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7 Ways to Make Cheap Beef Tender & Flavorful


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Let’s say I’ve got a cheap cut of tough beef like a thick blade or round steak. I want to improve the taste and texture of the meat somehow. I can think of seven ways to do this . . .

  1. Pound it with a spiky mallet or wine bottle
    Pro: physical pounding softens the tissue, gives it a uniform thinness
    Con: meat can get mushy
  2. Stab it repeatedly with a fork
    Pro: low tech, fast and easy
    Con: drives surface bacteria in deep, enables juice loss
  3. Pass it through a jaccard
    Pro: thoroughly slices through muscle fibers and connective tissue making tough meat tender
    Con: I need to buy the device, enables juice loss
  4. Marinade it in a sauce with acid and enzymes
    Pro: fruit juices like pineapple and papaya add flavor and break down protein with acidity and natural enzymes
    Con: meat can get mushy, saucy meat makes a mess on the grill
  5. Age it in the fridge
    Pro: flavors develop and concentrate as the meat dries and breaks down naturally
    Con: shrinkage, takes time and fridge space
  6. Braise it
    Pro: prolonged moist heat melts connective tissue, makes meat very tender, a classic technique
    Con: rare not possible, takes time
  7. Sous vide it
    Pro: same pros as braising, but with a precise level of rareness
    Con: time and equipment required, no maillard reaction

Do these descriptions sound legit? Are there more?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

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Moe Sizlack

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Using a Jaccard actually prevents juice loss by limiting the contraction of the muscle fibers. There is the argument that it could drive surface bacteria into the meat but the Jaccard thread has covered several ways to avoid that.

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Using a Jaccard actually prevents juice loss by limiting the contraction of the muscle fibers. There is the argument that it could drive surface bacteria into the meat but the Jaccard thread has covered several ways to avoid that.

Right you are -- that's the thread that got me thinking. I'm not overly worried about the bacteria in my home kitchen as long as I use common sense.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Might be viewed as hybrid of marinade / braise, but what about corning?

Corning could be number eight. I think of curing beef in brine as a preservative process, but that brisket gets soft and pink before any heat is applied, just like an uncooked ham.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Sous vide it

Pro: same pros as braising, but with a precise level of rareness

Con: time and equipment required, no maillard reaction

Do these descriptions sound legit? Are there more?

Most of us "sous viders" sear the meat afterwards using very high heat to give a Maillard reaction. This is often aided by salting or by a glucose wash (credit to Douglas Baldwin for the latter).

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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A cow is a whole animal, there are no "cheap cuts".....

There are, however, cuts that are ideal for grilling or sauteing, cuts that are ideal for roasting, and cuts that are ideal for braising, or a combination of smoking and long moist heat methods, and the umm..."economical" cuts fall under this category.

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There's also the method of getting the nice grilling cuts for less money. I've been buying shares in sides of local grass fed/grain finished beef with some friends, and it usually comes to around $3.50-3.75/lb trimmed for all cuts, and all the beef we've gotten has graded prime. One share is 1/8 of a side, and last time I bought two shares, which I think was around 80 lbs of trimmed meat plus bones for stock, which are given away along with organ meats to whomever wants them after the shares of muscle cuts are divided.

The downsides to the way we've been doing this is that the beef isn't aged as long as I'd like, and we don't have as much control over the way it's cut as we would by having meat cut to order from a butcher, and of course you get some cuts that you might not ordinarily purchase, and when you buy by the side you get lots of ground beef (way more than I'd buy on my own), but it's been a good way of getting a lot of pretty good beef at a reasonable price.

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What about slicing thin against grain?

Along those lines: Korean barbecue. Meat is sliced thin and marinated, then griddled at high temperature. You can get very good flavor and texture, with the inside tender and the outside crisp.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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A cow is a whole animal, there are no "cheap cuts".....

There are, however, cuts that are ideal for grilling or sauteing, cuts that are ideal for roasting, and cuts that are ideal for braising, or a combination of smoking and long moist heat methods, and the umm..."economical" cuts fall under this category.

I appreciate all the bits from nose to tail, I'm just looking for ideas to deal with an inexpensive steak. Smoking beef certainly preserves it and adds flavor, but does it affect tenderness? Probably.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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There's pressure cooking, but I guess that's probably a variant of braising. It does, however, take less time.

