By Shannon Hayes
Just a few weeks remain before the release of my newest cookbook, Long Way on a Little, which focuses on helping home cooks stretch their meat dollars as far as possible. Perhaps it is a reflection of these hard economic times that the advance sales of this new release are higher than any book I’ve ever written. We are all facing the need to stretch our dollars as far as possible, and folks who are committed to supporting a local, sustainable and just food system are no exception. That doesn’t mean we all need to stop eating steak dinners and subsist on a diet of pig knuckles and chicken feet (although, that’s not so bad…). A good grassfed steak dinner can actually be had for a pretty decent price.
If you are on a budget and you long for some tasty steak, look past the filet mignon and porterhouses (don’t worry, as your grass farm representative, I can assure you that we will always find someone who will buy those cuts!). Search about in the display case until you can find yourself a nice sirloin tip steak. A boneless cut with lots of lean muscle and very little waste, a sirloin tip steak will feed a lot of dinner companions for a great price. And they’ll be so tender, your dinner guests are likely to think you splurged on some top-of-the-line sirloin. A sirloin tip steak doesn’t ordinarily enjoy a good reputation in the tenderness department, but a locally-grown grassfed beef processed using old-fashioned dry-aging methods will yield different results. Read on to learn why.
Not to be confused with the sirloin steaks, which are tender cuts taken from the loin primal, the sirloin tip comes from the round, the largest primal on the hindquarter of a beef. In my experience, the sirloin tip is an unpopular cut of meat. Located in front of the femur, these steaks are made of up four muscles, the quadriceps, and they are recognizable by a horseshoe-shaped line of connective tissue that makes a prominent “U” in the center of each steak. An experienced meat connoisseur is likely to look at that line of connective tissue and quickly seek out something else for dinner. Connective tissue is tough, and it is not a welcome feature if one craves a tender steak.
That may well be a good decision if a person is buying wet-aged supermarket beef. Those animals are cut into primals immediately following slaughter, vacuum-packed in plastic bags, then allowed to “tenderize” in their own blood while they are shipped across the country. In that situation, the tell-tale “U” in a sirloin tip would indicate a less-desirable steak.
But the story changes when it comes to grassfed beef from small local farms, the vast majority of which are dry-aged in the traditional style. In this process, upon slaughter, the carcasses are hung from the hind legs for a minimum of 14 days prior to being broken down into primals.
It is well understood that dry aging concentrates beef flavor and enhances meat tenderness. But there is an added bonus when it comes to the sirloin tip. Because the muscle fibers are located in front of the femur, when the carcass is hung in the old-fashioned dry-aging style, these muscles are stretched for a prolongued period of time. – Think of it as a post-slaughter prolongued yoga stretch. As a result, sirloin tip can produce some of the most tender roasts and steaks on the animal…and very few people ever know about it.
The presence of the band of connective tissue also works in favor of the sirloin tip. The muscles hold up better to the marinating process than the more tender cuts from the loin. Because they’ve worked harder than the typical loin muscles, they also have a more pronounced beefy flavor that is not easily overpowered by the seasonings in my favorite marinades. Thus, if you are craving a piece of meat that you can leave for a few hours in Tequila and Lime for steak fajitas, or you long to savor some teriyaki-marinated steak, this is an ideal cut.
And the best part? It’s usually pretty cheap. They are plentiful on the beef, and relatively unpopular at the market, which means a lower price point.
To cook them, follow the same instructions as I give for grilling other cuts of grassfed steak. Below are some possible marinades you might use, along with some simple grilling instructions (all taken from Long Way on a Little, due out this September).
Works with beef or pork
Makes slightly more than 1 cup
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons coarse unrefined (Celtic gray) sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil
Total Carbohydrates: 11.99 g
Dad’s Tamari Balsamic Marinade
Works with beef, pork, lamb, or poultry
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup olive oil
¼ cup tamari
½ cup Balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons honey
Total carbohydrates: 62.31 g
Add steak to marinade, cover, and refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally. Remove from the marinade and pat dry. Allow the meat to sit out on your counter to come to room temperature while you prepare your grill.
Start the grill and warm it until it is hot. If you are using a gas grill, turn off all but one of the burners once it has come up to temperature. If you are using charcoal, be sure all the coals have been raked to one side. Use the hand test: the grate will be hot enough when you can hold your palm 3–4 inches above the metal grate for no more than three or four seconds.
Sear the steaks for 2 minutes on each side over direct heat. Move the steaks off direct heat, close the lid, and allow the steaks to cook over indirect heat, without turning, until they reach 120–135 degrees, about 5–7 minutes per pound.
Once they are cooked, remove the steaks to a platter and allow them to rest 5 minutes before serving. Serve sirloin tip steaks by slicing it into thin strips, being sure to cut across the grain of the muscle.
Shannon Hayes is the author of four books: The Grassfed Gourmet, The Farmer and the Grill, Radical Homemakers, and Long Way on a Little. She works with her family to raise and market grassfed meat on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York. Her books are available for purchase through most conventional venues, as well as directly from the author at retail and wholesale prices at Grassfed Cooking.com and Shannon Hayes.info.