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.

    RECIPES

    ALL RECIPES ARE FROM COOK'S ILLUSTRATED

    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.

    FOR MANY MORE RECIPES, TO GO PAGE 2.

  • Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

    So what's wrong with marinating steak in bottled Italian salad dressing? A lot.

    The Problem: A common way to prepare flank steak is to marinate it in a bottle of Italian-style salad dressing. But while the resulting flavor can be interesting, the acid in the vinegar can ruin the texture - making the exterior mushy and gray.

    The Goal: We wanted to develop a fresh, Mediterranean-style marinade without acid - a marinade that would really boost flavor without over-tenderizing the meat.

    The Solution: We had already developed the optimal cooking method for cooking a flank steak - use a two-level fire (which lets you move the thin part of the steak to the cooler side of the grill once it is done), cook the steak only to medium-rare to keep it from getting tough, and let the steak rest before slicing to reduce the loss of juices - so we could concentrate on developing and applying an acid-less marinade. Because fat carries flavor so well, we knew oil would be a key ingredient - the challenge was to infuse Mediterranean flavors (garlic, shallots, and rosemary) into the oil and then into the steak. We developed two key steps. First, we minced the aromatics and combined them with the oil in a blender to create a marinade paste. Next, we invented a novel "marinating" technique -- prick the steak all over with a fork, rub it first with salt and then with the marinade paste, then let it sit for up to 24 hours. After marinating, the paste is wiped off to prevent burning, and the steak is ready for the grill.

    Grilled Flank Steak with Garlic-Shallot-Rosemary Marinade

    Flank steaks smaller or larger than 2 pounds can be used, but adjust the amount of salt and pepper accordingly. We prefer flank steak cooked rare or medium-rare. If the steak is to retain its juices, it must be allowed to rest before being sliced. If using a gas grill, cook the steak over high heat, following the times in step 3, but keep the cover down. If the meat is significantly underdone when tested with a paring knife, turn off one burner and position the steak so that the thinner side is over the cool part of the grill and the thicker side is over the hot part of the grill.

    Serves 4-6

    For Marinade:
    6 tablespoons olive oil
    6 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
    1 medium shallot , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
    2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

    For Steak:
    1 flank steak (about 2 pounds), patted dry with paper towels
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1. Puree all marinade ingredients in blender until smooth, scraping down blender jar as needed.

    2. Place steak on rimmed baking sheet or in large baking dish. Using dinner fork, prick steak about 20 times on each side. Rub both sides of steak evenly with salt and then with paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

    3. Using large chimney starter, ignite about 6 quarts (1 large chimney, or 2 1/2 pounds) charcoal briquettes and burn until covered with thin coating of light gray ash, about 20 minutes. Empty coals into grill; build two-level fire by arranging coals to cover one half of grill. Position grill grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate for 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush. Grill is ready when coals are hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above grate for just 2 seconds).

    4. Using paper towels, wipe paste off steak; season both sides with pepper. Grill steak directly over coals until well browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak; grill until second side is well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Using paring knife, make small cut into thickest part of meat; if meat is slightly less done than desired, transfer steak to cutting board (meat will continue to cook as it rests). If steak is significantly underdone, position so that thinner side is over cool side of grill and thicker side is over hot side; continue to cook until thickest part is slightly less done than desired, then transfer steak to cutting board.

    5. Loosely tent steak with foil; let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Using sharp chef's knife or carving knife, slice steak about 1/4 inch thick against grain and on bias. Serve immediately.

    STEP BY STEP: Maximum Flavor in Minimum Time
    1. Our novel "marinating" technique starts by pricking the steak with a fork to speed flavor absorption.
    2. Next, kosher salt is rubbed into the meat, followed by a garlic-herb wet paste.
    3. After an hour, the paste and salt are wiped off so the steak will brown nicely on the grill.

    Grilled Flank Steak with Garlic-Ginger-Sesame Marinade

    Flank steaks smaller or larger than 2 pounds can be used, but adjust the amount of salt and pepper accordingly. We prefer flank steak cooked rare or medium-rare. If the steak is to retain its juices, it must be allowed to rest before being sliced. If using a gas grill, cook the steak over high heat, following the times in step 3, but keep the cover down. If the meat is significantly underdone when tested with a paring knife, turn off one burner and position the steak so that the thinner side is over the cool part of the grill and the thicker side is over the hot part of the grill.

    Serves 4 to 6

    For Marinade:
    4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    3 inch piece fresh ginger , peeled and minced (about 3 tablespoons)
    2 medium scallions , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
    3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)

    For Steak:
    1 flank steak (about 2 pounds), patted dry with paper towels
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1. Puree all marinade ingredients in blender until smooth, scraping down blender jar as needed.

    2. Place steak on rimmed baking sheet or in large baking dish. Using dinner fork, prick steak about 20 times on each side. Rub both sides of steak evenly with salt and then with paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

    3. Using large chimney starter, ignite about 6 quarts (1 large chimney, or 2 1/2 pounds) charcoal briquettes and burn until covered with thin coating of light gray ash, about 20 minutes. Empty coals into grill; build two-level fire by arranging coals to cover one half of grill. Position grill grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate for 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush. Grill is ready when coals are hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above grate for just 2 seconds).

