Getting our outdoor grill cleaned, polished and ready for the warmer months had me thinking about how much fun it would be to celebrate. Why not do things up right with an amazing menu and a few good friends, even if that means grilling on a budget?
What happened next I can only attribute to a momentary lapse of good judgment.
I visited the Lobel's of New York website, "the best source for the finest and freshest USDA prime dry-aged steaks, roasts, specialty meats, and gourmet products that money can buy."
Unveiling the mother of all outdoor grills seemed like an event worthy of a few high-quality American wagyu steaks delivered overnight on a bed of dry ice. I checked the price. Gulp! One 20-ounce porterhouse steak: $159.95 plus overnight shipping.
Just the thought of forking out more than a hundred bucks on a single steak jerked me back to reality with enough force to cause whiplash.
Surely, there has to be frugal ground somewhere between Lobel's and what's left of the buy-one-get-one-free hotdogs sitting in the freezer section of the store.
Professional butcher and author of "Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$" John Smith says that the cheap cuts of beef are often the most flavorful. And the toughest. But don't let that discourage you from buying those meat-counter bargains. If you know the tricks, you can buy the flavorful, cheap cuts of meat that are not tough.
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Don't get your mind set on what you'll be grilling this weekend before you get to the store. That particular cut may not be on sale. Instead, go with an open mind. Zero in on the cuts that are in season, plentiful and well-priced. And if they're really cheap? Buy extra for the freezer.
A marinade is the secret to making a tough cut of meat as succulent and tender as a prime cut. Just make sure your marinade of choice contains acids like vinegar, lemon and wine. Acid breaks down the meat to make it tender. Enzymatic action from wine, beer, cider and soy sauce also helps.
The only way to guarantee that your meat will be moist, tender and cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer. Forget the poke test, where you're supposed to discern a piece of meat's level of doneness by poking at it with your finger. You need a decent thermometer that can get deep into whatever you're grilling.
The easiest and most reliable way to serve a perfectly grilled fare is with a probe alarm. You simply insert the probe and then sit back and wait for it to reach the temperature you have designated.
ThermoWorks ChefAlarm is my pick for the best probe thermometer out there. It's a few dollars more than the cheapest thing you could find, but this is the probe thermometer you will use and rely on for years — decades — to come. It is super accurate, reliable and durable.
A less expensive, easy-to-use, reliable option is the ThermoWorks ThermoPop digital display food thermometer. This pocket thermometer rotates the display in 90-degree increments. Hold the ThermoPop in either hand, or read it upside-down — any angle that's convenient. To check the temperature, simply insert and then wait 3 to 4 seconds for a digital display. It comes in nine cool colors.