurst. I frequently make these during the week since they’re flavorful and don’t take too long to put together. Brats are especially good this time of year as crowd-pleasing tailgate food. Today, I’m going to tell you about a technique called the “parboil”, which I use when I’m cooking bratwurst.

    Generally, when you buy any kind of sausage – from spicy italian to a german brat – it’ll be sold uncooked. Brats are a great alternative to hotdogs, but they’re closer to ground beef as you can’t eat them raw. If you want to freak out any particularly naïve friend of yours, bite into a hotdog right out of the package. Their expression will be priceless. Anyhoo, you could simply throw your bratwurst on the grill and cook until they’re done. Yawn. Like many dishes, you can elevate brats to another level by incorporating a richer flavor profile.


    Parboil – Gently simmering in liquid until almost completely cooked through. Typically, parboiling is done to add flavor.


    Sausages are delicate and need loving. You just can’t go throwing them around and plopping them down on a fiery hot grill. The meat is kept in a casing that’s fragile and too much exposure to the high heat can break that casing. You also want to watch out and not cook them too long as they’ll dry out and get tough. The solution to this is to “pre-cook” them by way of the parboil. When parboiling, place the sausages in liquid (usually a combination of water and beer) and lightly simmer until they are almost cooked through. That way, when you go to grill, you only have to brown the brats instead of having to make sure the meat is completely cooked.

    Steps to parboil:

    • Place your brats in a medium sized pot
    • Add one can of beer and a can of cold water, making sure the brats are completely covered
    • Throw in some roughly chopped onion and green bell pepper
    • Place on your pot on the stovetop and simmer for approximately 20 minutes

    The idea behind adding the beer, onion, and pepper is to add a richer flavor to your brats.  So you might ask: what type of beer should I use?  Some people swear that you’re supposed to use a cheap beer, like a Miller Lite.  I don’t buy that.  Since our goal is to add flavor, why would you cook with something that’s completely tasteless?  As a beer lover, it can be heartbreaking for me to pour a nice IPA into the pot.  Sometimes I’ll pour the beer in, turn around, and a single tear will slide down my cheek.  You can use whatever you like, but keep in mind the fancier beers will add more flavor to your dish.

    When parboiling, you don’t have to be exact with how long the brats are on the stove.  Typically, I cook them for 20-30 minutes.  The key is to make sure the heat doesn’t get too high. The liquid should should remain at a simmer and never get to a rolling boil.  If it gets too hot, the sausage casings can break and will be harder to grill.  When you’re done, the red sausage will have changed into a much whiter color.

    Once you are done parboiling, fire up your charcoal grill or broiler (aka reverse grill) and cook for about five minutes per side, until they’re golden brown.  Easy-peasy-Japanes…er…German-esey.

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  • Key Lime Pie – The Sinatra of Desserts

    Have Your Pie and Eat it Too

    Don’t listen to what anyone says – pie is the king of the desserts.  And today, I’m going to show you why.  I’ll be honest. Normally, I don’t like making desserts. Baking is too much of a science. You need to measure (shudder) and be pretty exact with your ingredients. But from time to time, it’s nice to make something sweet. It’s a change of pace. Not only that, but occasionally I’m invited to a dinner party and am asked to bring a dish. People can be afraid of making desserts, so if you bring one, it’s a good way to get noticed. There’s a reason why the cooks on Top Chef always get voted off when they make a sub-par dessert. It can be a risky, but if pulled off properly, you’ll be the hit of the party.

    Key Lime Pie
    photo credit: Ralph Daily cc

    There are two desserts that I make that are crowd pleasers. Both of them are also part of the Andrew K White school of “looks way harder to make than they are”. These desserts are banana pudding and key lime pie. I’ll save Banana Pudding for a time when I’m out of ideas for blog posts. For now, I’m going to teach you guys about key lime pie.

    In each of my posts, I like to drive one or two major points home. This week, I really want to emphasize that many ingredients don’t mean a better dish. Key lime pie has only a few components, but when made properly, I do declare, this is a mighty fine Dee-zert. If you follow my guidance, I guarantee you’ll be the Belle of the Ball.

    The Crust (Don’t you dare use a store bought crust)

    • 3/4 stick of melted butter (6 T)
    • 1 1/2 Cups of graham cracker crumbs
    • 1/3 Cup of Sugar

    Honestly, the crust is what elevates this to the next level.  Its golden-y brown-ness makes everyone salivate.  You can buy pre-crushed graham cracker crumbs or crush your own with your hands in a mixing bowl or using a Cuisinart.  I recommend crushing your own – it’s a nice stress reliever.  Obviously if you crush your own, buy regular crackers, not the cinnamon ones.  Mix the three ingredients until it’s nice and even and press into a pie pan (you can use disposable aluminum pie pan from the grocery store).  Bake at 375 for 7 minutes and then let cool.

