After a long and sometimes brutal winter, Minnesotans are clamoring to get their grill out and fired up this summer.
And while most veteran grillers have their routine down pat, the greatest grilling in the world won’t get you anywhere with sub-par meat. Expert butchers from around the area say the first step to a great meal is selecting quality — and appropriate — ingredients.
Whether they’re topped with ketchup and onions, slathered in barbecue sauce and bacon, or topped with a poached egg, hamburgers are a versatile summer staple. When it comes to selecting the beef, however, experts say there is far less choice than toppings options.
Jeff Cresswell, store manager at Von Hanson’s Meat Market in Savage, said the best hamburgers are made with ground beef that has a higher fat content. He recommends the 83-17 mixture at Von Hanson’s and said anything above 90 percent is best left off the grill because it risks becoming dried out.
“I like to use (above 90 percent) mainly for chili, sloppy Joes, tacos, spaghetti — meals where you’re going to add it to something,” Cresswell said. “If you use it (for a) burger, it’s going to be dry.”
Kenny Pekarna, co-owner of Pekarna Meats in Jordan, recommends higher fat ground beef for grilling too, although he said low-fat ground round can make a good burger if prepared correctly.
The king of grilling meats, however, is the beef steak. But which cut is best? Pekarna said that comes down to a matter of preference.
“It really comes down to whatever the customer likes, there are a lot of different styles,” Pekarna said.
Common steak cuts are sirloin, ribeye, T-bone, New York strip and porterhouse. Cresswell said the different styles intertwine with each other. For example, a T-bone steak is essentially a bone-in New York strip and a porterhouse is a New York and a section of tenderloin.
Pekarna said ribeye is the best selling cut in his shop, probably because it tastes great and is one of the most adaptable steaks.
“You can’t screw it up, let’s put it that way,” he said. “Even well done, a ribeye is still flavorful.”
Ribeye’s bold flavor is the result of fat marbled throughout the beef, which enhances the beef’s natural flavor.
“It’s always flavorful, it’s always tender. You can serve it rare, medium or well and it should always be tender,” Pekarna said.
Those who prefer leaner meat should try sirloin or filet mignon cuts. Pekarna said those meats should not be cooked beyond medium, since they run the risk of becoming tough. So if you like your steak more thoroughly cooked, opt for a more marbled cut of meat.
“You want to serve sirloin more rare to medium-rare. Sirloin is leaner so it will be tougher,” he said.
Cresswell said Von Hanson’s grilling steaks, a variety of sirloin, are their most popular seller. The grilling steaks are a cut of sirloin with pop-up timers that are triggered when the interior of the steak hits 145 degrees.
“That’s nice because you don’t overdo them. You don’t want to overdo sirloin,” Cresswell said.
Both butchers recommend seasoning steak with salt and pepper and allowing it time to reach near room temperature before throwing it on the grill. Pekarna said garlic could be added for additional flavor. Cresswell recommends marinating sirloins and tenderloins to give the leaner steaks an added dimension.
“If you eat it as is, it can be kind of bland, but they are tender,” Cresswell said.
People who come into Von Hanson’s Meats for steak rarely leave with only that, Cresswell said. In the summer, they have about 15 varieties of prearranged kebabs.
“When we have a busy weekend it’s everything on a stick,” Cresswell said. “Kebabs are really popular.”
Most meat markets in the area prepare a variety of brats and other entrees as well. Pekarna said chicken and pork are growing in popularity at his shop. He recommends seasoning those meats with salt, pepper and onion and always making sure the interior reaches 160 degrees before pulling the chicken or port off the grill.
The world of grilling is still full of hotly contested debates, such as propane versus charcoal, high or low heat, or how many times one should flip steaks and burgers — but the one thing everyone can agree on is quality meat that fits one’s taste and routine.