Know your beef: Cuts best for smoker, grill

chow_032516-99194821When I grill a steak, how can I make sure it’s not tough? Also, I just got a meat smoker as a gift. What cuts of beef would be best for the smoker?

Nothing is worse than grilling a steak, enjoying the aroma as it cooks, and then barely being able to cut through it with your best steak knife. The issue probably isn’t your skill on the grill. It’s most likely a bad match of cooking method and cut of beef.

Lean cuts of beef — those with little marbling and external fat — are better suited to slow cooking methods, such as smoking. Slow cooking allows connective tissue and muscle fibers to break down. The process tenderizes what otherwise would be a tough chew. Those cuts are from the parts of the animal that work the hardest, the muscles used for walking and locomotion, which have little fat and the most connective tissue. Generally, those cuts are the round, which is at the hindquarters of the animal, and the chuck and brisket, which are at the front of the animal, from the shoulders to the chest.

Cuts of meat from these areas, which would be good for your smoker, include:

  • Brisket
  • Chuck roast
  • Arm roasts
  • Top and bottom round roasts
  • Tip roasts
  • Eye round roast
  • Boneless rump roast

In between the round and the chuck are the “middle meats,” which are best for grilling. They tend to have a lot of marbling, which is the little white flecks of fat throughout a piece of meat. Generally, the more marbling in the meat, the more palatable it will be — flavorful, tender and juicy. The rib and short loin tend to have the most marbling. The sirloin, which offers lean, tender cuts of meat without much fat, is situated behind the short loin and in front of the round.

Cuts from the rib, short loin and sirloin that would be great on the grill include:

  • Bone-in and boneless ribeye steaks
  • Back ribs
  • Strip steak, such as New York or Kansas City strip
  • T-bone steak
  • Porterhouse steak
  • Top sirloin
  • Tenderloin

Skirt steaks, which come from the middle part of the animal’s underside, found in the flank area, are good quick-skillet muscle cuts best used for fajitas, tacos and in salads.

Whatever cut you choose, when the meat is done, let it cool slightly to let the juices settle, and always slice against the grain. That will break up the muscle grain into small pieces, which will make the meat less chewy.

To see a short video to learn where various cuts of meat come from on a beef carcass, see Ohio State University Extension’s “Beef Cuts for Fast Grilling and Slow Smoking,” at go.osu.edu/beefcuts.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Lyda Garcia, Ohio State University Extension meat specialist and assistant professor in The Ohio State University’s Department of Animal Sciences.
For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Consider using fewer highly processed foods

chow_031816-465163023In recent years, we have increasingly relied on convenience foods for our everyday meals. I am interested in shifting back to more whole, natural foods, but would it really be worth the time and energy?

Processed foods aren’t all bad. Sometimes they offer nutritional benefits: the phytonutrient lycopene, for example, is more bioavailable from canned tomatoes than fresh. Nutrition information on processed food labels can also be very helpful.

Still, there is growing evidence that trimming back on foods that have been highly processed, at least, could be a very healthful move.

A 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed consumer food purchases from 2000-2012. More than 60 percent of calories came from highly processed foods and beverages. Plus, 60 percent of those highly processed foods were high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium, compared with just 5 percent of less-processed foods or foods that required cooking or preparation.

A more recent study, in the March 2016 issue of the journal BMJ Open, analyzed the added sugars in foods that more than 9,000 people reported eating in 2009-2010. They found that “ultra-processed” foods were responsible for 58 percent of the overall calories in the diet, and 90 percent of the calories from added sugars. The added sugar content in ultra-processed foods was five to eight times higher than in other foods.

You’re probably asking right now — just what is a highly processed or ultra-processed food? The question is an important one, because some people hopping on the natural food bandwagon reject all processed foods, including pasteurized milk, canned or frozen vegetables — even “baby” carrots. Most nutrition authorities discourage that type of extreme behavior.

Although there’s no hard and fast definition of highly or ultra-processed foods, the researchers in these two studies included foods that are highly modified and formulated far beyond the food item’s original condition. They include foods such as refined breads, cookies and other commercially prepared baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, salty snacks, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat foods, breakfast cereal, ice cream, salad dressing, pasta sauce and ketchup.

To reduce your intake of these types of foods, be mindful when you’re at the grocery store. Instead of pasta sauce, get some low-sodium crushed or diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and add herbs and spices at home. Instead of frozen vegetable mixes with sauce, buy plain vegetables and stir-fry them with a bit of olive oil. Instead of frozen french fries or tater tots, buy real potatoes to dice up, sprinkle with garlic powder, and roast in a hot oven. Instead of seasoned rice or pasta mixes, choose plain brown rice or whole-grain pasta and spice it up at home. This way, you’re more in control of the fat, sugar and salt in your food.

