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5 Questions for Frank Ottomanelli on Outdoor Meat Cookery -- Plus a Giveaway!

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We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today: Frank Ottomanelli, one of New York City's and's best butchers, shares his advice for buying and grilling great meat that's a cut above the rest. And we're making it easier to get your hands on some by giving away five $50 gift cards to

If anyone is an expert in all things meat, it's Frank Ottomanelli. His family business, S. Ottomanelli Prime Meats, has been providing some of the finest meats in New York City since 1923. That's why we've partnered with to bring you Frank's insider advice on buying meat and cooking it outdoors.

Frank has partnered with to distribute his products not only to New York City boroughs, but also to the entire New York metro area for the first time. Today, Frank is sharing his tips for selecting the best meat and cooking it to bring out maximum flavor, whether you're grilling for a crowd or serving filet for two at home.

Unless you've got some decked out outdoor kitchen with a full range installed, cooking meat outside typically means grilling or smoking. Do you prefer to grill meat or smoke it, and why? What tools are essential for your preferred cooking method?

First, I prefer grilling meat to smoking it because it's a lot easier to do and is a faster way of cooking outdoors. Smoking meat requires special equipment and precision; meat can easily get ruined if you smoke it too long or at an incorrect temperature. There are a variety of smoke chips that have unique flavors that can be used when smoking meats, but I prefer the natural flavor of charcoal and dried tree branches when grilling meats. I don’t use lighter fluid because it sometimes gives the meat a different taste than what it should have. I don’t want to ruin my meat with chemicals. A grill can be brought anywhere and even the cheapest grill, when used properly, will give you the same effects. Equipment to smoke meats is harder to find.

How to Grill Any Steak in 5 Steps, from Food52
More: How to grill a steak like a pro -- in only 5 steps

The nicer the weather, the bigger the party. What are the best bang-for-your-buck cuts to feed a crowd when cooking outside?

It all depends on how much money you want to spend. There are several cuts of meat you can go with that have lower price points. But never compromise on quality. Always ask for prime grade no matter what the cut of meat is. Here is my breakdown:

• Prime aged porterhouse steaks, rib eye steaks, New York strip steaks, and of course filet mignon steaks are the best and most expensive cuts of meat.

• If you don’t want to go for the best cuts, you can go with a flat iron steak (very popular in New York City restaurants today), prime London broil steak, prime sirloin steak, prime chuck steak, or a flank steak or skirt steak. That’s pretty much it for the steak cuts. You can serve these cuts of meat either plain or marinated. I wouldn’t marinate the more expensive cuts of meat because all they need is salt to bring out their natural flavors. 

• If you want to get away from steak, you can go for less expensive options like chicken, burgers, sausage, kebabs, pork, and some cuts of lamb. Veal is not a big barbecue item and is also very expensive. 

Oftentimes more economical cuts are tougher cuts. If you're equipped with a standard charcoal grill, how do you prefer to prep and cook less tender meats?

The truth is, if you go with the prime grade only, the meat will be different in flavor and texture but never be less tender. I always say that if the meat from one part of the cow is good, then the meat from the rest of the cow has to be good, also. Again, never compromise on quality. Just like anything else in life, stick with the best and you will be happy. You don’t have to buy a prime aged porterhouse steak every time you barbecue, but always ask for the prime grade no matter the cut of beef.  

Whether we're grilling or smoking, using direct or indirect heat, grilled and smoked meats often start out rubbed, marinated, or both. Could you describe your approach to meat marinades? What are some of your favorite flavor pairings for beef, lamb, chicken, and pork?

Everyone is different when it comes to how they want to prepare their meat. I personally wouldn’t offer my guest marinated meat if it's a formal dinner at my house. If I'm having someone important over for dinner, I keep it simple by just grilling the best cuts of meat and offering them salt. The more expensive cuts don’t need anything more than salt and a little bit of olive oil.

On the other hand, if I'm having a fun barbecue or pool party with family and friends, then I'll prepare meats with all types of marinades that are tasty and sweet. So here goes:

Beef on a stick: I take a prime flank steak or skirt steak and marinate it with a honey teriyaki marinade. It's a little sweet and complements the meat well. You can use a marinade like this with flat iron steak, prime London broil steak, and prime chuck steak.

Lamb Chops: American Colorado lamb is the best quality lamb money can buy. I always marinade my lamb chops with olive oil, fresh rosemary, and garlic. Afterward, I add a little bit of salt. I've never done anything differently when it comes to preparing lamb. 

Chicken and Pork: There are a million ways to marinate chicken and pork. You can use a rub or marinade them with anything from a sweet cherry sauce to a spicy jerk sauce. Whatever rub or marinade you decide to use, allow at least a few hours for the rub or marinade to soak in. 

What's the number one mistake home cooks make when cooking meat outside? What can we do to address it?

The number one mistake cooks make when it comes to cooking outdoors is that they turn the meat too many times or press down on it instead of letting it cook on one side then turning it to cook on the other side. Let the meat cook, then turn it one time only. Never press down on the meat because it only forces the juices to come out. If you keep flipping and pressing the meat, you will only ruin it. It will be dry and tasteless.

To bring you one step closer to the perfect summer cook-out, is giving away a $50 gift card to five lucky cooks. For a chance to win, share your best outdoor cooking tip in the comments below. (Non-meat eaters are welcome to enter!) We'll pick the lucky winners this Monday, July 22nd at 4 PM EST.

Tags: Grill/Barbecue, Lists, 5 Questions