Barbecue on a budget

Fire up the grill — these cheaper cuts of meat have real sizzle

We’ve all heard of a rib-eye, a tenderloin, a T-bone. These premium steaks are trumpeted as the best of the best. But who can afford them when there’s your kids’ soccer camp, piano lessons and a summer cottage rental to pay for? Butchers have a secret, or a half-dozen of them: flavourful, wonderful steaks that cost less, sometimes way less, than their better-known peers.

Smoky Blade Steak
The flavouring rub here is savoury but not spicy, tempting to adults and kids alike. If you want to go old-school, serve one steak per person — but the more modern approach is to slice the steak thinly, across the grain, and serve on a platter with some veggies, salad and maybe some potatoes. This way each large blade steak can feed at least two people. One more thing: The label on the steaks might say “simmering” — don’t pay any attention. This cut is tender enough to barbecue, if you know what you’re doing. Follow this recipe and you won’t go wrong.

Hanger Steak
This cut is also called “onglet,” “hanging tender” or “butcher’s steak” (because butchers have traditionally set it aside for their own dinners). The flavour and colour are top-notch, but it can be a little chewy if overcooked, so keep it rare-ish in the middle. These steaks are long and cylindrical; if yours are still attached by a ribbon of gristle, ask the butcher to remove it.

Asian-Inspired Flank Steak
My vegetarian son says if one dish could ever lure him back to meat, this would be it. The trick here is the kid-pleasing marinade, which is essential for both flavour and tenderness because flank is a tougher cut.

Flat-Out Easy Flatiron
In terms of tenderness, flatiron steak is second only to the tenderloin, but costs less than half as much. Unlike some other bargain cuts of beef, this one can handle more time on the grill (rare-meat avoiders rejoice!). If your family finds the garlic-and-herb rub too flavourful, just season steak with salt and pepper, and serve with a side of Homemade BBQ Sauce.

Steak Secrets
Fabulous as they are, these alternative cuts of meat aren’t always easy to find. Flank and blade steaks are generally available at the supermarket (if you don’t see them, ask at the meat counter). But you’ll probably have to visit a butcher shop for hanger or flatiron steak. That’s not a bad thing; after you’ve tried these recipes and feel ready to explore even further, you’ll be chummy enough with the butcher to ask about the tri-tip and skirt steak, two more budget cuts worth getting to know.

How to pan-sear a steak

  1. Choose a cast iron or other heavy-bottomed, oven-safe skillet (no wood or plastic handles). Grease with 2 tbsp (30 mL) canola or other oil that can handle high temperatures (olive oil isn’t a good choice here).
  2. Place skillet on the stove over high heat while you season meat (pat the meat dry first). It’s hot enough when the oil starts to shimmer.
  3. Keeping the stove on high, place only one or two pieces of meat in the skillet at a time. Overcrowding will lower the temperature of the pan and prevent meat from searing properly.
  4. Leave meat to cook for a good three minutes before turning. Don’t poke it or check it or move it. Believe!
  5. Thicker steaks and large pieces of meat (like flank) will need to finish cooking in the oven at 450°F (230°C). After you’ve seared both sides, place steak in the oven, still in the skillet, for 5 to 10 minutes until it’s done to your liking.