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

July 18, 2013

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

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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.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Ruth G. July 22, 2013
I like to make both sweet and spicy hamburgers at my bbq's to satisfy different tastes; for spicy burgers finely chop jalapenos, onions and garlic into your ground beef and add a dash of chili powder. After grilling place the burger in aluminum foil and add a slice of pepperjack cheese (let it sit for a few minutes before service to allow the juices to sit in the burger.) For sweet add some sweet relish into your ground beef or finely chop up sweet pickles and place them in the middle of the ground beef before grilling. Your condiments can play up the flavor of the beef here by adding a slice of Gruyere cheese before serving.
Andrea July 22, 2013
When I'm making my hamburger patties I like to put a little bleu cheese in the middle. Not enough to overwhelm the experience, but definitely a nice surprise when you bite into it.

If I really want to take it up a notch, I'll add bacon to the ground beef. Since it takes longer to cook, partially cook the bacon beforehand. Dice it up into small pieces and then add it to the beef. The juices from the bacon will be adsorbed by the beef and you'll officially be elected the mayor of flavor-town
kronicfatigue July 22, 2013
Went to a BBQ yesterday and the host may have accidentally came up with a game changer. Perhaps one too many Summer Ales into the day, he mistakenly grabbed a jar of pesto sauce when looking for relish. Before he had realized his mistake I had already slathered up both my burger and dog with it.

Gave a completely unique taste to an otherwise traditional bbq. Would eat again!
anntruelove July 21, 2013
Burned grilled hot dogs are the best!
kimbly July 21, 2013
I love herbs thrown on the grill to impart a mild smoky/herby component to cooked meats - nothing heavy, just adds a faint level of flavor that is bright and unexpected.
Jay B. July 21, 2013
If you're using a gas grill (not charcoal), position the meat directly over the flavorizer bars ... When the juices drip it will create smoke and tiny flare-ups for that flame kissed taste. This works well for rack-o-lamb (which is grilled on the top rack after the initial sear).
JonathanFrish July 20, 2013
In my comment below, I left out, "When making kabobs..." use the flat skewers.
JonathanFrish July 20, 2013
Use *flat* skewers when BBQ'ing meat/shrimp/fish and veggies to make turning the stuff so much easier!
ladywild July 19, 2013
Use good charcoal. Research different kinds of wood. Try several until you find a combo of wood types that make your meats shine. I also like to throw dried herbs on the fire. It creates extra smoke and adds a unique flavor to the meat.
kronicfatigue July 19, 2013
I rub kosher salt pepper, garlic and olive oil into my steaks at least 24 hours ahead of time. Use the kosher salt liberally because it breaks down the proteins. Chimney starters are great to get coals nice and evenly hot.

Also, skip grilling and just use's 8 off 15 coupon this weekend!
wwarren31 July 19, 2013
One of the best things I've grilled is squid. Once it's clean, slice the body but not all the way through so there are rings but they are all still attached along one long side. rub on some olive oil and s&p and grill til opaque. Spritz on some lemon juice and voila! (it may seem intimidating to grill squid but it's actually pretty cheap and sooooo gooooood!
LLStone July 19, 2013
Let your meat rest before cutting / eating so the juices are retained.
Lynn C. July 19, 2013
You can totally grill watermelon! For some reason it smells like portobello mushrooms.
Libby L. July 18, 2013
Soak corn still in the Husk in water for 20 minutes before barbecuing. So delicious!
Rosiebud63 July 18, 2013
I have loved grilled pineapple this season. Just coat with oil and sugar and it makes a tasty glaze
russeaime July 18, 2013
Always make sure you have enough propane, briquettes, and/or woodchips before you start!
Tierney July 18, 2013
Keep your grill spotlessly clean! It prevents sticking and flare-ups.
thebro730 July 18, 2013
Grilling half heads of Romaine spritzed with a little olive oil lends to just about any salad idea. We're big on blue cheese, red onion and bacon "BLTs" with some halved yellow gold cherry tomatoes or a big beefsteak slice with Kosher salt.
bree F. July 18, 2013
One of the best summer pizzas I've had was with the dough grilled right on the grill grates..just add a little bit of olive oil on dough and toss it on the grill for 5 minutes, flip it; top the grilled side and let it cook another 5.
Leanna B. July 18, 2013
Grilled bread may be the best thing to come off my grill in a while. We have spread the bread with pesto, ricotta, and left it plain. Grill your meat, then add your bread for an amazing meal.