Raising The Steaks

OmahaSteaks.com, Inc.

Wide Open Space

GUEST: Waiter

    I think it's safe to say John Wayne ate steak. And if there's a meal more fundamentally American, I don't know what it is. I mean, think about it. Steak is a meal born of wide-open spaces, big skies, and even bigger wallets. Of course John Wayne ate steak! He was a stinkin' millionaire, a movie star! Steak's been the favorite chow of the rich and  famous ever since refrigerated boxcars and feedlots made them readily available in the late 19th century. Before then, pretty much only cowboys got to eat steak.
    Now I'm not complaining, okay? I mean, this T-bone is sweet, believe me. I just feel that Average Joes like me shouldn't have to fork over a fistful of presidents every time we want to eat one. [hands waiter his credit card] So, the thing that I'm thinking is that we ...

WAITER: Sir, we don't take gas cards.
AB: Oh. Sorry, I, I didn't notice that.

    So I've been thinking, ever since our first steak show ...

AB: Whew, how much?

... that we should really take some time to look at those oft-overlooked cuts that, when deftly handled ...

AB: Take it all. [gives all his cash to the waiter]

    ... can deliver delight without delivering you into debt. Of course, if we want to get top-drawer flavor at bottom drawer prices, we're going to have to familiarize ourselves with a little offbeat bovine anatomy, and we're going to have to bone up on our tactical skills.

WAITER: [hands AB a few coins as change]
AB: [takes one coin] Oh, thank you. You can keep the rest, Son.

    So stick around, won't you? Because in the next half-hour, we're going to prove beyond a doubt that steak doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg in order to be Good Eats.

Wide Open Space


    As you may recall from our premiere episode, "Steak Your Claim," the steaks that we buy down at the local mega-mart are actually cut, or fabricated, from larger cuts, or primals. You may also recall that the real money steaks come from [AB goes to demonstrate on a cow] ...

COW: Moooo.
AB: Okay, all right, I'll, uh ...
COW: Moooo.

    [spies two guys sporting the classic cow costume] You may also recall that the real money steaks— the tenderloin, ribeye and whatnot— come from the middle of the cow, on the back. Why? Well, because it's the furthest from the horn and the hoof.


AB: [to the real cows behind him] I'll get to you later!

    Don't understand what I'm talking about? Well, just make like a cow.
    [AB gets down on all "fours"] Ugh! Forward, march! Now you're going to notice, pretty quick, that your neck, your shoulders, your arms and your rump get tired mighty fast. It's cause they're bearing all the load. Well, same on a steer, which is why the cuts taken from those areas are pretty gosh darn tough. Now, matter of fact, the only areas that don't get really tired are your back and your abdominals.
    Now the back doesn't do a lot of work on a steer, either. And that's why the cuts from those areas are relatively tender, and relatively expensive. Now, as for your abdominals, well they may not be bearing any load, but remember, whether you're a cow or a person trying to walk like a cow, they do work 24-7, doing a job we call breathing. Which is why those cuts will be really really tough, if they're not cooked with care. And it is care worth taking, because ...

AB: [to the fake cow who's been following AB] Bessie! Come on, come on!

... because those cuts, from the area called the 'plate,' are where we get flank steaks and the wonderful skirt steak.

AB: Good girl!
COW: Moo.

Father's Day is the biggest beef-eating day of the year,
with over 80 million pounds consumed.

Whole Foods: Atlanta, GA - 1:10 pm

    In the days before World War II, plate-based cuts like the flank and skirt steak were called "butcher's cuts." That's because butchers had such a hard time selling them during the week that they usually took them home on Saturday night and enjoyed them on the cheap. But following World War II, a flank-based application called 'London broil' became all the rage in America, but only in America. In London, they never heard of it. I never have quite figured that out. Anyway, the price of flank steak has been going up ever since. But that's okay with me, because I have always preferred skirt steak.
    Now if you have ever eaten at a Tex-Mex place, you've probably had fajitas, and therefore skirt steak. But, I'm betting that was outside skirt steak, and outside skirt's kind of a scrawny piece of meat, kind of tough and greasy, and it's really only good for, well, fajitas.

    But inside skirt, that's a whole other animal. Take a look at this. What's unique is this grain structure. It's very, very pronounced, and it runs crosswise, rather than up and down, the way it does in, say, a strip steak. This grain provides us with some challenges, and with some real advantages.

