Russ Kramer is a guy who knows "where's the beef," mainly because he works for Buedel Fine Meats in Bridgeview, a 106 year-old, family-run, USDA certified company that cuts, packs and ships to local restaurants and hotels. This weekend, rather than burgers, he suggests three different cuts of beef, all widely available.
"A New York strip steak is the boneless version of the sirloin strip. It's a very, very flavorful cut; it's one of the top-selling cuts in all of the steakhouses in Chicago as well," said Kramer. "You don't want to do too much to it actually because of all the fat and marbling inside that muscle it really, really lends its own flavor profile so all you want to do is really enhance it."
That means a brush of oil, and seasoning with kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper. Onto a hot grill for a few minutes, covered, then he turns the steaks about 90 degrees to form grill marks; another few minutes, then they're flipped over; the key is not moving, checking or pressing down on them, and letting them rest a few minutes before slicing.
Then there's the flat iron.
"Very, very flavorful steak; very deep, rich flavor because it comes from the Chuck part of the animal," he said.
Russ combines a sweet barbecue rub, cajun spice and horseradish, to make a paste that is pressed onto the steaks right before grilling. Same thing: a gentle turn (using tongs), then a flip and a rest on a cutting board, before slicing them up to serve.
And finally, skirt. A popular Latin cut that requires marinating. Russ goes with oil, jammed with roasted green chiles, fresh cilantro and garlic, plus some chili powder.
The grilling takes just a few minutes, since skirt is so thin.
"There's a lot of grain in the skirt steak so it lends itself very well to marinating because the acid in the marinade - as you see I put a good amount of lime juice in there - that helps break down the muscle and make it more tender," he said.
And Russ says make sure your grill is super hot before you grill, take that meat out of the refrigerator at least 20 to 30 minutes before, so it's more like room temperature, and that dry rub he used on some of the steaks? You can also use it on burgers for great flavor.
Typically corn-fed beef will have more marbling, or fat, and thus be richer tasting but grass-fed is a healthy alternative, since it is typically leaner.
What should you ask your butcher when buying steaks and burgers for the grill?
For steaks, look at the Grade, Age and Trim: Grade - Look for USDA Choice or USDA Prime graded beef. These are the beef grades that have higher marbling and taste better. Age - Look for beef aged between 14-28 days. As the beef ages, it becomes more tender and tasty. Trim - Steaks are trimmed from whole primal cuts that can have a larger amount of surface fat. Have the surface trimmed to about 1/4" thick.
Most burgers are made from beef trimmings blended with fat. Look for burgers made from whole muscle ground chuck. For layers of flavor, look for combinations of whole muscles, like Chuck, Brisket and Short Rib.
Strip Steaks: Season steaks generously with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. (Kosher salt is made from a more natural process and provides a nice crust on the outside of the steak.) Use high-eat to sear meat - that's how you get those grill marks on the meat - 500 degree cooking temperatures get the best results. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side to achieve medium rare doneness.
Flat Iron Steaks: Dry rubs give Flat Irons a flavorful crust of spices on the outside. Rub the steak generously with the dry rub mixture 30 minutes before grilling while steaks are coming to room temp. Use the high heat method for searing. Important: Ask your butcher to remove the natural seam found in the whole flat iron.
Skirt Steaks: Skirt steaks work very well with marinade which helps tenderize the meat and adds flavor. Cook at high heat searing the outside. Skirts cook quickly because they are a thinner cut; they only take a few minutes on each side.
Burgers: 6 - 8 oz. whole muscle chuck makes the perfect hearty backyard burger. Season with salt, pepper and a hint of granulated garlic, or use a dry rub for a spicier flavor! Keep burgers refrigerated until ready to grill and always cook them on high heat. Never EVER "squeeze" them down when cooking or you will lose the precious juices - that's where much of the flavor hides.
Latin Style Skirt Steak Marinade
½ C Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, minced
Juice of 1 Lime
2 t Chili Powder
1/4 t Smoked Paprika
2 T Green Chilies
2 T Chopped Cilantro
2 t Kosher salt
½ t Black Pepper
Mix all ingredients together and marinate with steaks in a plastic bag overnight in the fridge. Recipe provides enough marinade for 6 skirt steaks.
Red Onion & Rosemary Butter Strip Steak Melt
1 Stick Unsalted Butter, softened
1 Garlic Clove, minced
2 T Red Onion, minced
1 t Dijon Mustard
½ T Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Fresh Chopped Rosemary
1 t Kosher Salt
½ t Ground Black Pepper
Blend all ingredients together and mix well. Drop by 1 T servings on each steak. Recipe makes enough for 8-10 steaks.