    The Pie

    Your pie will be prepared in the oven at 375 degrees, so luckily the oven will already be preheated from when you made the crust.  There are three ingredients in key lime pie.  Mix them, pour into your pie crust, and bake for 15 minutes.

    • 5 egg yolks, beaten
    • 1 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk (found in the baking aisle)
    • 1/2 Cup of Key Lime Juice

    Key lime juice sounds like a weird, speciality item, but it’s really not.  I find it all the time at my local Shopper’s Food Warehouse, and that place is super ghetto.  Nellie and Joe’s is the brand I like to use.  It also lasts a while, so don’t feel guilty about buying it and having it take up room in your refrigerator.

    And now for a few words on eggs. Always crack eggs on a flat surface.  If you use the edge of the counter or a bowl, you’ve got a much better chance of getting pieces of shell mixed in the “egg” part of it.  As for separating the white from the yolk, I like to have a little prep bowl on the counter and take one half of the cracked egg in each hand.  I’ll then “pour” the egg back and forth, from hand to hand, into each half of the shell.  The white will naturally separate from the yolk and fall into my bowl on the counter.

    Really, that’s it.  15 minutes. 3 ingredients. Infinity cooking credibility points.  It’s so simple, yet so tasty.  I like key lime pie because it’s sort of old school.  It’s retro and is a nice surprise when someone brings it to a party.  When in a pinch, this is a nice dessert to have in your back pocket.  It doesn’t take long to make, plus it’ll only cost you a few bucks.

    Now go forth!  Impress your friends and family, while knowing that when you make this dessert, you’ll barely break a sweat.

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  • Personalizing the Hamburger

    Become a regular Mayor McCheese

    Asian Teriyaki Hamburger

    In case you haven’t noticed the 24/7 ESPN love fest, it’s football season. That means it’s tailgate season. When you’re at a tailgate, there’s nothing better than a hamburger. What I love about the hamburger is that it’s familiar. It’s comforting. As I’ve gotten older, my palate has evolved, and I’ve developed a taste for the finer things, like a dry cabernet, sushi, and NPR. I grew up on hamburgers, and so did many people. That familiarity means that I’ll never stop loving the burger.

    There’s a lot I could talk about when it comes to hamburgers but I really don’t want to get into the actual cooking of the burger. While there are some nuances to it, it’s really pretty easy. Instead, I want to go over a few tricks to really step up your burger game.

    First off, please do yourself a favor and don’t buy the pre-formed hamburger patties that you find in the display case. If you’re buying frozen burgers, then may god have mercy on your soul. It’s gotta be ground beef all the way. The reason for this is that the best burgers are those that are made with more than just meat.

    Think of the burger as your blank canvas and you’re Vincent Van GroundBeef. With the right mix of ingredients, you can create just about any type of flavor profile. All you have to do is place the ground beef in a large bowl, mix your ingredients evenly throughout, and form into patties. Last week I made Asian-style teriyaki burgers by mixing green onion, ginger, and teriyaki sauce and topped the final product with some grilled pineapple. Scrumptious. You really can do whatever you want – jalapeño and red pepper, Worcestershire sauce, anything.

    A can’t miss is to make what I call an “enhanced” burger. This is your ground beef, with some minced garlic and finely grated red onion. When it’s done, I also like to top with some Sweet Baby Ray’s (my personal favorite of grocery store BBQ sauces). Put that baby on a toasted potato roll, and Boy Howdy, you’ve got yourself a meal. This type of burger isn’t something that has flavors specific to a type of cuisine, but is really a bit more moist and savory.

    A few other tips:

    • Depending on how health conscious you want to be, I recommend getting a fattier cut of beef, maybe like an 80/20 or a 85/15.
    • I often add one beaten egg to the ground beef before I form into patties.  Especially if you’re grilling over charcoal, it’ll help prevent the burgers from breaking apart.

    What I want to stress is that when you make hamburgers, it’s your opportunity be creative and make it personal.  If there’s a certain flavor combination that you enjoy (especially those that are savory), feel free to experiment and include it next time you’re grilling.  Not only is it fun, but it adds some variety to a tailgate staple.

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  • Equipment Spotlight: Salad Spinner

    You spin my herbs right round, right round

    First off, I promise this isn’t a boring post.  I swear.

