WASHINGTON — Hot dogs and hamburgers are great, but if you’re looking to change up the menu at your next cookout, Scott Weiss says you can’t go wrong with steak — especially if you’re entertaining a crowd.
“It’s really easy to slice it up and serve a large group of people,” said Weiss, who is the head butcher at Via Umbria in Georgetown.
“You can stretch a small amount for a lot of people, or you can get a lot of meat for a few people and have leftovers. It’s an easy thing to do.”
The best cuts for the grill
One of the many wonderful things about choosing steak for your next grill-focused gathering is variety.
Whether you purchase your meat from a boutique butcher or a large grocery store, chances are you’ll have options ranging from fatty filets to lean cuts.
Where does one begin? Weiss says if you have the budget, bigger is better. He prefers a porter house, bone-in rib eye or New York strip steak for the grill.
“They all have a lot of fat, which is really good for grilling, because as the fat melts out a little bit, that causes the [flames] to flare up, which is where you get all of your good smokey flavor.”
How to pick out a quality cut
An exceptional meal starts with an excellent piece of meat, and there are some steps you can take in the store to ensure you come home with a quality cut.
Weiss says the easiest thing to do is to look at the color of your beef.
“A lot of times you see that bright red color on beef, which is actually not good. Usually that means the grocery store has dyed the meat in some way.”
Instead, what you want to see is “a beautiful ruby-purple.” Weiss says that color is the result of a steak that’s been dry-aged — a process that elevates its overall flavor.
If your store allows and you’re not too shy, take a quick sniff. Weiss says a nutty smell is also a sign of dry-aging.
Choosing chicken? Try a spatchcock
Grilling chicken for a crowd can be difficult for a number of reasons. If you buy just one type of meat (breasts or thighs), you’re leaving out the guests who prefer dark meat over light, or vice versa.
If you purchase a mix of breasts and thighs, you’ll spend the majority of your time at the grill, tending to the different cooking times of each. That is why when Weiss cooks chicken on the grill, he buys a whole chicken and spatchcocks it, or splits and flattens the bird.
Once the chicken is spatchcocked, it takes about 20 minutes to cook on the grill. The result is crispy skin and moist meat. A free-range bird will feed about three to four people.
Keep it simple: Do a dry rub
There’s no need to marinate your meat for 12 hours ahead of your gathering. For both steak and pork chops, Weiss relies on a dry rub for easy prep and a fail-proof method of seasoning.
Just apply your favorite spices right before you throw your meat on the grill, and don’t overdo it.
“If you’re investing in a good cut of meat, just salt and pepper even. It goes a long way,” Weiss said.
If feel compelled to use a marinade, select a cut of meat that has some ridges to it, such as a skirt steak or hanger steak.
“These will take a marinade much easier and much quicker because the marinade can really get into the meat,” Weiss added.
Don’t agonize over a million side dishes. The best way to host a stress-free and delicious cookout is to serve just a few things alongside the main dish.
For example, deviate from the typical chips and crudite and set out an antipasti platter for your guests before the main meal. Fill a large platter with some charcuterie, cheeses, olives and fruit.
“It just whets the appetite, gets people a little thirsty so they have a good time,” Weiss said.
Skip the pasta salad and opt for a grilled seasonal vegetable, such as asparagus. Dessert can also be grilled. Peaches, pineapple and even watermelon taste sweeter with a little char — and a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream on top.
Most of all, relax. Weiss says grilling out is all about enjoying the season and the people around you.
“It’s one of the hardest ways of cooking to screw up. You’re going to end up with something tasty,” Weiss said.
Want to learn more about meat and the best ways to cook it? Weiss hosts a series of classes at Via Umbria called “Being the Butcher.” Check the store’s website for a schedule of upcoming events.
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