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Do you know the four Cs of grilling success?

Prairie Fare: Southwestern Marinade recipe

juicy barbecue steaks

While growing up in Minnesota, having a “barbecue” meant having a bun with a cooked mixture of ground beef, ketchup, brown sugar, mustard and some spices. In school, we called these sandwiches “sloppy joes” if they were served on slices of bread.

Then I moved to North Dakota, where people talked about having “slush burgers.” I had no idea what to expect the first time I heard “slush burgers” were on the menu. They were pretty much the same recipe as a Minnesota “barbecue.”

Technically, a barbecue is not a sandwich at all. The word “barbecue” comes from the Spanish word “barbacoa,” referring to cooked goat meat. When you barbecue meat, you cook it for a long time over low heat to allow the meat to become more tender. A less tender cut of meat such as a brisket or shoulder can be tenderized by this slow-cooking process.

Most people are familiar with the term “grilling,” which refers to cooking food over direct heat. A wide range of grilling equipment, including electric, gas and charcoal, is available.

The other day, I was visiting with my colleague Rob Maddock, a meat scientist at North Dakota State University, who helps teach “BBQ Boot Camp” programs with his colleagues from the department of animal sciences.

He shared an interesting handout he created about preparing great steaks and chops. With his permission, I will share some tidbits from the handout and a few comments along the way.

Have you heard of the “four Cs?” You might be thinking about diamond rings. In this case, we are not talking about clarity and carats, but cut and colour play a role.

We can apply the four Cs to meat, if we take a few liberties. I thought these were clever, by the way.

We can think about the cut, cookery, quality (“cwaulity”) and consumption. I told you some liberties were taken with four Cs.

When you choose meat for grilling, remember that certain cuts are most appropriate. This list of cuts appropriate for the grill is listed in order beginning with the most tender cut: tenderloin (filet mignon), rib-eye steak, rib steak, porterhouse (T-bone) steak, strip steak, top sirloin, flat-iron, shoulder tender, chuck eye steak, tri-tip steak, clod steak (boneless arm steak), ball tip steak and tip centre steak.

Less tender cuts, such as bottom round steak, round steak and eye of round, are not as grill friendly.

When talking about “cwaulity” (quality), remember these grades for beef from highest to lowest quality: Prime, Top Choice, Choice, Select and Standard. (Editor’s note: Canada’s top beef grades are Canada Prime, Canada AAA, Canada AA and Canada A. The difference between the four grades is the degree of marbling with the Canada Prime grade having the most marbling. The three A grades account for over 75 per cent of beef produced in Canada.)

The cuts with a higher grade usually provide you with the best eating experience.

In other words, you will get more compliments as the chef if you begin with a higher-quality cut.

Be sure to choose steaks and chops with a bright colour and no discolouration. When choosing pork, choose the darker-coloured chops because the darker the lean meat, the greater the water retention. That translates to juicy meat when you serve it.

Begin by thawing the meat safely. Thawing meat in the refrigerator overnight is the safest option, but you also can thaw a sealed plastic package of meat under cold water.

Microwave thawing is a safe method, but it should be done only in an “I forgot to thaw the meat and the guests have arrived” emergency situation. The end product may be less juicy and less tender. Be sure to plan ahead.

Before cooking, allow the steak to warm slightly at room temperature. Perishable foods, including meat, can be held safely at room temperature for 30 minutes, by the way. During this time, you may want to preheat your grill.

Next, season the steak. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on special seasonings. Some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper are all you need. The combination of high-quality meat and a grill will result in a delicious main dish.

If you prefer to add a little “kick” to your grilled menu items, try a quick marinade such as the recipe included with this column. Marinades can help tenderize the less tender cuts mentioned previously.

Always cook the meat appropriately for quality and safety reasons. Place your steaks on a grill, and bring your tongs so you do not pierce the meat and lose the juices. Close the lid.

Unlike burgers made from ground beef, steaks are safe to eat at a lower internal temperature. For example, a “medium” steak is at a temperature of 145 F and has a pink, warm centre, and a medium-rare steak has a red, warm centre and an internal temperature of about 130 F.

However, be sure to cook burgers made from ground beef to 160 F. Ground turkey burgers need to reach 165 F.

Bring your food thermometer to the grill, and be aware that the internal temperature of the steak will rise as much as 10° after you remove the meat from the grill. Do not stack the steak or cover in foil after cooking because the internal temperature of the steak may rise as much as 25 degrees.

Here’s a final tip from me: Bring a clean plate to the grill to retrieve your delicious food; it’s ready for the final C: consumption! Always carve across the grain if possible and enjoy with a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains as side dishes.

Here’s a tasty marinade featured along with other marinades and recipes in “Now Serving: Lean Beef”. For more recipes and information, see “Recipes” in the Food and Nutrition section on the North Dakota State University website.

marinade in a jarSouthwestern Marinade

  • 1/4 c. prepared salsa
  • 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin

Combine all ingredients and mix well. For tender cuts, such as tenderloin, rib-eye or sirloin, allow 15 minutes (or up to two hours) for marinating. For less tender cuts, such as flank, skirt, chuck shoulder or top round, allow at least six hours (or up to 24 hours) for marinating. Turn meat in marinade for even flavouring. Don’t reuse marinade. If you want to use some of the marinade as a dipping sauce, reserve part of it in a separate container. The nutritional value of the finished product varies depending on the cut of meat.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 260 calories, 4 grams (g) of protein, 9 g of fat, 41 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fibre and 230 milligrams of sodium.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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