    This is post #1 of a series of however many I feel like doing that will spotlight a some neat-o tools that I like to use when I’m in the kitchen.  Look, I’ll be totally honest.  There are soooo many worthless cooking implements that you can be tricked into buying.  It’s the same story every time: you’re in Williams Sonoma browsing the slow cookers, you spot something shiny, and before you know it, you’ve purchased a strawberry huller and an avocado knife.  The stuff that I’m going to go over is a totally not required, but it is useful.  These are some handy things to make your life easier that you should think about buying once you’ve got your kitchen basics covered.

    Today I want to go over is the salad spinner.  I used to make fun of this so hard.  The salad spinner seems like a crazy gimmick endorsed by Rachel Ray.  Believe it or not, though, the salad spinner is a pretty helpful tool.  Whenever you’re dealing with greens or herbs, they need to be rinsed thoroughly.  This includes cilantro (guacamole!), parsley, arugula, and other typically grimy, gritty leaves that you can buy at your local grocer.  Often these herbs and leaves can be pretty narsty straight from the store.  Herbs grow in the ground, so when you buy them, they can be covered in, well, dirt.  Particularly when you’re preparing something fresh, it’s super important to get the greens clean.

    Say, for instance, you’re making tabbouleh (tah-boo-lee).  If you don’t know what that is, it’s a Middle Eastern salad with small grains and lots of parsley.  It’s tasty.  If you behave, maybe I’ll cover it in the future.  Anyhoo, because tabbouleh relies so heavily on parsley and mint, the dish will be completely ruined if your herbs aren’t spotless.

    But now, you’ve got another issue.  Once your parsley is nice and rinsed, it’s wet.  Like, really wet.  You definitely don’t want that water in your salad.  You could pat it dry with a paper towel, but that can be slow and ineffective.  That’s why I like the salad spinner.  A couple seconds and boom – your herbs are dry as a bone.  You know why they’re dry? PHYSICS.

    When rinsing vegetables, here’s what I do.  Salad spinners have an outer bowl and an inner bowl.  The inner bowl has holes in it, like a strainer.  I remove the top of the spinner, take out the inner bowl, and then fill the outer bowl with a few inches of water.  I then rinse the greens in the cold water, gently scrubbing them to remove the grit. I pour out the water and repeat. Next, I place the greens in the inner bowl in the outer bowl and replace the top.  I then push down on the plunger 5 to 10 to 400 times, depending on how much fun I’m having.  I’ll wait until it slows down and then repeat for good measure.

    Again, the salad spinner is far from something you HAVE to buy.  You DO have to keep your salad greens and herbs clean.  I recommend getting one to help you save time and maybe cut down on a little aggravation.

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  • The Perfect Cup of Rice

    Rice, Rice, Baby


    The mark of a good chef isn’t how well he cooks complicated, fancy meals; it’s how well he cooks the basics. This week, I’m going to go over perhaps the most basic of all foods – rice. Don’t let your roommate convince you that you can just throw it into the rice cooker. They suck and are for the lazy. Yeah, cooking rice from scratch is a little more work, but My God does it make a difference.

    When you cook rice, you need three things:

    • Rice (duh)

    • Liquid

    • Herbs and/or seasoning



    White Rice

    First, let’s talk the grain.  Dry rice will cook up and give you a greater volume of rice when done.  1/2 cup of dried rice will yield about one serving of cooked rice, maybe even a little more than one serving.  Prior to starting, make sure you rinse the grains thoroughly.

    Next, liquid.  Obviously for the rice to go from dry to cooked, you need some sort of liquid.  Water works great.  Some sort of stock, such as chicken stock works better.  The chicken stock will give you a richer, fuller flavor.  It’s not entirely necessary to use stock, but if you have it, then you should use it.  Important advice incoming: The ratio of water to rice is 3 to 2.  For the most part, I don’t advocate measuring.  But in this instance, you best be measuring.  So for example, if you’re cooking 1 cup of rice, you should be using 1.5 cups of water/stock.

    Finally, seasoning.  Here’s where you can go nuts.  For basic rice, I recommend 1/2 of a white onion and a bouquet garni.  Yeah, I know onion isn’t technically seasoning. Use it anyway. It will add moisture and a richness to the rice. You really can use anything you want, depending on what flavor you’re trying to achieve.  Garlic, ginger, saffron, whatever.

    Cooking rice from scratch is a two part maneuver: stovetop and in the oven. While we’re doing our prep/stove-top, go ahead and pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.  You need a saucepan that can be put in the oven.


    Bouquet Garni – A little bundle of thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns wrapped in cheesecloth. These aromatic herbs will give your rice a nice boost of flavor.


