Steaks n' Burgers
I grew up watching my father grill everything from burgers to whole turkeys in the middle of July. I learned that as soon as Memorial Day weekend rolls around, Dad pulls out the grill and we start eating lots of charred stuff for dinner - at the beach, in the backyard, even when we go to Uncle George's for dinner.
What is it about our culture that seduces us into a grilling frenzy?
Memorial Day weekend is infamous for being rainy (and yes, this year is looking like no exception), but that doesn't stop any of us. We luvvvv our grills, and we'll grill anything - pizza, mussels, peaches - just to get a whiff of charcoal and a taste of smoke.
Wanna see how much we love our grills? Grill guru Steven Raichlen, who's penned several grill-centric books, including "The Barbecue Bible" shows off his seven favorite grills in the current issue of Food and Wine magazine. What does one do with seven grills?
We've got all summer to cover the grilling arena, and I'll devote one aspect to it every Friday in a regular feature called "Flames."
This week is a nod to burgers and steak -- and the burly boys who've been pestering me all week -- with a few surprises.
I'm a sucker for a grilled T-bone or New York strip, but at $15 and more per pound, my wallet can't handle it. Not until I discovered a little-known cut of boneless beef did I resume a grill ritual that I had long abandoned.
Meet the flat iron steak, aka the top blade, a surprisingly tender cut that comes from the shoulder area.
Here's what you need to know: The flat iron needs assistance from the marination department. Nothing tricky is necessary, and please don't goop it up with a bottle of Kraft barbecue sauce. You want to be able to taste the steak instead of the sauce, right? Good.
After grilling (which takes little time because it's only about an inch thick) and resting for a few minutes, run your knife lengthwise in the middle of the steak searching for a long piece of gristle. If you're dining with friends or a date, it's a nice idea to remove the tendon in advance, avoiding any uncomfortable stuck gristle in the throat mishaps.
One more thing: Cut the steak thinly, on a diagonal, against the grain, which helps with tender bites of beef.
Best of all: the flat iron is under six bucks a pound, which makes a steak dinner party a feasible proposition. I'll be waiting for your reports and the ka-ching you have left over to buy me a bottle of wine.
I do love a burger made at home, but I find that most of us screw them up because we add too much stuff to jazz them up with flavor and whatever else we think will bring about a culinary miracle.
What happened to salt, pepper and olive oil, people? I also find that macho grillers tend to do shiatsu massage on ground meat, thus pounding out all flavor and texture into the ether. Easy, easy. Shape the patties, don't grope them.
Even when those burger balls hit the grill, everyone loves to handle them. Flip, flip goes another one. Leave them alone! Meat likes to be solitary and quiet over all that fire and smoke. Believe me, the less fussed with, the juicier the burger.
A few more notes:
Try buffalo meat for your burgers one of these days. A bit more expensive (more like buying a flat iron steak), but the difference in flavor is striking and more prominent on the tongue. Leaner than beef, a buffalo burger is lighter in texture and seems easier to digest.
If you can't find a decent roll to bookend your burger, try an English muffin for kicks. I love toasting them, then rubbing with a garlic clove for a little extra zip. Great crunch (and crannies, I suppose) as well as perfect size.
Have a delicious holiday weekend!
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