    4. Using paper towels, wipe paste off steak; season both sides with pepper. Grill steak directly over coals until well browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak; grill until second side is well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Using paring knife, make small cut into thickest part of meat; if meat is slightly less done than desired, transfer steak to cutting board (meat will continue to cook as it rests). If steak is significantly underdone, position so that thinner side is over cool side of grill and thicker side is over hot side; continue to cook until thickest part is slightly less done than desired, then transfer steak to cutting board.

    5. Loosely tent steak with foil; let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Using sharp chef's knife or carving knife, slice steak about 1/4 inch thick against grain and on bias. Serve immediately.

    STEP BY STEP: Maximum Flavor in Minimum Time
    1. Our novel "marinating" technique starts by pricking the steak with a fork to speed flavor absorption.
    2. Next, kosher salt is rubbed into the meat, followed by a garlic-herb wet paste.
    3. After an hour, the paste and salt are wiped off so the steak will brown nicely on the grill.

    Grilled Flank Steak with Garlic-Chile Marinade

    Flank steaks smaller or larger than 2 pounds can be used, but adjust the amount of salt and pepper accordingly. We prefer flank steak cooked rare or medium-rare. If the steak is to retain its juices, it must be allowed to rest before being sliced. If using a gas grill, cook the steak over high heat, following the times in step 3, but keep the cover down. If the meat is significantly underdone when tested with a paring knife, turn off one burner and position the steak so that the thinner side is over the cool part of the grill and the thicker side is over the hot part of the grill.

    Serves 4 to 6

    For Marinade:
    6 tablespoons vegetable oil
    6 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
    2 medium scallions , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
    1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce , minced (about 1 tablespoon)
    1 medium jalapeño chile , minced (about 1 tablespoon)

    For Steak:
    1 flank steak (about 2 pounds), patted dry with paper towels
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1. Puree all marinade ingredients in blender until smooth, scraping down blender jar as needed.

    with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

    3. Using large chimney starter, ignite about 6 quarts (1 large chimney, or 2 1/2 pounds) charcoal briquettes and burn until covered with thin coating of light gray ash, about 20 minutes. Empty coals into grill; build two-level fire by arranging coals to cover one half of grill. Position grill grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate for 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush. Grill is ready when coals are hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above grate for just 2 seconds).

    4. Using paper towels, wipe paste off steak; season both sides with pepper. Grill steak directly over coals until well browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak; grill until second side is well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Using paring knife, make small cut into thickest part of meat; if meat is slightly less done than desired, transfer steak to cutting board (meat will continue to cook as it rests). If steak is significantly underdone, position so that thinner side is over cool side of grill and thicker side is over hot side; continue to cook until thickest part is slightly less done than desired, then transfer steak to cutting board.

    5. Loosely tent steak with foil; let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Using sharp chef's knife or carving knife, slice steak about 1/4 inch thick against grain and on bias. Serve immediately.

    STEP BY STEP: Maximum Flavor in Minimum Time
    1. Our novel "marinating" technique starts by pricking the steak with a fork to speed flavor absorption.
    2. Next, kosher salt is rubbed into the meat, followed by a garlic-herb wet paste.
    3. After an hour, the paste and salt are wiped off so the steak will brown nicely on the grill

    FOR STILL MORE RECIPES, GO TO PAGE 3.

    Really Good Cherry Tomato Salad

    How do you transform juicy cherry tomatoes into a great salad? For starters, get rid of some juice.

    The Problem: Cherry tomatoes exude lots of liquid when cut, quickly turning a salad into soup.

    The Goal: Every bite of our salad should deliver sweet tomato flavor.

    The Solution: We needed to remove the tomato juice without laboriously cutting open 40 or so cherry tomatoes and painstakingly pushing out the jelly and seeds. Our answer? First, quarter the tomatoes, salt them, and let them drain for 30 minutes. Then, use the centrifugal force generated by a whirling salad spinner bowl to remove the remaining juice. But this method also eliminated the jelly, which research has found to be the most flavorful part of the tomato. We couldn't just add back the jelly (which would re-create the excess liquid problem), but by straining the seeds from the jelly and reducing the jelly to concentrate its flavor (adding garlic, oregano, shallots, and vinegar), we restored a flavorful base tomato flavor without adding extra liquid. Once we had this base, we moved on to develop several variations, including a salad featuring basil and fresh mozzarella and a version with tarragon and blue cheese.

    Greek Cherry Tomato Salad

    If in-season cherry tomatoes are unavailable, substitute vine-ripened cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes from the supermarket. Cut grape tomatoes in half along the equator (rather than quartering them). If you don't have a salad spinner, after the salted tomatoes have stood for 30 minutes, wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and gently shake to remove seeds and excess liquid. Strain the liquid and proceed with the recipe as directed. The amount of liquid given off by the tomatoes will depend on their ripeness. If you have less than 1/2 cup of juice after spinning, proceed with the recipe using the entire amount of juice and reduce it to 3 tablespoons as directed (the cooking time will be shorter).