    For your basic rice, chop your 1/2 onion and sweat it in 1/2 T of butter.  Generously add your salt to the pan when you add the onion.  When the onion is done sweating (it’s somewhat translucent), add your rice, liquid, and bouquet garni.  If you’re using other seasoning, you can add that now as well.  Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat.

    Next, put that pan (covered) in the oven for 17 minutes exactly.  Again, this sort of exactness goes against a lot of cooking that I stand for, but 17 minutes works perfectly.

    When the timer goes off, remove your bouquet garni, add another 1/2 T of butter (if you’re feeling decadent), and then season properly.  Proper seasoning is so so crucial, as always.  It makes such a huge difference in terrible vs. killer rice.

    Well there you have it.  Nothing that special, but when done properly, it can be a game-changer.  I once made rice for a buddy that had spent a long time abroad in Asia. After eating my rice, he said it was better than pretty much everything he had while he was away.  So basically, if you follow my advice, you’ll be able to cook better than half of the planet.

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  • Cooking Oils – What’s a Smoke Point?

    Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

    Let me set the scene for you. Saturday night, in my apartment for dinner, 7:00 PM. 2nd date with a lady friend, after hours of begging and pleading. We’re in the kitchen, and this is where I shine. I put the burner on high, pour some extra virgin olive oil in a pan, and start to sear some pork chops. All of a sudden, the smoke alarm goes off. I see the smoke….but the pork isn’t burned. My lady friend looks at me suspiciously. More smoke, followed by embarrassment and panic. The smoke detector won’t shut off. Finally, my date throws her hands up in the air in disgust and leaves me to have dinner with my arch-nemesis Biff.

    Cooking Oils Smoke Point
    photo credit: cottonseedoil via photopin cc

    Clearly, I didn’t know what I was doing. In this nightmare scenario, I made the mistake of using the wrong cooking oil. But oil is oil, right? Depending on what you’re doing, the cooking oil you pick makes a big difference. You don’t want to use the same oil to drizzle on your salad as you would to get lava hot and sear your steak.

    Before I get into the some of the specifics, let’s break down cooking oils (and fats) in general. All oils can be broken down into “refined” and “unrefined”. In the broadest sense, oils have all sorts of compounds (enzymes, minerals) within them. When an oil is refined, those compounds are removed. Think of it like oil that Exxon is pulling out of the ground. Before you can put that into your car, all the crap has to be removed in the refinery before it’s turned into gasoline.


    Smoke Point – The temperature above which an oil begins to burn and generate an unpleasant smelling smoke.


    Now back to my horrible date example. I used extra virgin olive oil, which is super un-refined. Translation: EVOO has lots of extra “stuff” in it. This stuff is what’s burning and will set off your smoke detector. Ultimately, this means that olive oil has a low smoke point.  You can tell when an oil is approaching its smoke point when the oil starts to shimmer.



    General Rule of Thumb: Dark Oil = Low Smoke Point


    An oil’s smoke point is the most important thing to consider when deciding which to use in cooking. When picking an oil, you’re balancing smoke point vs. taste. A higher smoke point means you use it at a higher temperature. It also means that the oil will have less flavor. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the oil, the lower the smoke point. Canola oil is light and tasteless. EVOO is dark and delicious. Basically just like Paris Hilton vs. Beyoncé Knowles. Both have their place, but you really should only be lighting Paris Hilton on fire.

    So what now? Well, let’s get to specifics. There are tons of different oils that you can use in your kitchen. I’m not going to waste your time going into detail on all the fancy schmancy stuff you can get for $14.99 at Whole Foods.  Here’s really want you need to know.

    Lower Heat Fats

    • Butter: The classic.  Super flavorful, but probably has the lowest smoke point of anything.  Only use butter in low, low-med heat.  Butter burns very easily and will generate a ton of smoke.
    • Olive Oil: You can buy some BALLIN’ olive oil.  Don’t cook with that.  Heating the oil breaks it down and you can lose that rich, aromatic flavor.  Super fancy olive oil should only be used in salads, pesto, and other olive-oil based consumables.  Use the less expensive stuff at a lower heat when cooking, like when sauteéing onions and peppers for fajitas.

    Higher Heat Fats

    • Canola Oil/Vegetable Oil: Fairly tasteless and cheap.  Vegetable oil can get a tad hotter, but use these for searing.
    • Corn Oil/Peanut Oil: These can get hot.  REALLY hot.  If you’re brave enough to do any deep frying, then these are your go-tos.

