Everyone wants to throw the perfect outdoor dinner party and impress their guests with a beautifully grilled steak. But these day the cost of steak is going through the roof. There are some inexpensive cuts, though, that deliver just as much flavor as a filet or a ribeye for pennies on the dollar. And they are meant to be sliced thin, against the grain, so a little steak can go a long way.
Let’s run through three options.
Flank steak comes from the belly of the cow. It has almost no fat and needs to be grilled hot and fast to medium rare, between 130 and 135 degrees as measured with a digital thermometer in the thickest part of the steak. You can see the long strands in the photo, heading from west to east. To make tender slices, you’ll need to cut the meat across the grain, meaning from north to south in the photo. Make the slices as thin as possible for maximum tenderness. A marinade will make the steak more flavorful, but not significantly more tender.
You already know skirt steak if you’ve eaten a steak fajita. The skirt is in the same neighborhood as the flank on a cow, down on the belly. This cut is packed with flavor and significantly more fat than a flank steak. It’s one of the few cuts of beef you can grill medium to well and still enjoy. You can see the strands of the muscle run from north to south and you’ll be tempted to cut it that way. But don’t. After you’re done grilling, cut the steak into three or four portions and then slice it against the grain. Skirt steak is not the prettiest so you’ll want to use it in tacos, hoagies or quesadillas.
Flat iron steak is a cut hidden within the chuck or shoulder part of the cow. It is as flavorful and tender as a ribeye. The cut was discovered by researchers at the universities of Florida and Nebraska just a few years ago (prior to that it was ground with the rest of the chuck into hamburger) and now it’s the fifth best-selling steak in America. Flat iron steaks are extremely inexpensive and if you’re hosting a dinner party or backyard barbecue and want to impress your guests, this is the choice. It’s possible your steak will have some of the silver skin still attached (the white sliver on the right side of the steak in the photo). Just trim that off – it’s inedible.
Inexpensive steaks you want to avoid for the grill – anything labeled “round”. Round steaks come from the top of the cow’s hind leg – a heavily used muscle. The more an animal uses a muscle, the less tender the meat will be. Round steak looks pretty in the package, but it will be as tough as the bottom of your shoe on the grill.
Flank steak, skirt steak and flat iron steak – all three deliver on flavor and, if grilled and sliced correctly, tenderness. And while your guests enjoy a wonderful steak, the meal won’t break the bank.
Let’s get grilling.