Inside Skirt Steak

    Now one steak is usually enough for about eight diners, and this one weighs in at about two and a half pounds. It's perfect. As for all this fat, don't worry about it. It's going to melt right off.

A carpetbag steak is a large sirloin steak, slit and stuffed with oysters.

The Kitchen

    This skirt steak, with its high surface-to-mass ratio and vertical grain, responds especially well to marination, say, half a cup of olive oil to help carry the fat-soluble flavors and lubricate the meat fibers, a third of a cup of soy sauce, that's salt— you know— 4 scallions, 2 large cloves of garlic, or say 6 to 8 little ones, the juice of 2 ripe limes— that's acid, you know— half a teaspoon each red pepper flakes and ground cumin, and last but not least, 3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar. Oh, and I like to grate mine the old-fashioned way, from what they call in Mexico a piloncillo. Now just give everything a whirl.

1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
4 Scallions
2 Cloves Garlic
Juice Of 2 Limes
1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 tsp. Ground Cumin
3 Tbs. Dark Brown Sugar

    Marinade meat- contact is key here, so I don't like to do my marinating in a dish or a pan. I like to do it in a zip-top bag. The biggest one you can get hold of. Now to make this a little bit easier to deal with, I've cut the steak into three pieces. I'm just going to stick that all inside the bag. I'm not going to care how I get it in there. There we go. Then just pour in the marinade. Right on top, nice and thick. Now when you seal the bag, get as much of the air out as possible. I'm just going to kind of leave a little-bitty hole. Deflate. There we go. Nice firm seal. Then just kind of squish it around. This is the fun part. Let your kids do it.
    Now I really don't think this is going to leak in the refrigerator, but you never know, and you can't fool with cross-contamination. So, we will stick with our sanitation protocols. Put this on the bottom shelf.

    Now, since the surface-to-mass ratio is so high, that only has to marinate for about an hour. And I know what you're thinking right now. You're wondering, "What exactly is the difference between a brine and a marinade?" Good question.

Marinate 1 Hour Minimum

The juiciness of meat is determined by its doneness: the rarer, the juicer.

The Kitchen

    A brine is essentially salty water, as in "briny deep." A piece of meat soaked in a brine absorbs salt and water, and so it tends to cook up moister and more flavorful than a non-brined piece of meat.

Brine = Salty Water

    The word 'marinade' comes from the word 'marine,' but technically speaking, marinades contain acids, such as wine, vinegar and citrus juice. Now despite the fact hundreds of horror movies have conditioned us to believe that acids dissolve meats on contact, the truth is, commercial tenderizers use enzymes, not acids, to break foods down.

Acid dissolves
meat on contact!

    One of the most common is called 'papain,' and it's extracted from papayas and pineapples.


    If you want to see papain in action, just mix up some stew meat, say, some pork, some mashed papaya chunks, maybe a little red pepper for color, cover, and bake for a couple of hours. [takes a bite and then spits it out]
    Okay, that was hot. But it was also extremely mushy, like cat food. And even if you like that sort of thing, papain can't do its thing unless it reaches oven temperatures. So marinating meat in it doesn't make any sense, okay?
    So, what have learned? Well, we've learned that acid doesn't tenderize meat nearly as well as enzymes. But acids can help you to tenderize your own food. That's because acids taste tangy, and tangy tastes tell our saliva glands to do their stuff, and saliva is full of enzymes.

Beef is an excellent source of B vitamins, iron, and types
of fat that may help prevent certain cancers.

Backyard Grill

    Since it is wafer thin, skirt steak needs to be cooked quickly. Otherwise it won't have a chance to develop that crispy crust it needs before the interior turns to toast. This means we need to apply direct heat, but as anyone who's ever cooked a steak over charcoal can attest, this almost always results in flame-ups. You know, the soot-producing flames that result anytime the fat runs out of the meat, travels through the air onto the coals below.

Direct Heat + Meat = Flare-ups

    The way I see it, the meat and the heat are must-haves in this equation, but the air, not so much. So we don't need this. That way, there's no air, and if there's no air, there's no way we can have flames. So, we will cover the meat nicely, and do a little ash management. Obviously you don't want to do this near your house. Fire in the hole! [turns a hair dryer onto the coals and blows away the ash]
    Uncover meat. [places steaks right onto the coals]

    No, no I'm not crazy. Here's the thing. Now the coals directly under the meat can't get any oxygen, so there won't be any flames. That is going to be perfectly charred in 60 seconds. And I don't care how much it hisses and how much it smokes or complains, do not touch that!

