Chef, schmef. Who understands steak better than the butcher?
To kick off the grilling season, we enlisted Lou Kreitzman, owner of the 21-year-old Prime Time Butcher in Woodbury and third-generation scion of a meat-wholesaling family. Not only has Kreitzman been selling meat his whole adult life, he's been explaining to his customers how to cook it. We spent an afternoon with Kreitzman at his Great Neck home and took notes while he grilled five steaks and shared expert advice.
Steak prep: Let the steaks come to room temperature before grilling -- which will take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on thickness. For the home griller, 1¼ inches is the maximum thickness Kreitzman recommends.
Heat: Kreitzman preheats the grill for at least 15 minutes on high. Once the steaks go on the grill, he turns it down to medium. "Unless the steaks are very thin -- like skirt steaks -- it's best to grill with the top down," he said.
Leave the steaks alone: Once you put them on the grill, don't move them around. "When they're ready to be flipped, they will release from the grill." Another indication the steaks are ready to flip: "Moisture will begin to bead up on the exposed side."
Doneness: After you flip a steak, the second side will need about half the time the first side needed. "The best way to tell if a steak is done," Kreitzman said, "is to use an instant-read thermometer." An internal temperature of 120 to 125 degrees is rare, 125 to 130 is medium-rare, 140 is medium, 150 is medium-well, 160 is well. Steaks should always rest 5 to 10 minutes after cooking, during which time the temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees.
Marinade: It's not that Kreitzman doesn't like marinade. "It's just that I really like the taste of meat," he said. Thick, flavorful, pricey cuts, such as porterhouse or rib eye he grills with no seasoning, but he's not averse to "infusing" other steaks with some extra-virgin olive oil and herbs. At the store, he sells hanger steaks in a marinade based on his own barbecue sauce.
Cleaning the grill: "When you're done for the day," he said, "cover the grate with heavy-duty foil, turn the heat to high. The grill will start to smoke, but in about 10 minutes, depending on how dirty your grill is, the smoke will clear. Open the grill and all the gunk will be reduced to ash."
His favorite summer steaks:
Kreitzman explained that "London broil" is not a cut of steak. It refers to any large, boneless cut that you slice (always across the grain) to serve. Most markets' London broils are from the top round, a singularly tough and bland cut of meat. Kreitzman is a big fan of the flat-iron steak, cut from the chuck (shoulder), which has a great flavor and texture.
The famous steakhouse steak is made up of two distinct cuts separated by a t-shaped bone: The larger cut, flavorful but somewhat fibrous, is variously referred to as strip steak, New York strip, Kansas City steak, club steak, shell steak, top loin steak. The smaller cut is the filet, incomparably tender but lacking in flavor. T-bone steaks (which, on the steer, are just adjacent to the porterhouses) have a smaller filet. "If you're willing to spend the money to buy a good prime steak, you can't do better than a porterhouse," Kreitzman said.
This thin, fibrous steak has a strong beefy flavor that can stand up to marinades. At Prime Time Butcher, Kreitzman sells them marinated in his own barbecue sauce. (He also likes this Asian marinade: Combine 1 cup hoisin sauce, ¼ cup prepared barbecue sauce, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger.) Skirt steaks are so thin, they are easy to overcook. Cook them with the grill cover open, and don't let them rest long before eating.
The rib eye is simply a standing rib roast that's been cut into steaks. Kreitzman prefers bone-in to boneless rib eyes. "The bone adds flavor and makes the steak cook more evenly," he said. "And, best of all, it's great to gnaw on." Rib eyes have "sweet, rich-tasting" meat and "even a choice steak will have good flavor." If you want an impressive steak and don't have access to prime, go for the rib eye.
Until recently, the hanger steak had few fans in this country. (The Japanese and French knew better.) "My father could never sell them," Kreitzman recalled. "He'd bring them home for us -- that's how they got the nickname 'butcher's tenderloin.' " The hanger is just as beefy and sweet as the skirt steak but is a little more tender. For our barbecue, Kreitzman grilled a hanger steak that had been treated to a few hours in a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and fresh herbs. If you like your steak well done, the hanger steak will retain a lot of its appeal.