If you think there’s nothing new to learn about steaks, think again.
I recently asked Katie Flannery, the second-generation scion of Flannery Beef, a well-regarded Bay Area beef purveyor, to share her beef grilling secrets. She told me four things I found to be aha moments that make me excited to get back to the grill this summer, with recipes from Katie Flannery herself and two Los Angeles chefs who serve her beef on their menus.
First, be on the lookout for prime hanger steak. No matter how trendy it becomes, hanger is always more affordable than rib-eye, strip and filet — and it’s always more flavorful. Buying it prime-grade — a subjective term that means a steak with the highest percentage of fat marbling — ratchets up the flavor even more. “All the extra fat that a prime hanger steak contains really mellows out any kind of gamey iron flavor that you might associate with hanger,” Flannery says. “It’s hands down my favorite steak, and if you ever see it, buy it without any hesitation.”
Second, thinner is better with skirt steak. There are two different muscles sold as skirt steak. “There’s the ‘outside skirt steak,’ which actually hangs inside the cow’s diaphragm. This is sometimes called ‘flap’ meat and is thicker and chunkier,” Flannery says. “Then there’s the ‘inside’ skirt steak, which actually hangs outside the diaphragm; this is the true skirt steak and is what you want to use. It’s thin and delicate and cooks up so fast.” In Aaron Franklin’s “Franklin Steak,” he calls this cut the “outside skirt steak,” eschewing naming conventions to be technically correct. The thinnest skirt steak at your butcher will be the right one.
Third, when you splurge on a rib-eye steak, you want it cut from the front, or chuck, end of the rack — because it contains the largest proportion of what Flannery says is the tastiest part of the cow. (Her custom-cut 3-inch-thick bone-in rib-eye Jorges are such steaks.) “Because of where we cut it, each steak has more of the spinalis dorsi muscle, or ‘rib cap’ in the steak,” she says. “This muscle is often called the ‘deckle,’ but that’s not right. It’s its own thing and gets the most worked-out on the cow, so it’s also the most flavorful.” To get this cut from your butcher, ask him or her to cut two 3-inch-thick steaks, including the first two rib bones, from the chuck end of the rib primal (the whole cow section from which all rib-eye steaks are cut).
Finally, Flannery advises adding ground dry-aged beef scraps to your burgers. When I saw dry-aged beef being used in burgers on restaurant menus, I thought supremely pricey dry- aged steaks were being ground up for hamburger meat. (The price of the burgers usually supported that idea.) That’s not the case, she says; instead, fresh ground meat is often mixed with dry-aged steak trimmings, mostly the super-flavorful fat. If your butcher doesn’t sell a “dry-aged” burger meat mix, ask if he or she will sell and grind dry-aged beef scraps for you, which you can then mix into freshly ground beef cuts at a ratio of 30 percent fat to 70 percent meat.