Cook 60 sec. On Side A

American grocery stores sell about 10.7 million pounds of skirt steak per year.

    Now I'll flip them over. Ah, look at that mahogany sear! Yes, odds are good some charcoal is going to stick. Just pick it up and move it. There. Now we flip and allow to cook for another 60 seconds. Again, no touching!

Cook 60 sec. On Side B

    Sixty seconds are up, so we'll remove our meat to a nice clean piece of double-thick, heavy-duty aluminum foil, double-layers, of course. And wrap firmly. Now this isn't actually resting, okay? Because there is a lot of heat still in there. So think of it as a post-grill braise that'll help to break down the connective tissues.

    You know, I hate to see all that heat down there go to waste, so while this does its thing, grab a nice, heavy, cast-iron skillet, say something in the 12 inch range, and slap it right down on the coals. Give that 5 to 10 minutes to heat up. That'll be just enough time to fabricate some fajita fixings.


The Kitchen

[AB juliennes the peppers and cuts the onion into wedges]

1 Large Red Bell Pepper
1 Large Green Bell Pepper
1 Large Onion, Wedged

Backyard Grill

[AB tosses the veggies around in a bowl as he walks them to the skillet, dumps them in and spreads them out]

Too Lightly With Vegetable Oil

Legend says Henry VIII knighted a rib of beef, thus giving us "Sir Loin."

Backyard Grill

[AB takes the veggies out of the skillet and plates them when done]

Cook veggies until softened and blackened around the edges - three minutes tops.

The Kitchen

    Mmm, yum! Skirt steak. Gonna have some skirt steak. Gonna have ... Wait a minute. You know, how you slice skirt steak, or even flank steak, for that matter, matters almost as much as how you cook it. For instance, if you were to take a slice with the grain, it might look very appetizing. But, when you put that in your mouth ...

    [voice over] It would be a lot like chewing on a bunch of pieces of garden hose wrapped up in plastic wrap. The plastic wrap would be the connective tissue. Long meat fibers equal a lot of chewing. But, if you were to take a very sharp knife and slice very thin slices across the grain, well, that would be another story altogether. That way, you'd have something like this. A slice containing very, very short pieces of meat fiber. When you chew this, it just falls apart in your mouth, and that is tenderness.

    So, our strategy here is to cut as thinly as we can, against the grain, thusly. Now there are some recipes out there that will tell you that this is not the right thing to do, because it doesn't look good on the plate. They'll tell you to cut on a bias, kind of a 45-degree angle, like this. Now I'll grant you, that looks very, very pretty laid out on a plate. But, know this: because the meat fibers are longer in this, this piece is going to be a little bit chewier than this piece. And let's face it, if it's all inside a fajita, you're not going to see it anyway. But cut it however you like.



    Once you do get everything sliced up, I like to move everything back into the pouch. Why? Well, have a look at all that lovely sauce in there. Mmm.

Backyard Grill

[AB sits down and eats his fajita]

Professional eater on closed course. Don't try this at home.

Fajita comes from the Spanish word faja, for "girdle" or "strip."

Wide Open Space

    When shopping for beefsteak bargains, it's always good to keep the concept of the transitional neighborhood in mind. Let me show you what I mean. For instance, here we have the sirloin. It sits slap-dap in between the short-loin, home of the Tony T-bone and the marvelous filet mignon, and the round, home to those big dry chunks that they carve at cheap weddings. Of course, as anyone who's ever bought real estate in a transitional neighborhood will tell you, the art is in knowing exactly where to look.
    For instance, the bottom sirloin? Dry, chewy. Not worth the small amount of the money it costs. But the top sirloin, what a bargain, and, full of flavor, and very juicy, if cooked properly.

AB: Good girl.
COW: Moo.

Whole Foods: Atlanta, GA - 3:03 pm

    So, sirloin names to look for, depending on your region: top sirloin, top butt steak, center-cut sirloin and hip sirloin steak.

