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.

Beef lovers: How safe are your burgers?

chow_032715_153493310If steaks are safe when cooked to 145 degrees F, why do hamburgers need to be cooked to 160 degrees? All the meat comes from the same cow, right? 

All beef comes from cattle, yes, but when it comes to food safety, ground beef is a whole different animal.

The reason is simple. Bacteria and other types of foodborne illness-causing contaminants that commonly feast on raw meat are surface creatures. As long as those steaks, roasts or chops aren’t messed with, pathogens remain close to the surface where the heat from cooking gets hottest and, given the proper time and temperature, sears them out of existence.

But as soon as raw meat is ground up, anything on the surface becomes mixed throughout. The internal temperature at the very center of the patty must get hot enough for long enough to eliminate the E. coli, Salmonella and other bugs lurking there. Research shows that most, if not all, raw meat plays host to some type of bacteria. It doesn’t matter if the meat is conventional or organic, or purchased from a mega super store or your friendly neighborhood butcher. You should just assume raw meat has some contamination and treat it with respect.

That’s why you see those warnings on restaurant menus saying, “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message. In 2014, a dozen people in four states, including Ohio, became ill after eating rare or medium-rare hamburgers; seven were hospitalized. E. coli O157:H7 was to blame. It’s important to note that there were likely many more people affected: For every E. coli infection confirmed in a lab, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates another 26 cases go unreported.

Four of the five Ohioans sickened in that outbreak said they ate burgers at a “gastro pub” chain that regularly cooks burgers to just 145 degrees F, boasting that it is “the temperature of a perfectly cooked medium-rare burger.” Food microbiologists tend to disagree with that assessment. In fact, food safety guidelines for food service establishments say they should cook hamburgers to 155 degrees F to be safe. At home, consumers need to cook burgers to 160 degrees because it’s likely the meat has been in and out of refrigeration periodically — such as when you’re at the grocery store or during the drive home — and thus needs an extra measure of safety during cooking.

Food safety experts’ concerns go beyond ground meat. Today, an estimated 25 percent of steaks sold in the U.S. have been “mechanically tenderized” — that is, mechanically punctured with needles or knives or injected with a 10 percent solution to make the cut more tender. The trouble is that as soon as the meat is cut into, surface contaminants get inside. With beef, you’ve got to treat those cuts of meat like hamburger and cook them thoroughly to 160 degrees F to be safe.

Unfortunately, it’s not always clear when meat has been treated this way. If the steak still has a bone, it’s likely the surface is intact. But if you’re not sure, ask the butcher for guidance.

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 Linnette Goard, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety, selection and management specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.