I've never done beef in a pressure cooker. I think my mother used to do roasts that way years ago. I wonder how increased pressure affects meat texture during cooking -- it does means water gets super-hot and stays liquid beyond the normal 212F boiling point.

Speaking of pressure, I've got a small acrylic container for marinating with a special feature: once the meat and marinade is sealed in the clear rigid container, you pull up a plunger and lock it in place with a twist. The idea is to increase the volume of the container thereby lowering the air pressure inside. You can see the meat expand a bit which allows the marinade to penetrate better, or so the instructions say. I haven't used it enough to know if it really works.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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For tough cuts, I prefere the sous vide method which combines the benefits of braising and marinating, still giving a medium rare product. I use a hot butane torch to give a quick crust or you can use a pre-heated cast iron pan.

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For tough cuts, I prefere the sous vide method which combines the benefits of braising and marinating, still giving a medium rare product. I use a hot butane torch to give a quick crust or you can use a pre-heated cast iron pan.

That makes sense. My sv gear is low-rent: a FoodSaver vac, a big stock pot with a thermometer and an electric stove. Remarkably, it can hold 58+/-2C all day and night. The torch is a good finisher, and so is the hot gas grill.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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You should leave flavorful out of the title...most cheap pieces of beef are the most flavorful.

Yes ChickenStu, that's exactly what I thought after the initial post. Still, the ultimate goal is enhanced eating experience. What can a home cook do to that 16oz slab to make it special?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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The chinese tenderise thin slices of tough beef cuts by stirring in baking soda (Bicarbonate of soda) dissolved in a little water: leave to marinate for half an hour, then rinse.

Very good for stir-fries

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I did a couple of frankensteak experiments a few years ago with poor (but sometimes amusing) results. I love ribeyes and filets, but noticed that chuckeye steaks had all the flavor I was wanting but the tenderness was not there. Why couldn't I have a steak with the flavor of a ribeye but the tenderness of a filet?

So, my first attempt would use mechanical action to tenderize the steak and then I'd cook it as per the best filet. Right, chop up the chuckeye and put it into a food processor to break down the fibers and distribute the fat. Now, pack the meat paste into a ring and chill. Then season and treat as I would my filets - season and then BIG sear then finish in the oven.

The outside looked great. But the inside was meat styrofoam. Lots of air. All the interior meat just shrunk.

Later I tried the same basic approach but changed the heat - going to sous vide. A much better result, but far too burger-y.

I still think it's possible, but I think the correct approach would be, well, what I'd term Micro Lardon. Painstakingly cutting small threads along the fiber and then laying those out with small threads of fat, then use transglutaminase as a glue and cinching the whole thing in a sort of corset and chilling.

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I love ribeyes and filets, but noticed that chuckeye steaks had all the flavor I was wanting but the tenderness was not there.

IndyRob, this is what I'm talking about.

Right, chop up the chuckeye and put it into a food processor to break down the fibers and distribute the fat. Now, pack the meat paste into a ring and chill.

Impressive experiments -- this one sounds like a farce, as in farcemeat/forcemeat.

Micro Lardon. Painstakingly cutting small threads along the fiber and then laying those out with small threads of fat, then use transglutaminase as a glue and cinching the whole thing in a sort of corset and chilling.

I wonder about ways to improve marbling. Maybe there's a jaccard-like machine where each blade is a syringe that injects "liquid lardons" into the meat?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Chuck eye steaks are good, but chuck 'mock tenders' are better! Give them the thumb test before you buy 'em, though. Slight thumb pressure can diagnose a tough steak easily!

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Chuck eye steaks are good, but chuck 'mock tenders' are better! Give them the thumb test before you buy 'em, though. Slight thumb pressure can diagnose a tough steak easily!

What on earth is a chuck mock tender?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Just grind it after blanching the outside surface to kill bacteria. Forget the stupid jaccarding. Do you have a grinder or processor? Do you have a pot big enough to boil some water? Yes? Then you have enough to blanch, grind your own, and be safe from bacteria. Take the opportunity to add some flavorings (spices, fats) and enjoy.

Ray

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