Cooking With Beef

— Written By Tracy Davis
en Español / em Português

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Steak with herbs, tomatoes, garlic, and seasonings and a log in the background

Steak with herbs, tomatoes, garlic, and seasonings and a log in the background

Summer is almost here and it’s time for camping with the family or hosting backyard barbecues with friends. It is so close you can almost taste all those juicy burgers and perfectly seared steaks you are going to make. However before you fire up the grill, follow these tips to ensure you have the safest and tastiest experience possible. 

First, if you really want to wow, try a delicious cut of beef for your summer get togethers. Beef is versatile and there is a wide variety of cuts to choose from. Not sure where to start? Check out this article for helpful information on the healthiest cuts and recommended portion sizes. After settling on what to make, it is time to go shopping! When purchasing beef, choose a product that is cold and firm to the touch. Inspect packaging closely, and avoid any that has holes, tears, or an excessive amount of liquid. Also, be sure to purchase on or before the sell-by date.

Refrigerate or freeze your beef as soon as possible. If it will be longer than thirty minutes between purchase and getting it home, it is a good idea to bring along a cooler or insulated bag to transport it in. Once you get home, consider whether you will use your beef product right away or save it for later. Steaks and roasts can be kept in the fridge 3-4 days; stew beef, kabobs, or strips will keep for 2-3 days; and ground beef must be used within 1-2 days of purchase. Make sure you store refrigerated beef packages on the lowest shelf and set it on a plate or tray to catch any juices. 

If you do not need your product right away, then it can be stored in the freezer. Beef can be frozen in its original packaging but it must also be placed in a resealable freezer bag with the air squeezed out, or wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. Also, be sure to label each package with the date it was frozen. Ground beef can be stored in the freezer for up to four months and all other cuts are good for about twelve months.

Defrost frozen beef in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. Most steaks, ground beef, and other small cuts will thaw in twelve to twenty-four hours. Larger roasts can take quite a bit longer, so plan accordingly. Faster defrosting methods can be used, but extra safety precautions must be taken. Thawing can be done in the microwave or by placing the beef in a sealed package in cold water. Be sure to change the water every thirty minutes. Products thawed using either of these methods must be cooked immediately.

Now that you are ready to prepare your beef product, what do you do? First, remember safety and sanitation is critical. Always be sure to wash your hands before and after handling raw beef. Avoid cross contamination by keeping raw meat away from other foods. Also, be sure to wash all utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water after contact with raw meat. 

When you are ready to cook, the number of methods and products out there can be overwhelming. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind that might make the process easier. First, you should decide if you want to add flavor or if your beef product needs to be tenderized. Tougher cuts of meat such as a skirt or top round steak benefits from tenderizing. While other cuts such as country-style ribs are made more delicious with the help of added flavor. 

If the goal is to tenderize, then you will want to use a marinade that tenderizes the beef while also imparting flavor. A marinade is a mixture of seasonings and an acidic liquid such as vinegar or citrus juice. Marinade your beef product in a plastic or glass container. If you plan to use some of the marinade as a baste or sauce, be sure to set aside a portion before adding the raw meat. Generally, you will need ½ cup of marinade per pound of meat. Marinating times vary between six to twenty-four hours.

If the beef does not need to be tenderized but you still want to add some flavor, then you can use a delicious rub. A rub is a mixture of seasonings that you rub onto the surface of meat before cooking. Not only do rubs add flavor, but they can also seal in juices and form a delicious crust. You can make your own dry rub by combining your favorite fresh or dried herbs, spices, and other seasonings. Or, add some oil, mustard, or soy sauce to create a paste rub. Rubs can be applied just before cooking or up to two hours in advance for a more pronounced flavor.

In terms of flavor, how you cook beef is just as important as what you add to it. When preparing ground beef avoid over-mixing. Doing so will result in an overly firm, compact texture. If making burgers, be sure to flip patties with a spatula and do not press down on them. Flattening down beef patties causes juices to be lost and results in a dry burger. Instead, avoid the temptation to flatten them out and use a meat thermometer to keep an eye on the internal temperature. Burgers are done when they reach 160 degrees.

When cooking steaks, use tongs to turn the meat. Avoid using a fork which will pierce the beef and result in the loss of flavorful juices. To determine doneness, use a meat thermometer making sure that it avoids touching fat or bone. Remove steaks at the desired temperature and let them rest before serving. Medium rare is 145 degrees, medium is 160, and well done is 170°F. 

If you are feeling adventurous in your grilling endeavor, you can try kabobs instead of burgers or steak. To prepare, cut kabob meat into uniform pieces and thread onto skewers leaving small spaces between each piece. Threading too loosely or tightly can cause uneven cooking. Barbecue rained out? Go inside and make a delicious stir fry instead. To make cutting beef strips easier and more uniform, pop the meat in the freezer for 20-30 minutes before slicing.

Now, you are ready to dust off your grill and get your apron ready. Summer is almost here and when it arrives you will be prepared to serve tasty burgers, steaks, and whatever else your guests crave, all season long.