The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 20, 2013

Joe Hadsall: Grilling cookbook packed with inspiration

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — At the risk of spoiling a secret stash of steaks, I'm pretty excited about a good source of flat irons. And it's not like steaks are morels.

Food 4 Less has had them fairly regularly over the last few weeks, for about $3.98 a pound. That's a nice change from the almost $7 or $8 a pound prices I was seeing a few months ago.

I've written about flat irons before: They have the flavor and size of a sirloin and the tenderness of a filet. The good ones come in a vacuum-sealed package and can weigh anywhere from 1 to 2 pounds.

With a healthy supply of flat irons, I've been able to experiment with a new grilling cookbook that has turned out to pretty handy and comprehensive.

"Weber's New Real Grilling," by Jamie Purviance, is a porterhouse-thick cookbook filled with more than 330 color pages with great photography and a well-designed layout organized by type of food to be grilled.

If the name of the book doesn't make it obvious enough, all the recipes require the use of a Weber grill -- because I'm a Weber charcoal snob, mine is usually ready to go pretty quickly.

Each section provides good information and general cooking tips. Though The Lovely Paula is a big fan of my grilled chicken, I learned a couple  of things from the book that will help me improve it.

Purviance also has some basics at the beginning, from a walkthrough of different grilling tools to lessons on some less-used techniques, such as braising.

The most surprising thing about the book is the variety of recipes, from an extensive selection of appetizers to a menu of fruity desserts, including cakes and French toast. With the right attachments, a cook can stir fry some great chicken or bake a smoky pizza.

Yeah. Pizza. On a grill. Makes sense -- I love the taste of wood-fired pizza, so I'm looking forward to trying the stuffed pizza recipe.

In fact, there's so much I want to try. The recipes look fairly easy -- Purviance is somewhat forgiving with ingredients, using easier to find options instead of luxury, high-priced foodstuffs. He also gives options -- for the pizzas, you can use pre-made dough or make your own.

But he finds enough unique ingredients to provide inspiration for other creations.

I tried the book's New York strip steaks with Parmesan basil crust and garlic butter -- only with flat irons, of course. And the steaks didn't disappoint. All the instructions were easy to follow, yet the extra work added incredible layers of flavor (Parmesan cheese: How can something that smells like feet taste so delicious? I have no clue).

My only gripe with the book is that sometimes the use of the grill seems excessive. Some of the salads and other entrees require the grilling of one ingredient.

If I'm going to light a fire, I'm going to grill a lot, not just a few ears of corn for a summer salad. I cannot abide a wasted fire. Yet, to make the best use of the grill requires a healthy shopping list that may require waiting until payday.

Others recipes seem included for the express purpose of selling Weber grilling accessories and attachments.

There are a few stir fry recipes that require sticking a wok in a special grill with a big hole in the middle. While I like stir fry, I don't see the immediate need to stir fry on a grill -- it doesn't seem like you can keep the lid closed long enough for smoke to add any flavor. So I'll skip those.

But there's still a healthy load of inspiration inside the book. Most of the recipes are functional with any gas or charcoal grill, and there are enough tips and training sections to increase your grilling know-how significantly, from basic to advanced details.

I love grilling, and I love my Weber, so I'm going to get mileage out of this cookbook. Released earlier this year, it retails for $24.95 -- or about six pounds of flat iron steaks.

Fake flat irons

Food 4 Less is one of the few places I've found flat irons at a good price. Dillon's in Pittsburg regularly carries them, and there are a few smaller groceries, such as Meat and More Outlet Store in Webb City, that have them in stock.

At the risk of beating a dead cow: Do NOT get the flat irons from Walmart.

A little background: The flat iron is a relatively new cut of meat discovered when the top blade from the shoulder was cut differently.

The meat of the top blade is pretty good, except for a large piece of fascia that runs through the center. Instead of cutting perpendicular to that gristle-like fascia, the new technique involved a parallel cut, removing most of it completely.

The resulting piece of meat is shaped like an antique flat iron -- hence the name. While it resembles the shape of tougher flank and skirt steaks, it has a much better tenderness.

Walmart still cuts their flat irons perpendicularly. When you look at the package, you can see that chunk of fascia clear as day.

That's a big deal, because it can ruin the texture of a flat iron, or significantly affect its preparation. I've seen cooks tenderize flat irons with a lancer -- a series of arranged needles that break up the fascia -- allegedly.

That fascia isn't like the collagen of a brisket, however. It won't melt, it won't go away. It'll just get rubbery.

Technically, Walmart isn't mislabeling their flat irons. The meat still comes from the same part of the chuck, and because there are no guidelines for the definition of "flat iron" (similar to French wines or European olives), a place can call it pretty much whatever it wants.

Fine. But as much as I recommend flat irons for grilling, avoid the flat irons at Walmart. According to my unscientific opinion, Walmart's beef is generally overpriced and of lower quality -- the flat iron cut is just the most glaring example of that.

Bacon discovery

In other grilling geekery, I've discovered the magic of pre-cooked bacon.

Last weekend, I found some Hormel precooked bacon for a great price -- so great I sent stepson Mitchell back to stock up.

The stuff isn't fresh, but it reheats so well on top of burgers.

I whipped up a batch of burgers last weekend. During grilling, I placed sliced-up strips of the bacon on top of the burger after the last turn. Then during the last minute, I covered the bacon with cheese.

While it didn't have the crunch of freshly-made bacon, it had all the flavor. The juice from the burgers got soaked up in the bacon, and the heat gave it a good amount of sizzle.

Precooked bacon is perfect for the grill. Or snacking. Or on sandwiches. Or dinner. Or breakfast. Or on anything anyone can think up. Precooked bacon is still bacon.