Source: San Antonio Express-News | March 18, 2019
By Chuck Blount for the San Antonio Express-News
There isn’t anything cut off a cow that’s named Steve, Eric or Lisa, but there is a major cut named after me: Chuck. I think that’s bovine providence. And the good news is that chuck’s plenty tasty.
Chuck cuts come from the front shoulder area, a large area of muscle that is asked to do a lot of work and hold up a lot of weight. Hardworking muscles have a tendency to be flavorful, but they also have a reputation for being tough. Brisket, which is situated directly below the chuck, has the same issue.
Packaged as chuck roasts or chuck steaks (sometimes labeled flat-iron streaks, Denver steak, or 7-bone roast or steak), these cuts are inexpensive meat market and grocery staples that are surging in popularity.
“The chuck roast really has some of the same muscles as a rib-eye roll, and the differences are very minor,” said Ray Riley, a meat science expert at Texas A&M University. “The beef industry has put a lot of attention into promoting these underutilized cuts, and people are starting to notice.”
I won’t make the argument that a chuck steak is better than a rib-eye in any capacity — it’s a losing fight on tenderness and pure beef flavor. But a prime rib-eye can fetch prices of $14 per pound or higher, while the chucks can routinely be acquired for less than $6.
The cost savings has started to get people to experiment with the meat, and the Bill Nye treatment has yielded some interesting findings.
“Because of the internet, people have been exploring the nontraditional cuts and are working with them more and more,” said Joe Doria, longtime manager at Bolner’s Meat Market on S. Flores St. “People have been cooking chuck roasts for a very long time, it’s just that now there might be 20 different ways to do it now, vs. 10 or so a decade ago.”
The only difference between a chuck steak and a roast is the size of the cut. Steaks are cut ½- to 1-inch thick, while the roasts are sold in big beefy slabs with 2 or 3 inches (sometimes more) of thickness that can weigh upwards of 5 pounds. Both will have some bone inside, and trimming will be required because chuck has areas of hardened, thick collagen fat that needs to be removed because it won’t render under heat. If you press into it, and there’s no give, cut it out.
“Once you master a recipe or a technique, it’s human nature to move on to something else,” Doria said. “Chuck is trendy now, and before long, it will be something else. But it’s a good cut of meat.”
The steaks need a little TLC before they are ready for the grill. Instead of a simple seasoning mix applied before tossing the meat on the flames, it’s better to apply an overnight marinade to add flavor and tenderize the meat. Liquids like soy and Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar or even a hearty, stout beer are good options.
Chuck steaks are cut so thin, they cook quickly, and about five minutes on each side on the grill can get you to medium rare. If you cook them a little beyond that, it’s not a deal breaker, the meat will just take on more of a steak fajita consistency.
Roasts provide more options and are commonly tossed in slow cookers as, well, roasts. They can be sliced up for steaks for a more personalized thickness, and are often braised, but I like to cook them low and slow like a brisket, and I’ll even copycat the dry rub seasoning mix.
One of my favorite new recipes is one that calls for chuck roast to make “Poor Man’s Burnt Ends.” The meat takes on a long smoke (about five hours for a 3 ½ pound cut), and is allowed to rest before cutting it into 1-inch squares that resemble those delectable bark-bites of a finished brisket. Douse the squares with some sauce, give it another two-hour blast in the smoker, and it’s one of the best beef bites in barbecue.