Food & Drink

What is a hand-trimmed steak?

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trimming fat from steak
A hand-trimmed steak looks good and tastes better
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Here's some tips on what a hand-trimmed steak means for better grilling

There's nothing like a good steak ... or is there? Some steak chefs say you shouldn't grill a prime piece of beef like a New York strip until you hand-trim it. Since I'm always seeking steak perfection, I decided find out what is a hand-trimmed steak, why is it better and how can I do it in my own kitchen?

So what exactly is the hand trimming off? Fat - specifically the ribbons of various thickness circling the outside of a steak. Some fat, like the little specks in the meat we call marbling, is good for the steak but this stuff isn't. On the grill, this ribbon of fat will melt and drip onto the coals or burners, causing flare-ups that can burn your premium-cut steak and your eyebrows too. This fat cooks faster than the meat and shrinks when it cooks, causing the steak to curl up pull away from the heat, which means some parts will cook slower than others. Because it cooks faster, this fat has a tendency to burn and negatively affect the taste of your steak.

Some beef cuts, like filets or tenderloins, have no fat. Why don't butchers remove the excess fat when they're cutting other steaks like a porterhouse? One reason is that it adds weight to the meat, increasing profits. The second is because the butcher doesn't know what temperature you're going to cook your steaks at.

Slow cooking, especially in a pan at a low temperature under 350 degrees, will melt the fat and add juices to the steak. On the other hand, high temperature cooking on a grill causes that fat to burn and add its nasty burnt taste to the meat. If you need any more reason to hand trim, some researchers say this burnt fat and the charred meat it creates can cause cancer. That's enough reasons to convince me to go with hand-trimmed steaks. So, how do you get one?

The easiest way to get a hand-trimmed steak is to ask a good butcher to do it for you, but it's so easy that there's no reason not to trim the meat yourself. Once the meat is room temperature, use a sharp non-serrated knife to cut off the ribbons of fat until there's only one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch left, being careful not to cut into the meat. Check the corners of the steak for large chucks of fat and cut those away too. You can help that thin ribbon of fat melt better and not cause the steak to curl by making small incisions into it at one inch intervals, stopping the blade when it reaches the meat.

Don't get discouraged and switch to burgers - just take your time.

That's all there is to having a hand-trimmed steak. It's worth the small amount of time and effort to trim the fat and bring your grilled steak ever closer to culinary perfection.

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