THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO RESTAURANT QUALITY STEAKS AT HOME

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There are some things in life that are meant to go together like peanut butter and jelly, weddings and the chicken dance, and steaks and the grill.

While steaks can certainly be prepared indoors in a skillet, grill pan, or the oven, these methods pale in comparison to the depth of flavor that is achieved by cooking with smoke and fire.  To help get you started on the road to creating a restaurant-quality grilled steak at home, we’ve created the following tutorial.

BEEF GRADES

When selecting the perfect steak for your cookout, the first thing to look for is its USDA grade.At the top of the grading scale is Prime, which, in its simplest form, has a larger amount of intramuscular fat running throughout the meat (i.e. marbling or small flecks of white that are found throughout the red meat) and therefore yields a moister, more flavorful end product.
One step down on the grading scale is Choice.  While Choice beef contains less marbling than prime, what it loses in the richness of that fat is made up for in availability and cost as approximately 50 percent of all processed beef is graded Choice versus less than 3 percent for Prime.
Third in the grading scale of beef that is available to consumers is Select, a much leaner option that is more susceptible to drying out during the cooking process due to the lack of moisture created by internal fat.
Equally worth noting is the Certified Angus Beef (“CAB”) label on some beef.  Introduced in 1978 as a means of promoting the consistency and quality of beef from black Angus cattle, CAB is well marbled beef comparable to the Prime or Choice grades above. In order to receive that CAB stamp of approval, beef must meet 10 scientific criteria for marbling, size, and uniformity.
Finally, for those looking for something extra special for their next cookout, American Kobe (Wagyu) grades above Prime above the USDA scale with intense marbling and rich beef flavor.  While not readily available at most grocers or butcher shops, Wagyu is available online from such sources as Snake River Farms.DRY AGED VS. WET AGED
When shopping for steaks, you might find yourself faced with the terms “dry aged” and “wet aged”.  When steaks are cut, the enzymes within the meat immediately begin to break down the connective tissue, making it more and more tender as time passes.
With dry aging, beef is placed in a climate-controlled area for an average of 21 to 28 days (though certain specialty purveyors such as Pat LaFrieda Meats will offer beef that has been dry age beef significantly longer), during which the moisture within the meat is drawn out and the flavor of the beefy flavor grows stronger as time passes.  Given the time involved in the dry aging process, coupled with the decrease in weight due to moisture loss and the removal of external mold that has formed, the dry aged beef is priced at a premium.

An alternative to dry aging is the much more prevalent wet aging process.  For wet aging, the beef is sealed in cryovac and aged within the plastic for a much shorter length of time (from a few days to a couple of weeks).  Since the meat isn’t exposed to the air, the moisture level remains the same so there isn’t the same weight loss as with dry aging, though the consumer does give up that deep beefy flavor.

SIZE
We’ve all seen, and have probably eaten, the ½-inch or thinner steaks offered in the meat cooler at most major grocery stores.  While these do present an inexpensive steak option, they are often filled with hard, inedible fat (versus the soft fat that dots well marbled steaks) and large portions of bone.  Equally, the thinness of these steaks means that they will grill extremely quickly, so much so that it is easy to dry them out.
When selecting steaks, the best option for grilling is one that is 1.5-2-inches thick, allowing you to form a nice flavorful crust on the outside while keeping the center moist and tender.  Although it is not always possible to find steaks of this thickness pre-cut at a grocery store, most meat departments will custom cut steaks according to your specifications.  Better yet, find a local butcher who can not only custom cut your steaks, he or she can help you discover different cuts to try during your next cookout.

POPULAR STEAKHOUSE CUTS
Next up in the steak selection process is the actual cut. While there are countless options available for hot-and-fast grilling, the most popular cuts among steak lovers are as follows:

    • Bone-in or boneless ribeye (a personal favorite due to its fat content and flavor);
    • Fillet (an extremely tender cut with virtually no fat);
    • Strip steak (a popular steakhouse cut that lies between a ribeye and fillet in both tenderness and marbling);
    • Porterhouse (a “best-of-both-worlds” cut as it contains both the tenderloin and the strip); and the
    • T-bone (similar to the porterhouse but with a smaller portion of fillet).

Because of their popularity (due largely to the fact that they contain muscles that do little work and are therefore much more tender than those that do significant work), these steaks tend to be somewhat pricey but are a worthwhile investment when you’re looking for a true steakhouse experience at home.

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