Coping: BBQ’ing – an UrbanSurvival Skill

Since so many people will be spending time with outdoor cooking gear tomorrow, here’s a short course on how to make perfect BBQ. You never want the world to end — watching the nukes go off — with two wasted filets…Think of today as you’re introduction to fireball cookery.

If you are a big animal rights fan, this is a good morning to skip reading this column because we’re going to eat some of your little friends…

While it helps to have a BBQ, we also have options for people who are in places where fired cooking devices are frowned on, too.  Useful stuff, for a change, huh?

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Meat Selection

If you are planning to BBQ, pick a meat that is up to the task.  For our “perfect” Fourth, we’ve gotten hold of two filet mignons for tonight; a smaller one for Elaine and a larger one for me.

Good meats are rarer than facts in the Trump-Russia story.  Everyone talks about a great steak, but few people know where to find one.  For us, the butcher cut’s ’em.  Ask ’em to cut it like it was for their own table and they’ll generally do you well.

The USDA grades me (top to bottom categories) as Prime, Choice, Select, and Utility.

If you are on a low fat diet, then grass-fed Utility is your pick.  If you’re already old and having a WTH Day, then corn-finished Prime will leave the undertaker and your cardiologist envious.

In no particular order, good  BBQ’ing meats include New York strip steaks, top sirloin, rib, and others.

T-Bone (or Porterhouse) deserve a special mention.  They are basically the same cut.  But on the Porterhouse, the tenderloin side of the cut is bigger.  When the T-Bone has almost no tenderloin, it’s more like a bone-in rib steak.

Butchers and food chains have taken some liberties with meat names.  NY Strip, New York, NY Loin Strip all may – or may not – refer to the same cut.  Ask your butcher to explain their labeling system.  If they look away while talking, be suspicious.

Water, Water, Everywhere!

A word of two about water content is merited.  I’m not saying that water is specifically injected into beef to make it more expensive for us end-users, but you might want to read this page from the US Dept. of Agriculture.

“Enhanced Meat and Poultry Products
Many grocery stores are now offering meat and poultry products that have flavoring solutions added to them. For example, pork chops may be packaged with a solution of water, salt, and sodium phosphate (a solution that can add flavor and moisture to leaner meats). These new products also provide convenience by saving steps in preparation, such as “Teriyaki Beef in Teriyaki Sauce.” To prevent confusion, the presence of flavor solutions must be stated on the front of the package.

Enhanced or value-added meat and poultry products are raw products that contain flavor solutions added through marinating, needle injecting, soaking, etc. The presence and amount of the solution will be featured as part of the product name, for example, “Chicken Thighs Flavored with up to 10% of a Solution” or “Beef Steak Marinated with 6% of a Flavor Solution.” The ingredients of the flavor solution must be prominently identified on the label. Typically, this information will be on the principal display panel or the information panel.

The labeling term “marinated” can only be used with specific amounts of solution. “Marinated” meats can contain no more than 10% solution; boneless poultry, no more than 8% solution; and bone-in poultry, no more than 3% solution.

In the case of enhanced products, the solutions that are added to the meat or poultry, or into which the meat or poultry are placed for flavoring, seasoning, and tenderizing, are intended to be part of the product. The solutions are required by regulations and policies to be identified as part of the product names of the enhanced products, and whether the solution is incorporated into the product or is free-flowing, it is considered part of the product.

Natural Products
All raw single ingredient meat and poultry qualify as “natural.” However, certain products labeled as natural may also contain a flavoring solution provided the solution contains ingredients that are minimally processed and not artificial; e.g., natural flavoring. The amount of solution added to products bearing natural claims is not limited. All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term “natural.””

Dry Meat Cooks Better

Generally speaking if you want a good steak, you can salt it down an hour or two before cooking.  Then, before hitting the grill, rinse off the salt (use a big flake sea or kosher salt or a rough texture teak salt) off and dry the heck out of the steak with paper towels.

The idea of the salt is to draw out the surface moisture from the steak, which means it will be cooking more with fat than with water.