    Wild Cards

    • Ghee: Ghee is another name for clarified butter, or butter without any of the milk fat.  This is done by melting the butter and skimming off any of the solids that rise to the top.  You can do this yourself, or just buy it in a jar, which is often called ghee.  I like ghee because you can get the best of both worlds: the butter taste and a high smoke point.
    • Grapeseed Oil: Grapeseed oil is probably my favorite of all.  It has close to the same smoke point as the higher heat fats (medium-high heat), has decent flavor, and isn’t too bad for you.

    As with anything while cooking, don’t be afraid to experiment.  Since all burners are different, you’ll really have to.  Just look for the shimmer and you’ll be fine.

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  • Let’s Talk Parts of a Cow

    Where’s the beef?

    Cuts of Beef
    Take a look at this picture I stole from Wikipedia.

    Besides the fact that it looks like it was made in MS Paint, it should resemble a cow.  Today I’m going to take you through the different cuts of beef.  Nothing too difficult to learn, but worthwhile nonetheless.

    When purchasing beef, or any meat, it’s important to remember that the (majority) of what you’re eating is muscle.  The more use that a muscle gets, the tougher it will be to eat, and really, the longer it will take to cook.  The pricier cuts of beef, like a ribeye steak, are those that get less use by the cow when grazing on the farm or starring in Chick-fil-A commercials.  The cheaper parts of the animal are the muscles that are constantly worked throughout the life of the cow.  Keep in mind that just because a cut of beef is more expensive than another, it doesn’t mean it’s tastier.  You can have all kinds of delicious meals made from the flank (fajitas) or round (rump roast).


    Marbling – Long, thin streaks of white fat running in between the red muscle tissue.  This is good.  You want this.


    Pretend for a minute if we were to send YOU to the butcher for slaughtering (woah, this got dark, fast).  Think about what muscles you use the most every day.  Your legs, especially your upper thigh.  Your butt.  Years and years of use put stress on these muscles. The constant flexing would make these muscles very tough.  One other characteristic of these parts of the body: not a lot of fat.  Fat is what gives meat its flavor, particularly the marbling.  Some people might not like to admit this, since fat is icky and has a weird texture. Regardless, the cuts of the cow that will have a richer flavor are those that have a good amount of fat.

    Okay, enough foreplay.  Let’s get to the meat of it.

    Steak Cuts

    • Rib: This is (in my opinion) the best cut of the cow.  It’s very fatty and for the most part, very tender.  This cut of meat will give you the short ribs (delicious)  as well as the ribeye steak (double delicious).  It’s called the rib “eye” because it’s buried in the center of the rib area.
    • Short Loin: Short loin is a nice compromise if you want a good quality steak but don’t want to pony up for a ribeye or filet.  Short Loin will give you New York Strip steaks (sometimes called a Delmonico).
    • Sirloin, Top Sirloin, and Bottom Sirloin: These cuts will all give you, believe it or not, sirloin steaks.  The difference being that the top sirloin is a bit more tender.
    • Tenderloin: The tenderloin is where you find the filet mignon.  Take a look at that picture again and you’ll see why it’s so expensive.  Not only is it hard to get to, but there’s very little of it relative to the rest of the cow.
    • Flank: Flank steak is kind of an underrated cut.  It’s much cheaper since it’s a little tougher, but it’s really flavorful.  Flank steak is perfect for entertaining.  Your guests get steak and you won’t have to take out a second mortgage on your house to cater.
    • The more a muscle is used, the tougher the meat will be

    • Plate: Another name for skirt steak.  It’s similar to flank steak in that you might need to use a marinade and cook it a bit slower, but it’s still quite tasty.

    BBQ Cuts

    • Chuck: While you can buy chuck to make steaks, it’s typically served as ground beef.  Chuck is typically on the fatty side, which is why I like to use it for meatloaf or meatballs.
    • Brisket: Brisket is the perfect reason why price shouldn’t always dictate what cut is the “best”.  It’s all in how it’s cooked.  Smoky, charred, fatty brisket is as close to Heaven on Earth that you can get.
    • Round: Round is what you call “rump roast” but is also often used for ground beef.  Since the round is near the big, strong legs of the cow, it’s less fatty. Round is used for the leaner types of ground beef.

    The Rest

    • Shank: Ehhhh, this isn’t exactly what you call top of the line beef.  It can be very tough and sinewy.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be eaten.  This cut should be cooked sloooowly, typically in a moist environment (braising, in soups).

    So that’s it boys and girls.  You obviously can get less other parts of the cow, like oxtail, but this is pretty much the bulk of it.  Now go out, talk to your butcher, and cook something up.  Get moooooooovin’.

     

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