Ribs, steaks or burgers: be sure to know the basics

MARQUETTE – With Fourth of July celebrations fast-approaching, it’s time to start planning for the all-important proteins. Whether you’re grilling or barbecuing, being informed and prepared will make your hard-earned rest and relaxation that much tastier.

Dan Meadows has been the owner of Marquette Meats in the Westwood Mall since he bought it from his dad 5 year ago. He offered some tips for a juicy steak or burger.

When selecting meat, some considerations are local versus non-local and grass- versus grain-fed. While local beef will benefit your community and reduce the number of miles it travels (thus the “carbon footprint”), the taste will probably be comparable, Meadows said. As far as grass versus grain, it’s true cows’ digestion is adapted to grass and that it affects meat composition, but it’s also a matter of taste.

“Grass-fed beef is leaner,” Meadows said. “It’s lower in cholesterol and fat than grain-fed, but if you want a well-marbled steak, then grain-fed is the way to go.”

For preparation, overnight marinades lend flavor and tenderness to a steak, or just a rub of spices or fresh garlic before grilling will do the trick. For the best flavor, Meadows also recommends letting the meat sit out unrefridgerated for about 20 minutes before grilling.

Let the grill get hot before cooking, about 6-700 degrees (or for a charcoal grill, until the coals are all white), Meadows said. An eight to 10 ounce steak needs about four minutes on each side for a medium to medium-rare result. After the steak is removed from the heat, let it sit for five to 10 minutes, he said. This will finish the cooking process and allow juices that have collected on top to be reabsorbed.

For thicker steaks that won’t cook through consistently, you can “butterfly” the steak before grilling, which is to cut it laterally throught the middle – stopping just short of cutting all the way through, so you can lay it down flat to resemble butterfly wings.

With burgers, stay away from liquid marinades and go with a simple rub before cooking. He said the most common mistake people make is overcooking them.

“You’ll know they’re done when the texture of the meat gets firm,” Meadows said. “When the consistency goes from soft to solid, that’s about a medium to medium-well. After that, it starts drying out.”

Once the burgers are cooking, don’t press or flatten them with a spatula, he said.

“If you want it to be thinner or cook faster, flatten it before you put it on the grill,” Meadows said. “Otherwise what you’re doing is just pushing the juiciness right out of it.”

In the Northern United States and Britain, the terms barbecuing and grilling are practically interchangeable. But in the South, barbecue is distinct with numerous regional variations.

Tom and Vanessa Curry started Rollin’ Smoke BBQ in 2012 and are now located on Wright Street in Marquette. It’s one of two places in town that serves authentic southern-style barbecue, the other being the Union Grill.

Tom was raised in Florida, where it was simply his go-to food, he said.

“In the South, barbecue is smoked meat, pretty much,” he explained. “In Texas, barbecue is dry-rubbed brisket. In Memphis, it’s sauced up spare ribs. In (the Carolinas), it’s Carolina-style pulled pork. It’s all regional.”

In the north, barbecue refers to ribs simply cooked on a grill, Curry said. But thats too chewy for him.

“The only way to make barbecue really soft and tender and moist is to slow-cook it,” he said. “‘Low and slow’ is what they call it – maintaining a low temperature for a long period of time. That makes it super tender.”

A “long time” here refers to 16-20 hours of consistent low heat until the meat hits an internal temperature of about 180 degrees, Curry said. If you don’t have a smoker, the meat can be cooked this way in an oven, which steams instead of smoking it. For ribs, Curry recommends the “3-2-1” method.

First, trim your ribs down to the traditional rack. Smoke (or steam) the ribs for three hours, “low and slow,” at a temperature between 150 and 200 degrees. Take the meat out and wrap it in tin foil. Smoke or steam it for two more hours. Remove from the oven or smoker and unwrap the meat. Apply desired sauce and place back in your smoker/oven for another hour. Finish it on the grill for an optional charred effect, he said.

And barbecue sauce is as varied as the methods of cooking, the Currys explained.

“Every region has their own,” said Tom. “Mississippi barbecue is kind of vinegary.”

“Memphis-style is sweet, spicy, tangy,” Vanessa said.

“Carolina has three different variations,” Tom continued. “Tomato- or catsup-based sauce, mustard-based sauce or vinegar-based. We use the mustard base, just because I serve food that I like.”

Experimenting with flavors can be fun and educational, Vanessa said – if risky. They try flavor combinations at home to figure out what works before bringing it to their menu.

“We have a jalapeno-strawberry for our red sauce right now,” she said. “So it’s sweet with a little bit of bite to it.”

The main components of a barbecue sauce are vinegar, catsup and/or mustard; sugar, honey and/or molasses; the smoky flavor (from smoking the meat or “liquid smoke” added to the sauce); worcester sauce; onions, and other fresh flavors if desired; and spices to taste, Curry said.

“Cook it down for about 2-3 hours,” to your desired consistency, he said. “And blend the daylights out of it.”

The Currys use propane heat to keep the temperature consistent throughout the extended cooking process, as well as local wood for the smoky flavor.

“We’ve basically got southern barbecue with yooper tones,” he said. “Instead of using hickory or mesquite like everybody down south says you have to, we use cherry and maple and apple – northern hardwoods.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.