Steaks are salted this way but chicken (and pork) are done otherwise, but it’s a long conversation best served another time.

High Fat is Good

Maybe not when comes to cardiology, but the best steaks for BBGQ’ing are those well marbled.  This is what drives those USDA grading scores.  You don’t want great big gristle areas, but the soft fats, marbled evenly are what you want.

The Tenderizing  Discussion

There are half a dozen ways you can take a hunk of meat that is less than USDA Prime and turn it into a respectable meal.

One technique is chemical tenderizer marinades.  Papain – as in papaya – works to break down connective tissue.

Acidic marinades work similarly, but they use lemon juice or vinegar to do the breaking down.

Cube steaks are smashed with a mallet until thin – a mechanical process (and noisy).  We have a small metal hand plunger that does the same thing and doesn’t crack the granite.  It also involved actual work which is why the stainless steel on this utensil will never wear out.

Sugar also seems to work to a degree but it’s not ideal since it works best on meat that is dry not slopped into a bag and left overnight in the fridge.  Stir-fried oyster sauce beef is marvelous, but I’ve never been clear on whether it is so tender because of the cut of good meat (thin, though) and stir frying in oil, or whether the sauce has something to do with it.

You’d think I’d know this stuff by now.  At 68.5 years, I’m just passing the 75,000 meals consumed level.  I ought to suggest Elaine put up a golden arch in our kitchen, or something.

By the way, since my upbringing involved coffee from age 10, I’m about 43,000 cups into life.  We’ll skip the booze numbers…

A Perfect Steak Timeline

Last night, Elaine and I had T-Bone steaks.  Because they were a inch and a quarter thick, we salted them down for an hour and 15-minute before cooking.  60-minutes per inch. If you need a spreadsheet for that, you are a victim of a rotten educational process.   Hopefully, they taught you what cows were…

When we were 20-minutes out from cooking time, the BBQ went on and we got the fire up somewhere north of 550-degrees (probably 500-650F) on our cheap grill.

You want to cook a steak hot and fast.  Ruth’s Chris uses an 1,800F heat source that yields a reported 750-800F at the meat surface and 750F seems to be ideal.  We won’t get quite that hot, but near enough.

When the timer went off on the salting, both steaks were carefully rinsed off and then dried.

Very, very, very dry.  Lots of paper towels.

Elaine’s seasoning approach is simple:  She likes a shake-on lemon-pepper  mix.  It’s good, just not my taste…

So I rolled with (on a totally dry T-Bone): a light brushing of olive oil, a spray or two of garlic oil ( Garlic Valley Farms “Cold Pressed” Garlic Juice Spray or Pour – 8 oz.  ) and then as much fresh-cracked pepper as the meat with hold.  And then some.

Elaine’s steak goes on first – she likes medium well.  Mine followed a few minutes later.

Flip and Rest

The cooking of steak is easy enough…about 3 to 4 minutes on a side for medium-rare to medium.

But where most people seem to blow the high art of steakery is by trying to eat immediately after cooking is done.  No, no, no!  This is when salad is consumed and discussions about the wine take place.

I always give mine a flip as it comes off the grill and then we tent both in aluminum foil for 7-10 minutes.  If the steak happens to be something with less fat than a T-Bone or tenderloin/filet (say like a sirloin) I will put some butter on the steak just as it comes off the fire and leave that on top of the steak while tented (unsalted).

There is a lot of water in steak.  A little fat (butter) replenishes burned out water with fat and seems to add to the flavor.

As usual, great steaks.  Just remember as you get into tenting for 7-10 minutes, that the steak will keep cooking, so you can cook the steak a bit to the rare side and it will keep cooking in the middle for another minute or two.  (Depending on if you use Corelle plates which heat wonderfully…although Elaine isn’t fond of Corelle for reasons that I’ve never understood…)

Grand London Broil

Get you a flank steak…pound per person.  Salt for an hour, or so,  rinse, and dry.

Now score the meat a quarter inch deep going one way and then 90-degrees the other.  You should space the scores 1/4  to 3/8th’s of an inch apart.

Flip the steak and repeat.

