8 ways to get your grill on: Summertime cooking tips from Vancouver butchers

Two local experts share their advice for perfectly grilled meat

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      If you haven’t had a chance to cook on a grill yet this summer, now’s the time, whether it’s on your back deck, on your apartment patio, or at the nearest beach with a portable. 

      Here are a few words of wisdom from two local butchers who know a thing or two about how to get the most out of your meat: Aaron Silk of Windsor Meats (various locations) and Pasqual Stufano of Two Rivers Specialty Meats—the Shop (180 Donaghy Avenue, North Vancouver).

      Avoid over-marinating

      “The acid in a marinade can actually negatively change the texture of the meat and lead to a dry finished product,” Windsor Meats' Silk says. “For prime cuts like ribeye or striploin, one to two hours is plenty. Less tender cuts will need four to 12 hours.”

      Season smartly

      If you want a crust, season your steak right before grilling, as the undissolved salt will create a strong and flavourful result, Silk says. If you’re looking more concentrated flavour, season the steak 40 to 50 minutes prior to cooking to allow the salts to completely dissolve, which creates a brining effect that will lead to more robust flavour in the cooked meat.

      Go dry

      "Dry aging intensitifes flavour and reduces water weight, resulting in beef with a rich and deep flavour profile," Silk says. 

      Think outside the sirloin

      Here are a few lesser-known cuts to consider:

      - Zabuton steak: “This is also known as an underblade or a Denver steak," Two Rivers’ Stufano says. “It’s a nice, solid muscle cut from the chuck [the shoulder]. “It has exceptional marbling, which makes it visually appealing. It’s tender and super flavourful.

      “The pork version of a zabuton is called a pork chuck eye. It has even more of the shoulder in there. The muscle is known as the coppa, which is what capicola is made out of; it’s an extension of the neck,” he adds. “All you need for either of those is a little bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper."

      - Hanger Steak, aka flank steak: “This is a wonderful cut known for its strong, beefy flavour, which comes from being close to the diaphragm and internal organs such as the liver," Silk says. “It is a decently marbled cut that needs to be cooked between medium and medium rare to achieve proper texture. It’s suitable for grilling plain or with a marinade.” (Windsor Meats has partnered with Ravenswood Winery to produce a red-wine marinade made with the winery’s Zinfandel, the recipe for which it shares at its stores.)

      - Flat-iron steak: “This is another great cut taken off the shoulder blade,” Silk says.  “It can easily be substituted for a traditional sirloin. The cut will have high marbling and maximum flavour. It is also quite versatile and will pair nicely with a marinade or be excellent on its own.”

      - Sirloin cap: “The sirloin cap steak is one of my personal favourites,” Silk says. “It is a triangular cut taken off the top of the sirloin and is what I like to call a ‘poor man’s striploin”. It has a spectacular fat cap on the top with great marbling and can be grilled as steaks or grilled or roasted as a whole piece. Because the cut is naturally flavourful, there is no need to marinate it.”

      Stick a brick on it

      If you’re grilling chicken, Stufano suggests using boneless, skin-on chicken thighs then placing a cast-iron pan or a brick wrapped in tin foil on top of them while they're on the grill. Doing so will flatten the thighs so they cook evenly, and “the skin has complete contact with the grill, so you get a nice crispy exterior.” Marinate the thighs for anywhere from a few hours to 24 hours in advance. Grill them skin-side down to start for 10 minutes or so then flip and cook for about another four minutes.

      Skewer it

      Stufano loves combining different types and cuts of meat—perhaps "sweetbreads and chicken thighs and pork shoulder and tenderloin"—on skewers along with mushrooms, pickled onions, and other veg. "It's a full meal on a stick," he says. He likes using flattened skewers available at Persian grocery stores to make koftas (meatball kababs) and koobidehs (meat kababs).

      Let meat come to room temperature before grilling

      If you skip this step, you won't get a super sear, since moisture on the outside of meat will create steam when it hits the heat.

      Have fun with it

      “Don’t’ be afraid to burn stuff a bit—okay, char,” Stufano says. “Pour beer on your food.”