Making the most of your meats & seasonings when cooking at home

With so many of us doing the right thing – staying home to help contain the spread of the Coronavirus – one way to relieve the monotony and cabin fever is a backyard family barbecue. While a casual stroll through the butcher section of your favorite grocery store is unlikely, knowing what to look for can expedite your essential grocery stop. In addition, knowing how to maximize the flavors in your foods can help if purchasing lower-grade meats under reduced cashflow, or ordering online where you won’t have the opportunity to choose specific items. We talked with CityGate Grille Executive Chef Adam Tanner to learn how to make the most of your family barbecue meals.

Know what to ask for: Whether you purchase meats at a specialty shop, from behind the meat counter at your nearby grocery store or online, be sure you understand the various grades. Prime grade beef, the kind served at CityGate Grille, is produced from young, well-fed cattle. Choice grade is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Select grade is very uniform in quality and typically leaner, but it’s a less flavorful lower grade than top-quality Prime or high-quality Choice. When selecting beef, pork or lamb, your Prime and Choice grades typically can be grilled for a flavorful meal with little extra effort. Select grade meats, however, may need a flavor boost via a marinade or cooking it wrapped in a fatty product, such as bacon. Also, if you know your butcher, ask about “butcher cuts” – meat you won’t see in the display case – that tend to be more tender and flavorful, and better priced, than many popular cuts.

Making the Grade: Marbling, the intermingling or dispersion of fat within the meat, is the primary factor in determining quality grade. Specifically, meat graders evaluate the amount of marbling in the ribeye muscle when they cut beef between the 12th and 13th rib to grade meat. Look for, or ask your butcher, for marbling to match your need; more flavorful or less fat. Also be sure to select or ask for steaks with no veins or silver skin, which will cause meat to become chewy. Remember, marbling is not just something you look for when it comes to beef; pork will have marbling and so will lamb.

Choose Wisely: Picking the right cut isn’t so cut and dry. The cut of meat you select will impact cook time, flavor and juiciness. If simply grilling a steak, a lean filet will be more tender, but the fattier ribeye more flavorful. So ask your butcher for a thin-cut filet to cut cook time and prevent dryness, and a thicker cut ribeye as it can withstand longer cooking thanks to its fatty content. If you can’t decide, a New York strip is a good in-between choice. And when it comes to pork or lamb, keep in mind that more fat tends to equal a tougher cut.

Bone in or boneless: It may be easier to serve and to eat bone-out meats, but bone marrow is packed with flavor that will enhance the taste when you cook and serve bone-in cuts, especially chicken.

Soak or Rub: No, we didn’t just switch to laundry tips. Whether to use a marinade or a dry rub, and how to decide which to use when, is something I’m often asked. I say marinate cheaper cuts of beef chicken and seafood since they tend to have lower fat content and will more quickly become dry when cooking. But remember marinade won’t make meat more tender; it will help keep it moist. Dry rub, also known as dry seasoning, is ideal for really adding your own special flavor to moist Prime and Choice meats. My go-to seasoning mix is salt, fresh cracked pepper, a little brown sugar, chili powder and crushed red pepper flakes. If you choose to buy pre-mixed seasoning, check how much salt is in the mix. It can be surprisingly high. Salt, and high-salt mixed seasoning, should be added just before cooking because it will start to draw moisture and, if added too early, dry out your meat.

Adam Tanner is the executive chef at CityGate Grille, the USDA Prime steak and seafood restaurant located on the CityGate campus on Route 59 between I-88 and Ferry Rd. CityGate Grille is offering delivery and curbside pickup via DoorDash. Cook-at-home items can be ordered by calling 630-718-1010 and are available only for pickup. See menus and details at www.citygategrille.com/pickup-delivery .

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