Steak Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

When I was just a lad, cooking for myself and, more importantly, paying for the food that I ate; I was a model of frugality (not like today, when I think nothing of using Petrus as cooking wine). I used to shop for meat at my local Safeway, which was in a great neighborhood (Rockridge, if anyone knows the East Bay), but not too far from a few less savory and elegant places. So they had porterhouses alongside chuck steaks, and that is where I used to head when I had an urge for steak, which was fairly often. I would buy a thick chuck steak, at least two inches, and then let it age for a few days in the bottom of my refrigerator. At 69¢/lb. I could get a pretty hefty steak for not much money.

Cooking it was one of the simple pleasures in my life. I would return from work quite late, usually close to midnight (don’t ask), pop open a bottle of beer made by one of the many small, spectacularly good microbreweries in Northern California, and begin the ritual. I would fire up my trusty Weber grill with far too much charcoal, and when the flames were licking the underside of the deck above me I would spread out the coals so the entire grill surface would heat, hopefully red-hot. If it were a cold February night then I would have to settle for a less impressive temperature, but it was always at least roaring hot. Then came the tough part. Chuck is a boldly flavored cut, but it also has a fair amount of fat interspersed among the sections of meat. At 69¢/lb. it isn’t marbling, it is thick chunks of fat. And as many of you grillers know; fat burns. So I had to be careful, turning the steak and moving it around the grill as it cooked. But that was half the fun, so I didn’t mind.

The steaks usually turned out very well, with great beef flavor and an almost crispy surface from the intense heat.  And I was usually drooling with hunger by this time, so I wouldn’t worry too much about cutting away the fat. Admit it, grilled fat does taste good. I rarely finished the steak, so I would have enough for a sandwich or two, usually made with Semifreddi bread from the wine store around the corner. Good stuff!

I found a chuck steak in my local market recently and couldn’t resist the temptation. And last night I fired up the gas grill (yes, I have become weak in my old age) and had a grand old time. Just to make sure that my wife would be fed, I also grilled a T-bone. Both steaks were aged for the same length of time, and both came off the grill at the same temperature (rare). And ya know? They were both good. Different, but good. While I agree with Thomas Wolfe that “You Can’t Go Home Again,” maybe you can, but just for dinner.

2 Replies to “Steak Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive”

  1. Ah, Rockridge! I lived in the East Bay for almost 10 years, first by Lake Merritt, and then with two roommates in a house high in the Oakland hills. The food! The bread, the coffee, the produce, the restaurants, the wine! All affordable to me, as a single person on a modest salary. Now that I’m married, with one kid about to go to an expensive college and another kid to follow in a few years, it’s Stop ‘n Shop and Costco for me … but I’ll always have Oakland.

  2. It really was the greatest culinary center in the country. I just assumed that I could find, at reasonable cost, the best quality …everything! And I was usually correct. My favorite was wandering into the little wine store opposite Safeway and finding great bread from a few different bakeries. And then walking up to the counter to pay for my purchases and seeing plastic bags filled with gorgeous dried morels.

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