Grilling Great, Cheap Steaks

It's grilling season, and many people are salivating over the thought of juicy steaks hot off the grill.

However, with food prices on the rise, we're all closely watching our grocery bills.

The good news is that there are a lot of inexpensive steaks out there, so you don't have to spend a lot of money to grill up a delicious one.

But you DO need to prepare it correctly.

And that's where Chris Kimball comes in.

On The Early Show Wednesday, the editor in chief of Cook's Illustrated and host of "America's Test Kitchen" showed how it's done.

He advised that you can't cook them the same way you would a T-bone or Porterhouse, but demonstrated two ways to turn a cheap steak into a great-tasting cut of beef.

There are four inexpensive cuts Kimball likes:

  • Boneless Shell Sirloin (also known as Top Sirloin)
  • Flap Meat Steak (also known as Sirloin Tip Steak)
  • Flank Steak
  • Skirt Steak

    Why are they less expensive than a Filet Mignon or a Porterhouse? For starters, Kimball points out, they're much thinner cuts, and they're not as tender. But -- compare their prices to the price of a Porterhouse, which can be as much as $30 a pound!

    All the inexpensive steaks above are marbled with fat, so they contain a lot of flavor; you just need to know how to prepare them properly.

    According to Kimball, the best cheap cut for grilling is Flank Steak. He demonstrated a unique method that uses a salted herb paste that's applied to the meat before cooking, then wiped off just before grilling (to prevent burning). The salt helps infuse the meat with flavor and makes it juicier. There were three different pastes on set: Shallot/Rosemary, Ginger/Sesame, and Garlic/Chili.

    For the second cooking method, Kimball used a cheap cut he don't normally recommend, the Bottom Round. He did it simply to prove that even a steak he doesn't like very much can become tasty if prepped and cooked wisely.

    Basically, he salts the steak and lets it sit in the refrigerator for three hours. He then places the meat in a plastic zipper-lock bag and submerges it in warm water for an hour. Then, and only then, is it grilled. This method can be used to salvage any cheap steak, Kimball says.

    Why does it work? Salting the steak ahead of time adds flavor and helps the steak to retain as much moisture as possible. This works much like brining does in a turkey. More specifically, the salt draws juices to the surface of the meat. The juices became a concentrated brine that's reabsorbed into the meat, bringing out beefy flavors and masking icky ones. Also, a cold steak put on the grill ends up being overcooked on the outside. Bring the steak up to room temperature before grilling. That solves the problem of the outer perimeter getting overcooked before the inside comes up to temperature.

    A few other tips for success:

  • Flip the steak every minute on the grill to keep the long muscle fibers from contracting.
  • Use an instant-read thermometer to check internal temperatures to avoid over-cooking. Kimball particularly likes the Thermapen instant-read thermometer.
  • Slice meat thinly at a 45 degree angle to enhance tenderness.



    Grilled London Broil

    Throwing a slab of cheap meat on the grill sounds easy, but the result can be more like chewing on a tire than on a nicely charred, tender steak.

    The Problem: Using a simple grilling technique on a large, tough (and therefore inexpensive) steak can turn the meat into gray, livery chewing gum by the time it develops a decent sear.

    The Goal: We wanted a grilled steak with great flavor, without breaking the bank.

    The Solution: Inexpensive steaks are often labeled "London Broil," a generic term butchers use to sell large, cheap steaks that might be otherwise be ignored. Nowadays, the label is usually attached to chuck shoulder, top round, and bottom round steaks. But each has problems: While chuck has good flavor, when it's thinly sliced against the grain (a trick that can help reduce toughness) each slice has unappealing seams of fat. Top and bottom round steaks are not only tough but can develop a livery flavor during grilling. We developed a four-step process to resolve these issues: We gave the steaks a salt rubdown, which drew juices to the surface of the meat. The juices became a concentrated brine that was reabsorbed into the meat, bringing out beefy flavors and masking livery ones. We also wrapped the beef tightly in plastic wrap and then submerged it in warm water for the last hour of salting. This step raised the temperature of the meat and so shortened the cooking time, giving the fatty acids in the meat less time to break down into off-tasting compounds. During grilling, we flipped the meat once per minute, which kept the long muscle fibers from contracting and buckling, making it easier to achieve a good sear. Finally, we sliced the meat diagonally into ultra-thin slices, dramatically diminishing chewiness.

    London Broil For a Charcoal Grill

    Tasters preferred bottom round for this recipe. While top round can be substituted, it is harder to get an even sear on its less uniform surface. We do not recommend cooking London broil beyond medium-rare. For the best texture, use a carving or slicing knife and cut the steak into very thin slices. (If you're stuck with a dull chef's knife, first cut the steak in half lengthwise, as shorter slices are easier to cut.) If desired, serve with Sweet and Smoky Grilled Tomato Salsa or Chimichurri Sauce (see related recipes).

    Serves 4 - 6

    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1 bottom round steak , 2 to 2 1/2 pounds and 1 1/2 inches thick
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1. Sprinkle both sides of steak evenly with salt; wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (steak can be salted and refrigerated for up to 24 hours).

    2. Fill large pot or bucket with 1 gallon warm water (about 100 degrees). Place wrapped steak into zipper-lock plastic bag, squeeze out excess air, and seal bag tightly. Place steak in water, covering with plate or bowl to keep bag submerged. Set aside for 1 hour.

    3. About 20 minutes before grilling, light large chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts, or about 100 briquettes) and allow to burn until coals are covered in thin, gray ash, about 20 minutes. Empty coals into grill and build modified two-level fire by arranging coals to cover one-half of grill with other half empty. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill, and heat until hot, about 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush.

    4. Remove steak from water and unwrap; brush both sides with oil (salt will have dissolved) and sprinkle evenly with pepper. Grill steak directly over coals, flipping steak with tongs once every minute, until dark brown crust forms on both sides, about 8 minutes. Move steak to cooler side of grill; cover grill and continue cooking until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of steak registers 120 degrees for rare to medium-rare, about 5 minutes, flipping steak halfway through cooking time.

    5. Transfer steak to cutting board and let rest, tented with foil, about 10 minutes. Holding thin slicing knife at 45-degree angle to meat (see photo below), slice very thinly and serve.