Few of us would find it practical to completely do away with processed — or even ultra-processed — foods. But cutting back in ways that make sense for you could provide a big boost to your diet.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

How to tell if your tap water is clean, safe

chow_031116-476996002My kids drink a lot of water, but with all the news about lead in water supplies, I am concerned about its safety. Just how safe are city water supplies for children?

Generally speaking, water is still the best beverage available to quench thirst in children and adults alike. It’s cheap, calorie- and sugar-free, and provides the hydration your body needs. But you’re right — it is important to be certain it’s safe.

Lead can get into a home’s drinking water from metal water taps, interior water pipes, the pipes connecting a house to the main water pipe in the street, or the water main. Federal law prohibited the use of lead in plumbing and fixtures after June 1986, so homes built before 1987 are more likely to have a problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead in tap water usually comes from corrosion of older fixtures or solder. When water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply.

If you’re concerned, the first place to start is with your water system’s annual Consumer Confidence Report. Water systems often mail the report to customers annually with the water bill, and larger systems also put it online. You can contact your utility to request the most recent version. The report provides basic information about your drinking water, including any contaminants that have been found during testing. This includes results of monitoring conducted in homes that could be vulnerable to increased levels of lead — older homes with lead pipes, for example. Check to see what your water system’s report says about lead. That might put your mind at ease.

Whether or not you are reassured, you may want to pay a private lab to test the water in your home. Authorities say this is the only way to be certain, because lead in water is odorless and colorless. Ohio State University Extension has a 2010 fact sheet at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/AEX-315 that provides a list of Ohio labs that perform water testing. Request tests for lead, copper, pH, and a corrosion index test, and be sure to follow the lab’s guidelines for collecting samples. If lead is found, any water from the tap for consumption or cooking should first be flushed through the pipes for several minutes. The CDC provides guidance at www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm.

It’s important to note that while most filtered water pitchers improve water’s taste, they aren’t designed to remove lead. However, most water filters installed at the tap — as well as whole-house water filter systems — do remove lead. It’s always important to double-check.

You should know that children are much more vulnerable to the effects of ingesting lead. While the bodies of adults absorb just 10 to 15 percent of the lead they ingest, children’s bodies may absorb up to 50 percent. Absorption is greatest on an empty stomach. A healthy diet can help. Consuming plenty of milk and other calcium-rich foods, for example, forces any lead in the body to compete with calcium to attach to cell receptors, making lead less likely to be absorbed.

For more information on drinking water supplies, see the CDC’s Drinking Water FAQ at www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/drinking-water-faq.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Nutrient-packed beans a hearty addition to diet

chow_030416-164065142We’re thinking of incorporating more beans in our meals, primarily to reduce the amount of meat we’re eating (and buying), but also because they’re supposed to be very good for you. But my husband, who has type 2 diabetes, is worried about adding more carbohydrates. Is this a bad idea?

Actually, beans are a great option for everyone, perhaps especially for people with diabetes.

A 2012 study in Nutrition Journal tested the effect that pinto beans, black beans and dark red kidney beans have on blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes when eaten with white rice, which is known to cause blood sugar spikes. The researchers tested participants’ blood sugar every 30 minutes for three hours after the participants ate either white rice alone or rice with one type of the beans. Even though the meals with beans contained more total carbohydrates, the participants’ blood sugar was highest at each interval after they ate the rice alone than when the rice was paired with beans.

If your husband is concerned, though, encourage him to keep a close eye on his blood sugar levels after eating a bean-based meal. If he notices significant differences and is on insulin, he should discuss any changes in dosage with a health professional.

That said, beans are a healthful option that deserve a place at the table for just about everyone. In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, beans are considered a unique food: They can be considered as either a meat substitute or a vegetable. They are high in both plant protein and fiber, as well as B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc.

The fiber in beans can be significant. Adults should eat anywhere between 22 grams to 34 grams of fiber a day, depending on their caloric intake — most Americans don’t get nearly that amount. Neither do Americans consume enough beans and other legumes, eating only about half the recommended amounts of 1.5-3 cups a week for men and 1-2 cups for women. Adding a bean-based meal or two to your weekly menu could go a long way to helping you meet those recommendations.

If you use canned beans, consider buying those that are lower in sodium. Or, rinse the beans before using them — that alone will reduce the sodium quite a bit.

If you start with dry beans — an economical option — first rinse them in cold water, picking out any pebbles or stems. Cover the beans with three times their amount of water and either soak for six hours, or bring to a boil and soak for at least two hours. Soaking overnight or after boiling makes them less likely to give you gas. Then, drain the beans and cook them in fresh water according to package directions.

If you currently don’t eat a lot of beans, you may want to add them gradually to your diet. This will allow your body to get used to them and reduce the chance of gas and other gastrointestinal distress.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.