Saturday, March 2, 2013

Your Questions Answered: A Nice Piece of Meat

We're answering questions here at The Signal Watch.

 Our own Fantomenos asked:

You're a Texan so:

What's the best cut of meat for casual grilling?

Again, these are advanced level questions with no simple answer.

What's throwing me here is the use of the word "casual".  "Casual" can mean "I'm coming home from work, do you want me to grab some chicken on my way?"  It can mean having over 20 people, but we're all in shorts.  It can mean dinner with a few friends, or it can mean the assembly line at a summer camp.

So, let's ponder this a bit.

I'd break it down to:

  • steaks and chicken
  • BBQ
  • hotdogs and hamburgers on the Weber on the back porch

While barbecue is sometimes served at weddings, political events, etc...  and you can definitely find upscale barbecue in town (I recommend Lamberts), the barbecue that's considered most desirable is usually slow cooked and smoked to perfection.  That, obviously, is not a "casual" task, even if it's one's hobby and you're doing it at home.  Seriously, it's an all day affair.

Traditional Texas barbecue is, really, a nice brisket, pork ribs and sausage with a rub of spices.  Pulled pork is always a staple, as is "chopped beef" for the sandwich eaters (ie: cowards).  Slow smoked turkey and chicken have definitely had a big uptic in the past decade or so.

Steaks aren't considered barbecue, and the "Texas steakhouse" - now exported in canned, goofy fashion as the chain "Texas Roadhouse" - is a completely different concept, and that can run into the ludicrously priced range.  I still haven't been to the Vince Young Steakhouse as I haven't been willing to drop $200 on dinner (and, yes, it could go that high or higher quite easily).  There are more casual steakhouses, of course, and most aren't that pricey.  Some have peanuts on the table and peanut shells on the floor.  I assume they spend all day killing rats out of sight.

For a good steak, I don't really have a preference, but will take a porterhouse, I guess.  Which, probably doesn't sound all that fancy.  I have pals who will go for the filet mignon, but that's not really my bag.  For my own purchases, for safety sake, I'll get a t-bone as it's easiest to manage on the grill and more predictable.

As a grillmaster, I'm @#$% and I'm out of practice.  For a decade I grilled on the cheapest charcoal Weber I could find at Home Depot.  I recently purchased a propane grill, and while I miss the ritual of charcoal, I do not miss the hassle of having fifteen people watching me monkey with lighter fluid, bags of coal and with trying to make fire.

So, the answer to your question is:  hamburgers

Everyone likes a well grilled hamburger, and they're fairly easy to manage.  I learned from a pal whose family has been in the meat business for generations that a good hamburger can never be a lean hamburger as the fat is what holds the patty shape and generates flavor as the meat grills.

But you know this.

I do recommend the "Cowboy Burger" that you can buy pre-formed at HEB's Central Market, which is a delicious beef with spices and peppers already in the meat.

So...  at our place, we don't do a brisket as we don't have a pit and I've never delved into the expensive and time consuming world of properly making Texas BBQ.  Most of our barbecue is sausage, chicken or other items that only require grilling, and not the traditional smoking process.

Now, if you're asking what I get when I go out for BarBQ?

Texas BarBQ, when done right, is sold by weight on a scale.  You say "I need a quarter pound of turkey, a quarter of brisket and a sausage link".  From there, you'll also get white bread, pickles, onions, and in some places, their sauce.  Some places do not have sauce and will take umbrage at the idea that their finely cured meats would need such a thing.  Sides usually include cole slaw, ranch beans, potato salad and - for reasons that allude me - banana pudding.

You'll then want a Dr. Pepper (preferably a cane-sugar DP called "Dublin Dr. Pepper"), though I prefer red cream soda or tea with my BBQ.  Also: beer.  A shitty Lone Star will usually do pretty well.  Don't try to mix in a heavy Belgian Ale or something, as that's not the point.

Hunting down the perfect BBQ is a tradition among young Texans, and they go to terrific lengths and create a bizarre artificial scarcity.  Snow's BBQ is supposed to be the best in Texas according to some, but you have to leave your home before 7:30 AM and make the hour-plus drive to go get in line for when they start serving early.  I don't do BBQ before 11:30 AM, so I've never had it.  Locally, Franklin's is similar, but I refuse to stand in line, but I've been exceedingly happy with J Mueller in South Austin.

My favorite BBQ is actually in a town about an hour outside town called Giddings at their City Market.  I used to meet colleagues from Texas A&M for meetings and lunch as it's a nice half-way point.  Everything there is completely spot on.  And like all real BarBQ places that are self-owned and a fever dream of a vision of a singular owner, they suffer no fools.  Do not banter with the people serving up your meat.

Honestly, it's so hard to recreate the good stuff at home with limited time and budget that BarBQ is a destination sort of thing.  When you meet someone who does do their own backyard pit BarBQ, it's met with a true wave of reverence.


Fantomenos said...

I'm with you, and I'm pretty lucky that when I asked the missus what she wanted me to cook for her birthday dinner, the answer was bacon cheeseburgers on the grill.

As far as home BBQ goes, I make a pretty good pulled pork in the crock-pot, but I am in no way fooled that it approaches the greatness of smoked-for-a-day authentic stuff.

Anyway, thanks for answering. I knew you'd treat this question with the gravity it deserves, and I was right.

The League said...

Glad to be of service.

You will be happy to know that:

On Saturday after writing this, I got BarBQ
On Saturday night we grilled/ smoked salmon on my old Weber charcoal grill
On Sunday I had a steak (ribeye as I didn't want to run up the bill for a porterhouse)

I've never done Pulled Pork, but my pal Nicole has successfully made pulled pork more than once. Always a favorite.