Top Sirloin
Top Butt Steak
Center Cut Sirloin
Hip Sirloin Steak

    Now, check this out. Some butchers leave the entire crosscut intact. Some like to trim out everything but the center two muscles, this one and this one, okay? This one's going to cost a little bit more because it's got more labor involved in producing it, but it is a little more on the lean side. Your choice. Either way, they are excellent deals.

    Now remember, the sirloin is a big piece of meat and a lot of steaks can be cut from it. My suggestion, if you're going to cook fast, either over or under high heat, you want to avoid certain names: any steak containing the words 'tri-tip', 'ball-tip', and unless the word 'top' is involved, the word 'butt.'


The Kitchen

    Say 'hi' to the most under-utilized hot thing in the American kitchen, the broiler! And it's a real shame, too. Cause a broiler is essentially an upside-down grill, right? I mean the only difference is that instead of coming from the bottom, the heat comes from the top. And this has some distinct advantages. For instance, when the heat comes from the top, and fat melts on meat, it doesn't drip down onto the fire and catch fire.
    On top of that, a broiler is a finely adjustable device. You can change the distance between the flame, or the coil, depending on what your oven has, and the food, simply by moving racks around. What does this all add up to? Well, good news for a piece of meat like a sirloin, that really doesn't want to be cooked beyond medium-rare.

Large restaurant broilers are called "salamanders" because
legend has it that the newt-like animal is born of fire.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Gen. Alton Brown

GENERAL ALTON BRONW: Think of cooking a steak as laying siege to an enemy stronghold. There are basically two ways the invading general, that's you, can attack. You can strike with every division at your disposal by placing the steak on the top rack, just mere inches under the broiler. This would quickly form a beautiful outer crust, but odds are, all those thermal troops would just push on into the heart of the meat, leaving you with a steak more medium-well than medium-rare.


GAB: Or, of course, you could attack and then retreat by moving from the top rack down to the middle, but by then so much cellular damage would be done that the steak would lose too many fluids to survive.

GAB: But another strategy would be to sneak up on the steak and sneak in just a few chosen commandos, which would work to gently raise the interior temperature of the steak without doing much damage to the rest of the structure. Then, when the center of the steak is within striking distance of done, you move it to the top rack, pushing in every bit of thermal energy you've possibly got, until this steak wishes that it never ... What I'm basically trying to say is, the strategy here is to gently cook the steak and then sear it to doneness.

What the General is trying to say is: "Start with low heat and finish with high heat."

    [voice over] Start by positioning one rack of your oven in the bottom position, and another one just above it. Now make yourself a tray out of aluminum foil to catch the drippings. Place that on the bottom rack, and then put your steak right on the rack above. Make yourself a foil snake and use that to keep the door open just a little bit, so the broiler won't turn off when the oven gets too hot.

5 mins. Later*
*All times for medium doneness.

    Five minutes later, pull out the racks, flip the steak, put the snake back in place, and close the door.

5 mins. Later*
*All times for medium doneness.

    Five minutes later, remove, again reserving the snake, flip the steak over, and then move that rack up to the next-to-the-top position. And of course, bring the other rack up right beneath it, so that it can continue to catch the juices.

3 mins. Later*
*All times for medium doneness.

    Cook for three minutes. Then flip the steak one final time and cook for yet another three minutes. Remember, these times are approximate.

5 mins. Later*
*All times for medium doneness.

    They're going to depend on the strength of your broiler and the size of your steak. Oh, don't forget to rest it.

The United States makes up 1/15 of the world's population,
but consumes 1/3 of the world's meat.

    Now since the grain on a sirloin runs up and down, rather than across the way a skirt steak does, it is imperative that you cut on the bias in order to keep all of those meat fibers nice and short. See? There you go. Now you're always going to be able to control this process better if you cut inwards, towards you. Think of the knife as a baseball bat, rather than a Frisbee, if you get my point.
    Now, I hope that we have primed your appetite for some beef on the cheap. Now we're not trying to suggest that skirt and sirloin are the only cuts of this ...

COW: Moo.

... critter that are worth trying, but we are saying that these two are definitely...
    You know there are probably a dozen homemade sauces that would be perfectly at home on this meat, but that's another episode of...
    I just can't say it with [nods to the cow behind him], you know, with him watching.


GAB: There are basically two ways ... [knocks some of the soldiers over] Oh, sorry guys! Cut!

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Transcribed by Electrowolf

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010