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Overlooked cuts of beef

Balin's spiced beef
Beth Accomando
Beth Accomando for NPR
Balin's spiced beef

The team of expert young butchers at John Brown can dismantle a whole animal in about half a day. Of course there will be lots of New York strips and bone-in rib eye steaks, but they also will come up with a multitude of other cuts that are much less known and sadly under-appreciated.

Once thought of as lowly remnant cuts, these useful little bits of beef usually have a ton of flavor and a soft, supple texture. They are so good that 6 to 8 ounces per person is a decent serving.

Let's start with a home truth: flavor wise, the revered filet mignon is actually one of the least appealing steaks you can get. The reason as simple. The more work a muscle gets over the course of a cow's life, the tastier it will be. Correspondingly, it can also get tougher so cooking technique matters.

The filet mignon comes from the top of the cow's back and it does very little work at all. So it ends up soft and bland. Conversely, anything associated with the legs, let's say, works hard and tastes better.

I want to start with my new favorite cut, the Denver steak. This small cut comes from underneath the shoulder blade of the cow, getting some work. The result is a very flavorful, but fairly tender steak. On the plate, be sure to cut in with the long grain when you dig in. That will maximize its texture.

The flat-iron steak, also called the top blade steak comes from the chuck or shoulder of the cow. The original way it was trimmed resulted in a sort of triangular piece, looking like an old-fashioned flat iron. Today it's rectangular and about an inch thick. It has the reputation of being the second most tender steak on the cow, and it is good for grilling or broiling.

The tri-tip steak is becoming a little bit better known. A long, roughly triangular cut, it is thick, so it requires careful cooking. Consider it a roast of sorts.

A two pound tri-tip will easily serve four people. Just season it, sear it in a skillet and then transfer to a hot 425° oven and roast it for 12 minutes per pound.

Another favorite of mine is the toro steak. This comes from the center of the belly and is a long thin piece of meat. Because it isn't much more than a 1/2 inch thick, it can grill very quickly. I season with a lot of pepper, and then flash grill it, about 90 seconds on each side. Serve it with chimichuri and black bean stew for a

Cuban inspired dinner.

I could go on and on talking about merlot steaks, bavettes, the teres major, flank steaks and skirt steaks, the hanger steak. There are a lot of exciting cuts to try, but be sure to ask your butcher how to cook and serve them. There's a lot going on in a side of beef, and that makes it fun to explore.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.