The key to hosting successful barbecues, the kind that make you woozy with approval, is really no secret. You buy better meat than your guests are used to eating and don’t screw it up. That has always been my plan, and I generally stick by it. The thing I depend on most (other than salt) is a supply of well-marbled rib steaks, marinated skirts and hangars, and other lushly juicy cuts I can sear quickly on high heat and slice up.
But I was recently in a bad situation. I was in Israel, far from my supply chain, and cooking for the first time for an extended family of in-laws that have heard about me as some kind of meat guru. What kind of meat guru doesn’t have control of his own meat, though? My wife’s cousin poo-pooed my plan to go shopping with him, so when I arrived at the family compound, and am presented with whatever inferior cuts of meat he had bought, I found myself in a sticky situation.
So, you might ask, how did I plan on getting out of it? What was my special trick to grilling greatness? How did I work my meat magic around the problem? Well, I didn’t. There is nothing I can do to change a meat’s toughness, its leanness, its total lack of life-giving fat, the true flavor.
If I’d had time, I would have marinated it in red wine and herbs with garlic and lemon, and burned it over hickory chips or mesquite. It would’ve made the dish at least something closer to a tasty meal. But I didn’t and couldn’t. Though I was able to use charcoal, which imparted some flavor to the otherwise lackluster dish, I wasn’t able to raise it to the level I wanted. Salt, olive oil, garlic and charcoal can’t make up for what is missing. Proof there is no substitute for the quality of meat.