Deep Cuts

Local beef experts give the best advice for summertime celebrations
by Jeff Janowski

For those who grew up thinking that meat comes from plastic containers, the idea of buying steaks and choosing the best can be a daunting one. And as simple as it seems, there is a lot to know about meat. WILMA talked to a couple of local experts about their tips for buying and cooking.

Know the language: Grass-fed, pasture-raised, prime, Angus, dry-aged. There’s a whole vocabulary associated with meat. Unfortunately, food officials don’t always make it easy for regular folks to understand. It pays to do a little research, or talk to knowledgeable people. U.S. beef, for example, is categorized by three grades – prime, choice and select. If you see that meat has been inspected by officials, but isn’t graded as such, it usually means it comes from another country, said Kevin Fahy, co-owner of Randy’s Meat Center: The Butcher of Brunswick. Another tidbit? Angus is a brand, one that has been successfully marketed but isn’t necessarily a better quality. “Another brand, for example, is Chalet, and it’s one that is very good,” he said. Developing a relationship with your meat seller is a good way to get to know more. “There’s a lot of fine print,” he said. “And I think butchering is making a comeback because people are starting to learn more about what the industry has been doing.”

Ribeyes vs. Filets: What’s your favorite steak? Meat lovers all seem to have one. Filet afficianados claim they are the most tender. Ronald Koster, owner of Tar Heel Beef, said that he – and many Texas cowboys – prefer a bone-in Ribeye because it offers a lot of flavor (thanks to the bone and the fat marbled throughout the meat.) The best way to learn your preference is to experiment.

Thin vs. Thick: The right way to cook a steak can be determined by its thickness. Something thin, ½ -1 inch, can often be marinated. “That’s for something like a flank steak,” Koster said. “And anything thin, you want to cook it kind of fast and kind of hot.” For a thicker steak, something 1½-2 inches or more, there’s a different process to bring out the best flavor. “You treat it differently,” he said. “Sear it on high heat on both sides, about a minute or two.” After you do this quick cook on a grill or in a cast iron skillet, then move it to a lower heat. This can be done on a cooler spot on the grill or in a 350-degree oven. Pull the steak off the heat when it’s just under your preferred level of doneness, because the steak will continue to cook. “And remember that the rarer, the more pink, the more tender it will be,” Koster said. Invest in a thermometer. It can be helpful for food safety and can let you know very quickly if your steak is rare or medium. When you pull it off the heat, let it sit for at least five minutes before cutting into it, he said.

Try something different: Want to be a hit at the next cook-out? Give them something unexpected. Fahy recommends bison, some of which is raised in North Carolina, for its leanness and quality. Goat is one of the world’s most popular meats and has a sweet taste, Koster said. There’s more to the meat counter than just beef.