Choosing Your Slab
If you've decided you're going to eat beef, at least make sure it's not the worst kind there is. The Mayo Clinic wrote an article that included tips on how to pick a cut of beef that won't be as bad as the ones pictured to the right. In essence, you want to avoid all the white fat chunks and marbling (what they call the thin little veins of fat that are all over the cuts shown). Restaurants normally try to sell you the kinds of cuts that cook and taste the best. A lot of times, that means "prime" cuts of beef, which tend to have the most fat! (As a side note: more fat normally makes the beef more expensive because the fat makes it taste better and makes the beef much more tender). A healthier person would go and buy something like "choice" or "select" cuts instead.
The leaner a piece of beef you can get (i.e. the least amount of fat and marbling), the better off you are health-wise. The USDA grades meats really specifically when it comes to their meats. For example, a lean piece of beef will have 10g total fat (4.5g saturated) or less and 95mg cholesterol or less, while an extra lean piece of beef will only have 5g total fat (2g saturated) or less and the same cholesterol requirements. The fats in a slab of beef are not the good kinds of fats that you might find in something like an avocado (see my previous post), it's the kind of fat that clogs your arteries and increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease and all that unhappy stuff. Hence, if you have the option, go with the extra lean! Even though it's already lean, there is still a bit of fat on it, if it's visible, I suggest taking it home and trimming it off.
- Eye of round roast or steak
- Sirloin tip side steak
- Top round roast and steak
- Bottom round roast and steak
- Top sirloin steak
If you're interested in which cuts are the worst and should be avoided at all costs, check out this article from Men's Fitness. I just want to point out that most of the cuts on their "Sinful Slabs" (i.e. fattiest cuts) of beef list are the kinds they sell most often in restaurants.
Marinate Your Meat
First things first: marinating is not just to add flavor to your meat. Sure it add flavor and helps keep your meat moist and juicy, but since you've done the right thing and have decided to pick the [extra] lean cut of beef, what you'll realize is that these leaner cuts tend to be a lot tougher (vs. the really tender fatty cuts). The best way to remedy this is is to marinate the meat in something acidic to help break down the protein in the meat, making it more tender! It's pertinent to point out that you don't want to leave the meat in the marinade for TOO long because then the outsides of the meat are gonna be really tender and kind of mushy. No one wants to really eat mushy meat. This applies to all meats, not just beef; fish and seafood that are left in acidic marinades for too long can actually cook. The point is, make sure you're marinating your meat for the right amount of time without going over board. For example, a top sirloin only needs about 2-4 hours of marinating before it's ready to go, whereas something like a brisket would take 16 hours. There's a really handy guide that About.com put together to help you figure out how long each cut of beef should be marinated.
Another good thing about marinades is that they can actually make your grilling experience healthier by just using one at all. When you cook meats directly over flames on a grill, they create chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCA, for short), and these HCAs can cause cancer. Who knew, right? Craziness! Anyway, when you marinate with something acidic, you can reduce the amount of these HCAs in the meat by keeping them from forming.
All this talk of acidic marinades and you're probably wondering by now what makes a marinade acidic? Simple: vinegar, citrus fruit juices (like lemons, limes, etc.) and wine are the easiest ones to get. Normally, all you need to do to make a marinade is throw together some acidic liquid of choice, an equal amount of oil, and all the herbs and spices you like. I personally don't like the oil factor, so while I might add some oil, I don't add an equal amount. So I threw together a really simple marinade for a steak, and I hope it works for you! Feel free to tweak it all you want!
Classic-ish Steak Marinade
- 1/4 C red wine vinegar
- 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Salt, to taste
- Optional: (Up to) 2 tbsp olive oil
- Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Place your beef in a large enough ziploc bag and pour the marinade in over it.
- Zip the bag shut, getting as much of the air out as possible. Shake and move the bag around to get the marinade to spread as evenly as possible over your beef.
- Lay your ziploc bag in the fridge on it's side. If you have chopped or smaller pieces together in one bag, spread them out so they can all lay in one layer as opposed to being in heaps on each other. Fold any excess space in the bag over the top so the marinade stays on the meat instead of the empty space.
- Halfway through your marinating time, turn the bag over to marinate the other side.
- Discard marinade when you're done. If you choose to use it as a sauce, make sure to boil it first to kill off any bacteria, etc. from the raw meat juices.
If you need help figuring out the cooking time for your steak, try visiting this site.