There is more to throwing a steak on the barb’ — know your cuts!
As the sunny and warm weather is only a couple of months away, why not get the barbeque ready and be a know-it-all when it comes to choosing the perfect cut.
Michael Mandato, executive chef and culinary instructor at SAIT Polytechnic, shares his wealth of knowledge outside of the classroom on how to identify, choose and prepare cuts of meat.
Whether from farm to table or grocery store to cart, Mandato explains how to choose the right cut.
It begins with how the animal is raised that can determine the quality of meat it produces.
Local farmers who raise heritage hens, quail, pheasant and pigs produce a product that is really unbelievable, Mandato said. This means the animal is grain-fed and free roaming.
There are multiple parts of the animal that are different textures. They are cooked differently, and the specialty parts cost more.
The main parts like the rib, sirloin, striploin and tenderloin are major muscles. Tenderloin tends to be less fatty but very tender mainly because it is an idle muscle that doesn’t move sitting just beneath the ribcage. So, Mandato said, it tends to be more expensive.
When you are choosing a cut of tenderloin you are looking for a little bit of marbling in it. Marbling is the fat veins that run through the meat.
The colour of the fat is another aspect to look for. Fat on the cut shouldn’t have any yellow in it, Mandato said. It should be white in colour.
Good fat veins running through the muscle is called “well marbled.” This helps the meat be more tender and moist and more flavourable.
The exposure of meat to air causes discolouration in meats. The difference between a bright, cherry-red cut of beef or ground beef and that of brown looking meat is that the non-red meat is likely not as fresh.
It begins to oxidize, and that’s when it starts to turn and gradually sours.
Aging is often a misconception and doesn’t necessarily mean dry-aging.
Butchers break down the carcass and cryovac it. The meat will somewhat age in the bag, the moisture content is still intact and the enzymes break down some of the muscle fiber.
By the time the consumer purchases a major cryovac cut, it has likely been in the bag for about two weeks and there’s a build up of lactic acid that tends to be near the bone.
Because of this, there is a difference in flavour depending on if it has been processed, cryovaced or dry-aged.
“Fresh from the packer and aged straight away is a better flavour,” Mandato said.
Dry aged is a different process. A good dry age takes the major cuts from the animal and air-dries it in an environment that is around 68-72 per cent humidity.
With a good circulation of air that’s about 36 degrees in temperature, the meat loses moisture but retains flavour as the enzymes continue to break down the meat fiber.
Grain fed and free-roaming chickens have a significant improvement for texture and flavour over non-organically raised chickens, Mandato said. “It’s like night and day.”
The muscle tends to be a bit leaner and softer, depending on the animal.
Different breeds of cattle tend to have different textures in meat due to the environment they’re raised in.
Texas long-horned cattle live in drier, hotter conditions and tend to drink more water, so they feed less. What happens is they still build up fat, but when it is cooked the meat feels chalkier.
Angus cattle, which are a Scottish breed, tend to feed more and drink less, build up more fat and are well marbled, hence why there tends to be more Angus beef on the market.
T-bone is a great go-to cut for picking up steaks with a modest budget.
Mandato explains how the T-bone and Porterhouse cuts are essentially the same.
The striploin and tenderloin are both attached to the bone. A T-bone steak is a cut of the bone with one side having the strip and the other the tenderloin.
Striploins make great grilling steaks at a reasonable cost, as do ribeyes, Mandato said.
Ribeyes are fantastic for grilling, the chef said.
“They are cut from the prime rib so you get a whole roast, or the butcher will take it off the bone and cut steaks out of it.”
The flank, which is the belly of the animal is where hanger steaks and skirt steaks are cut from—all of which also make excellent grilling steaks, especially with the cost of beef as of late, these make the best cuts for consumer’s dollar.
Mandato said these cuts are better off cooked medium and seared with a quick grill because they tend to dry out and can be tough to chew through.
Not enough people take on cutting their own meats, Mandato said.