    Serves 4 to 6

    2 pints cherry tomatoes , ripe, quartered (about 4 cups) (see note)
    Table salt
    1/2 teaspoon sugar
    2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 medium shallot , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
    1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Ground black pepper
    1 small cucumber , peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
    1/2 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
    4 ounces feta cheese , crumbled (about 1 cup)
    3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

    1. Toss tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sugar in medium bowl; let stand for 30 minutes. Transfer tomatoes to salad spinner and spin until seeds and excess liquid have been removed, 45 to 60 seconds, stirring to redistribute tomatoes several times during spinning. Return tomatoes to bowl and set aside. Strain tomato liquid through fine-mesh strainer into liquid measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.

    2. Bring 1/2 cup tomato liquid (discard any extra), garlic, oregano, shallot, and vinegar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until reduced to 3 tablespoons, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to small bowl and cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Whisk in oil and pepper to taste until combined. Taste and season with up to 1/8 teaspoon table salt.

    3. Add cucumber, olives, feta, dressing, and parsley to bowl with tomatoes; toss gently and serve.

    STEP BY STEP: Avoiding Waterlogged Cherry Tomato Salad
    1. Spin
    Spinning the quartered tomatoes in a salad spinner removes excess liquid that can make salad watery.
    2. Reduce
    Simmering the strained tomato liquid creates a concentrated tomato base for the vinaigrette.

    Grilled Garlic-Rosemary Potatoes

    How could our recipe for grilled potatoes be improved? With rosemary, garlic, and a new technique.

    The Problem: We found it harder than it sounded to add garlic and rosemary flavors to plain grilled potatoes. Coating the potatoes with oil, garlic, and rosemary produced burned, bitter garlic and charred rosemary. If we tossed the potatoes in garlic oil after cooking, the raw garlic was too harsh.

    The Goal: We wanted potent garlic and rosemary flavors in our potatoes, without bitterness and charring.

    The Solution: We needed to introduce the potatoes to the garlic-oil mixture not once, but three times. Before cooking, we pierced the potatoes, skewered them, seasoned them with salt, brushed on a garlic-rosemary oil, and parcooked them in the microwave. Before grilling, we brushed them again with the infused oil. And after grilling, we tossed them with the garlic and rosemary oil yet again.

    Grilled Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary on a Charcoal Grill

    This recipe enables you to grill an entree while the hot coals burn down in step 1. Once that item is done, start grilling the potatoes. This recipe works best with small potatoes that are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. If using medium potatoes, 2 to 3 inches in diameter, cut potatoes into quarters. If potatoes are larger than 3 inches in diameter, cut each potato into eighths. Since potatoes are cooked in microwave, use wooden skewers.

    Serves 4

    Vegetable oil for grill rack
    4 tablespoons olive oil
    9 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 3 tablespoons)
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
    Kosher salt
    2 pounds Red Bliss potatoes (about 18), scrubbed, halved, and skewered according to illustration below (see note above)
    Ground black pepper
    Large disposable aluminum baking pan (13 by 9-inch)
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

    1. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts, or about 100 briquettes) and allow to burn until coals are fully ignited and covered with thin layer of ash, about 20 minutes. Empty coals into grill; build two-level fire by arranging two-thirds of coals over half of grill and arranging remaining coals in single layer over other half. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate until hot, about 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush. Remove lid and let coals burn until fire on hotter part of grill is medium (you can hold your hand 5 inches above grate for 5 to 6 seconds), about 10 minutes. Dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe cooking grate.

    2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in small skillet over medium heat until sizzling, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until garlic is light blond, about 3 minutes. Pour mixture through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl; press on solids. Measure 1 tablespoon solids and 1 tablespoon oil into large bowl and set aside. Discard remaining solids but reserve remaining oil.

    3. Place skewered potatoes in single layer on large microwave-safe plate and poke each potato several times with skewer. Brush with 1 tablespoon strained oil and season liberally with salt. Microwave on high power until potatoes offer slight resistance when pierced with tip of paring knife, about 8 minutes, turning them halfway through cooking time. Transfer potatoes to baking sheet coated with 1 tablespoon strained oil. Brush with remaining tablespoon strained oil; season with salt and pepper to taste.

    4. Place potatoes on hotter side of grill. Cook, turning once, until grill marks appear, about 4 minutes. Move potatoes to cooler side of grill; cover with disposable pan and continue to cook until paring knife slips in and out of potatoes easily, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Remove potatoes from skewers and transfer to bowl with reserved garlic/oil mixture; add chives and toss until thoroughly coated. Serve immediately.

    STEP BY STEP: Skewering Potatoes For the Grill
    Place potato half cut-side down on work surface and pierce through center with skewer. Repeat, holding already-skewered potatoes for better leverage.
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