Meat for the barbecue

Meat is the food item cooked most often on a barbecue grill, mainly beef steak.

Not all meat is cut equal and every piece has its own requirements for heat and time.

Steak cuts and barbecue style

When you fire up the barbecue your goal is often to cook a fine piece of meat. You'll prepare a fine sauce and monitor the procedure carefully to ensure the best outcome. But that result is only possible if you start with a great chunk of beef. Here are some tips on how to recognize the difference between brisket and the best off the bone.

Fillet Mignon has earned its reputation as a truly fine piece of beef. It cooks up to a very tender state and can be found in the finest restaurants because they know you have to start with quality to end up with quality. They're cut from the tail side of the tenderloin, and have a softer taste than other cuts.

Top sirloin, despite the name, is a good but not great cut. They come in several grades and prime is generally better than the rest. Even within that category there will be variation since each animal is an individual, providing differences in quality.

Porterhouse can certainly be a good cut of beef. A popular choice in restaurants, it can cook up to a delicious level. Cuts are often defined by the level of marbling (the 'veins' of fat that wend through a piece). That fat melts under intense heat and diffuses into and around the meat, delivering a juicy, flavorful dish. Porterhouse has ample marbling to produce those effects.

T-bone derives its name from the shape of the bone that holds together the sections of beef that are the centerpiece of the recipe. Cut from just below the porterhouse section, the bone helps provide additional flavor and solidity, making for a tasty meal.

This cut is similar to a tenderloin, which is cut from inside the breast. New York Strip is another popular variation, which is essentially a T-bone with the bone cut away. Strips are comparatively inexpensive, but still very tasty when prepared correctly.

Rib-eye is an even finer piece of beef, with considerable marbling. Cooked properly, this cut becomes tender on the inside with just the right amount of seared surface. The final result is a delicious barbecue that demonstrates why the style and cut remain so popular.

But whichever cut you pick, it's important to look for certain common elements in order to produce a delectable dish.

Freshness is critical. Frozen meat will never produce the best meal. Even when thawed correctly, by de-freezing slowly in the refrigerator not rapidly on the counter, the beef can never fully return to its original state.

Marbling should be ample, but not overwhelming. Fine threads that wind through the beef will help create a uniform level of good taste. But trim any excess around the perimeter to a thin outer layer in order to yield a dish that tastes like steak, not fat.

Cook slowly and apply rubs or sauces to taste, while remembering that the meal is in the beef.

Cooking Brisket

Brisket is a cut from the breast, usually the lower part. It commonly refers to beef, but can mean chicken, pork or other animal meats. Though a badly made brisket can certainly be tough and unappetizing, if well done they can be highly tasty.

One key to cooking a brisket is the necessity to do so very slowly. Throwing even a small brisket cut of beef onto a grill for twenty minutes is almost to guarantee something that would be better regarded as beef jerky. But slow cooked, in a smoker or brick oven, sometimes for even as long as 24 hours can produce a tender, mouthwatering meal.

But, however prepared, every good meal starts with good ingredients.

A good piece of brisket will have some fat on it. On top of the cut it should have a fat cap that is about 1/4 inch thick, in order to supply the meat with ample flavor as it melts into the outer layer of muscle.

A fine brisket will be fresh, not frozen. Thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter, is always preferable but still a second best proposition. Once frozen, meat never returns fully to its original state. A healthy looking red color and ample marbling throughout are signs that you've selected well. 'Marbling' is a pattern of 'veins' of fat that wend through the meat.

A proper slab of brisket is going to weigh about 10 pounds, so it will need to be prepared properly before being slow cooked.

Every backyard chef has his favorite rub and preferred marinade. In the case of brisket, be prepared to use more than usual, owing to the thickness and the need to slow cook. The meat will need to marinade longer as well.

Mustard is a simple, yet popular beginning for a sauce for brisket, especially in the South. Slathering a spicy mustard along the top lets the spices penetrate the meat without scorching on the bottom. Of course, in many cases, the brisket will be turned on a spit so 'top' and 'bottom' are meaningless.

Use sparingly, in any case. Spices and sauces serve the purpose of enhancing the flavor. They should never become the centerpiece of a recipe. The flavor of the meat should always be front and center.

When both are used, rubs are often applied after the sauce, where the sauce provides a good material for the spices to cling to.

To cook, put the brisket into the smoker with the fat cap on top. Wait at least an hour before turning on any rotating spit motor. You want the fat to melt down and around the sides and penetrate the meat slowly. Some will inevitably drip off, but by starting with the thick marbling on the top, you'll get good coverage.

Add woods for enhancing the smoking flavor according to your personal preference. Mesquite is a popular choice for obvious reasons: it adds a fine flavor.

Cook at about 225°F (107°C), about 75 minutes for every pound of brisket. That works out to 12 1/2 hours for a 10 lb cut. Just about right. Check the meat with a thermometer every hour after seven hours to ensure a uniform interior. The meat should reach at least 180°F (82°C) for taste and safety.