How To Choose The Perfect Cut Of Meat For Grilling
Ready to graduate from burgers to something more challenging? (No hate to burger grillers - there’s nothing in this world better than the perfect juicy burger made on a charcoal grill!) There are so many awesome cuts of meat that are great for both hot and fast and low and slow grilling. But first, you gotta know how to pick them out.
Save this blog on your phone, and next time you’re at the grocery store or butcher shop, pull it out for reference. Everything you need to know to pick out the best cuts of meat for your grill is right here!
Not all meat is created equal
Some cuts of meat are simply too tough or too dry to work well on the high heat of a grill. If you’re going to all the trouble of firing up the grill, getting the perfect hardwood charcoal, and inviting friends over - you want to set yourself up for success by choosing a cut of meat that’s going to be tender, juicy and flavorful when it’s cooked.
Fat is good
Fat gets a bad rap. When it comes to grilling, the more fat a cut of meat has, the more tasty and juicy your final product will be. You want fat!! The more fat, the better. Fattier meats are truly the top cuts of meat to buy.
When you’re choosing cuts of meat for your grill, look for ample marbling, a ring of fat, and/or fattier cuts. All that delicious fat will melt on the grill, injecting your meat with both the flavor and moisture it needs to become a mouth-watering final product.
The exception to the high-fat rule is filet mignon, which is cut from the end of the tenderloin that runs down the animal’s back next to its spine. This cut of meat isn’t very fatty, but because that muscle gets very little exercise, the muscle fibers are short, leading to a delectably tender cut of meat.
Exercise is bad
So far, this blog is sounding like a list of reasons of anti-diet-and-exercise advice. When it comes to the animals you’re grilling, honestly, that's true, because meat that is low on muscle tone and high in fat is what you want on the grill.
Parts of the animal that get a lot of exercise will be tougher than the ones that don't do a lot of work. Grilling is a “high and fast” cooking method (or low and slow, in many instances as well!), so starting with a tender cut of meat is key. Keep in mind, though, that low-and-slow can tenderize a tougher cut of meat like stew beef, chuck roast, or brisket. Grilling those cuts will only make them even harder to chew.
SCIENCE LESSON: Tough cuts of meat come from muscles that are used often, and they contain a lot of connective tissue called collagen. Collagen breaks down in low-and-slow cooking, but it seizes up and becomes rigid over high heat such as grilling.
A reasonably dependable way to know whether or not a cut of meat is fresh is by looking at the color. Beef should be reddish, not brown. Pork should be pink, not white. And chicken should have a light pink color with white fat. Check the expiration dates, of course, but even if a cut of meat is still within its sell-by date, checking the color can let you know if the meat has started to spoil.
Best cuts of beef for grilling
Nothing goes better with a charcoal grill than beef! From burgers to kebabs, steaks, and more, beef is THE superstar when it comes to impressing everyone with your oh-so-spectacular grilling skills.
Steaks - Flat iron steaks, ribeyes, New York strips, porterhouses and sirloins have the best marbling and tender texture. And of course, the always-impressive filet mignon is always a winner.
Fajita and Taco cuts - Tri-tip steak and skirt steak are too tough to serve as a “steak,” but they make great tacos and fajitas when grilled on a charcoal grill and then thinly sliced.
Other meats on the grill
Chicken - Everyone can agree on it and it’s affordable - that’s a win-win for grilling! Chicken is an old favorite that goes great on the grill either barbecued, marinated, or as is with just salt and pepper.
Dark meat rules - Tender, flavorful, and full of juicy fat, dark meat cuts like thighs, legs and wings are perfect on the grill.
Chicken breasts need extra help - Without brining them first, it’s hard to grill a chicken breast that doesn’t end up dry as your father-in-law’s jokes. In addition to brining, try pounding boneless breasts out flat so they cook fast and evenly.
Pork - When most people think of pork, they think of barbecue on a smoker. But pork is perfect for the grill, too. The right cuts of pork are tender, mildly flavored, and full of fat, making them juicy and delicious. Plus, when you cook with charcoal, you can inject the smoky flavor that gives BBQ its addictiveness without the long cooking times.
Pork blade steak - Thin and fatty, this cut is perfect for grilling because it cooks fast and stays juicy.
Rib chops - With its distinctive ring of fat on the outside, a pork rib chop stays juicy and tender on the grill. Get it bone-in for more flavor and a more impressive presentation.
When in doubt, ask your butcher
If you’re standing at the meat counter reading this article on your phone and still can’t decide the best cut of meat for your grill, ask your butcher. Butchers do more than cut and package meat. They are well-educated in the characteristics of each part of the animal, and they can help you decide which cut will work best for you.
Looking for a quick hack for ensuring any cut of meat is tender, juicy and delicious? Try using a Kick Ash Basket!