Now take half a cup  of A-1 Steak Sauce and mix with just under half a cup of Worcestershire sauce.  Pour on the score meat, covering it all well.  Fridge for a half hour to an hour, or so.

Fire as above – the hotter the better on this one.  But don’t overcook.  The flank steak – like a round steak – is really good UNTIL you get to medium or beyond.  If you’re going there, let ‘er soak for 8-hours or longer and maybe a few more tablespoons of Braggs vinegar to help things out.


How to Cut Meat

Cut across the grain. When possible.  Nice of steaks, critical on flank, brisket/corned beef.

Look at the piece of meat you are going to put in your mouth:  If it is cut correctly, it will be cut just about perpendicular to the grain.  You can get 30-degrees off, but if you do, just remember that with long-grained beef cuts, long cuts with the grain will be terribly chewy. Cut across the grain on London broils and corned beef (and Texas brisket, too) and you will be a rock star of the grill.

The NO BBQ Options

Obviously, if you have a broiler (and can turn off the smoke alarm ahead of time – go ahead, ask how I know this part…) then a broiler in the oven is fine.  Run the fan and if it doesn’t smoke, you’re cooking too slowly.

There is another way…

Go ahead and salt the meat, rinse, dry the hell out of it and get ready like always.  But this time get a drying pan on the stove up to smoking hot.

When it’s so hot you may have to call the Fire Department, sprinkle enough salt on the bottom of the pan (it may smoke with cast iron) and throw in the steak.  Burn like hell on one side, flip, burn on the other, and as it burns on side #2, turn the heat down and tell the neighbors it’s OK.

Don’t overcook…and I don’t like those “ribbed” cast iron pans…I like flat.  But to each their own.  But a flat pan works great for this.  Not recommended with Teflon, though.

Sharp Knife!

Pappy taught us as kids (and it’s a legit Depression era saying)  “The difference between a 2-bit steak and a dollar steak is the sharp knife!”

Last But Not Least

As much as I love a good steak with no dressing it up, you might want to try $14 on Amazon’s Christain Potier Gourmet Sauce Bundle of Three 5:07 Fl Oz: Peppercorn, Bearnaise, and Shallot Red Wine. A good assortment to have and then if that’s not turned you into a George-like carnivore, his and see their madeira wine sauce…

There….some real Urban Surviving.

Write after the bypass surgery…or when you get rich,

14 thoughts on “Coping: BBQ’ing – an UrbanSurvival Skill”

  1. An “aged” steak will not bleed on your plate. Vacume seal it and leave it in your fridge for 2 or 3 weeks. No marinade needed for tenderizing.

  2. George, you might recognize this quote from a novel which was on my (and probably your) high school reading list:

    “Just show it a match, and call it done!”


    • I always like my (*little) sister’s answer to the doneness question: I want it so a good vet might still have a chance to save it.

      • Lol Maybe I’m a little bit different I like mine crunchy on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside
        And my favorite seasoning to hamburgers is vanilla extract

  3. Passed on the multiple heart bypass surgury they were trying to sell me 8 years ago back by fleeing the hospital basement where they were preparing to drug me insentinent and cut open my leg to harvest veins and 900,000 dollars from my insurer… something about, not suppossed to be knifed… never a high priced pill or pain since….

  4. Yeah, just take the horns off it, kick it in the rear a few times, and put it on my plate !! A good piece of meat is always the first step, and then a hot flame to seal in the juices.

  5. By chance, did you happen to see those two video I sent links to you via email? I’m not one to throw videos to people very often, and felt you’d find them highly interesting, considering how they break it down to non-scientific terms for those of us without degrees in nutrition/biological engineering, etc.

  6. Good info here, George. I like the “cut it like it’s for your own table ” part. But since last year, and for the foreseeable future, it’s just plant food on my table. Have a great holiday!

  7. Watch buying meat from a certain box store that starts with a big w al. their meat and all of it has at least a 20% solution in all cuts. And that translates to 20% of weight in pricing. Now call the ag inspectors. Its on the label in fine fine print therefore disclosed. Buyer beware! I only buy meat cut in front of me!

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