If you’re looking to bring something unique to your grill this summer, think beyond the standard cuts of beef. Artisan cuts – less common because they must be removed by skilled butchers – deliver all the flavor and tenderness of the mainstays for a fraction of the cost.
Three of our favorite artisan beef cuts – teres major, flatiron and tri-tip – are readily available at any full-service meat market and can periodically be found prepackaged in grocery stores. For the price – each about $7.99 or less per pound – a trip to a specialty store is well worth the effort.
The diagram at left illustrates the following cuts:
1. Teres major – also known as petite teres, petite tender, shoulder tender and petite shoulder tender – is often carved into medallions or used in steak modiga, an Italian dish found at many restaurants on The Hill. Cut from a seldom-used muscle in the shoulder, it is the second-most-tender cut of beef. (Tenderloin is the most-tender cut, and some folks argue the flatiron is more tender than teres major.) Like tenderloin, teres major is incredibly lean and benefits from added flavoring, such as a bacon wrap, compound butter or a brush-on grill sauce. This intriguing cut puffs up a bit during the cooking process, sometimes becoming 50 percent thicker than when it went on the grill.
2. Flatiron steak comes from right above the teres major and is composed of two muscles joined by a layer of soft fat. One of the two muscles that form the steak is the teres minor, which rivals the teres major in tenderness. Although the fat doesn’t look appetizing on the raw steak, it melts during cooking, basting the meat throughout the grilling process. The added fat as well as a good amount of marbling gives the flatiron steak more flavor than the teres major. But its flat shape means a thinner layer of meat that should not be cooked beyond medium-rare; cooking it to medium results in shoe-leather texture.
3. Tri-tip roast, when cooked properly, yields a number of fabulous steaks. Weighing in at an average of 1½ to 2½ lbs, tri-tip comes from the bottom of the sirloin primal cut and is triangular in shape, giving it three points or tips. Before the 1950s, the tri-tip was sliced into individual steaks before cooking or made into ground beef. Grillers in Santa Maria, Calif., made it a staple by rubbing it with a mixture of seasonings and cooking it over red oak, common in the region. On the East Coast, a steak cut from the tri-tip is commonly referred to as the Newport steak. Being a roast, this cut lends itself to the reverse-sear method of smoking: First smoke it to imbue the meat with great smoky flavor (particularly oak or pecan) and then sear the meat to caramelize the proteins and the rub on the outside. After allowing the meat to rest, cut against the grain into steaks or into thin slices.
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