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New Cuts of Steak to Try on the Grill

Flat iron?? Meet the new steaks, and don't feel badly if you haven't heard of them.
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Photo by Rob Baas.

Flat iron? Teres major? Meet the new steaks, and don't feel badly if you haven't heard of them. A few years ago, the Beef Checkoff program teamed up with meat scientists from the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska to identify value cuts for consumers while minimizing "trim"--the bits that are ground into hamburger. They focused most of their efforts on the chuck (shoulder) and the round (hind leg), well-exercised muscles that are robustly flavored and tender if cooked properly.

The results mean good news for grillers as most of these so-called "chef's cuts" (because chefs prize these flavorful cuts and pioneered them) are eminently well suited to the high dry heat of the grill. They can be marinated, rubbed, sauced, stuffed, or seasoned simply with salt and pepper. For maximum tenderness, cook to medium-rare, let rest, then slice thinly on a diagonal against the grain. Some of these steaks have been slow to come to market--another good reason to make fast friends with your butcher.

Flat Iron Steak: Also known as top blade steak, this boneless cut is the first of the new steaks to become a runaway commercial success, outselling T-bones and porterhouses. For tenderness, it is second only to filet mignon, say the meat scientists. Surprising, as unlike most steaks, it's cut with the grain. There are four steaks per animal, each an even thickness and between 6 and 8 ounces. Beefy-tasting with a fine texture and good marbling, this steak wallowed in obscurity for so long because of a medial line of gristle--almost always removed before sale. The name flat iron is an old meat industry term thought to be inspired by the flat irons used by laundresses in days gone by.

Shoulder Petite Tender: Teres major is a hidden gem in the shoulder clod. Weighing 3/4 to 1 pound, it resembles nothing so much as a small beef tenderloin. It can be smoke-roasted whole or sliced into medallions like filets mignon. The shoulder petite tender (which incidentally, is tender) has more flavor than its pricy counterpart. There is almost no waste, though we urge you to remove any silverskin if the butcher has not done so.

Denver Steak: The Japanese call this pillowy cut from the underblade of the chuck zabuton after a cushion used in Zen meditation. But focus groups in the U.S. liked the sound and easy memorability of Denver cut. (Confusingly, this steak is sometimes sold as boneless short ribs, though it isn't a rib at all.) Found deep in the shoulder, this richly marbled cut is very grillable. Not widely available yet. But it will be.

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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Project Smoke on public television. His web site is BarbecueBible.com.