Morsels: Here’s the Beef

When Brian Smith and Robert Hagopian opened The Butchery in Costa Mesa, they knew the spot would fill a special niche. The Laguna Beach residents met through their children, who were classmates. After several weekends at the beach and family dinners hosted at each other’s homes, Hagopian and Smith got down to the gristle. The two dads enjoyed cooking and agreed that finding top-tier meats in Orange County was nearly impossible. In a county flooded with tony restaurants, the grocery store cooler case was the only option for home cooks searching for steaks. At the time, Orange County’s culinary landscape was bone dry of artisan butcher shops. That’s why Hagopian and Smith opened The Butchery in 2009. After a couple successful years in Costa Mesa, the duo opened a third location at Crystal Cove Shopping Center. Just in time for the Fourth of July, Coast got their best tips to keep calm and grill on.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when barbecuing or grilling?  

Well, let’s address the meat first because it all starts there. The biggest mistake we see, or more accurately that we hear about, is thinking that you can save a few dollars on lesser quality cuts of meat and then season, marinate, tenderize or do anything to it that will turn it into something it never was. It’s critical, numero uno, that you start with quality food.

On the technical side, either not getting the grill hot enough, or cooking over coals that aren’t ready both cause big problems. You need high heat to get the Maillard reaction going, which is the browning of the meat. There’s a ton of flavor created there and if the grill isn’t hot enough you’ll overcook the meat chasing that brown crust. With coals, they should be gray in color and red-hot. If they’re black they’re not ready. Just be patient or you’ll have uneven cooking and flavor issues.

How do you ensure everything is cooked properly? Raw chicken with a side of norovirus is not something we’d like to serve at our cookouts. 

Build two temperature zones on your grill, a hot and a cool side. Once your meat is seared you can move it to the indirect heat to finish cooking, and also use the edge of that area to keep finished foods warm while others are still cooking. If your entire grill is hot you won’t have room to do this, and this goes for any meat, even burgers.

Lastly, flames look really cool for that Instagram shot, but you don’t want your steak cooking in them. We’ve seen people reaching through a bonfire to flip a steak. Those flames will leave a sooty color and flavor on your meat. Don’t sweat small flames and minor flare-ups, those are OK (snap the photo then). But you definitely don’t want flames engulfing the meat for long … another reason to have two heat zones on your grill.

What are the best cuts to work with? 

We get this question a lot but like so many foods it comes to personal preference. Taking our top three steaks, a ribeye is the most flavorful cut because it has a lot of fat. For that same reason, you won’t want to walk away from your grill while it’s cooking or a flare up could turn into a flaming steak. New York strip is slightly less tender and flavorful, but also less fatty, and easier to grill. A tenderloin filet, the leanest and least flavorful of the three, is also the most tender and easiest to prepare.

What are the most overlooked cuts?

We like the petit tender (teres major). It’s economical, easy to cook and has a great combination of flavor and tenderness.

For those of us hosting Barbeques on July 4th, how can we impress a group? 

Cooking for large groups can be challenging, and assuming these are people you want to spend time around, we suggest simplifying things. Our marinated steak tips: you can grill everything at once, the different sizes will give some variety in doneness, and they’ll still taste great even if they’ve cooled off. A roast, like a tri-tip, is also great for groups because it’s one or two items for you to focus on and not 15 steaks, four burgers, six hot dogs … Roasts are not as time sensitive as steaks. It can rest until you’re ready to slice. Your guests can help themselves from the ends or the center depending on how they like their meat cooked.

Charcoal or wood? 

We’d suggest you stay away from traditional charcoal, and opt for lump charcoal. This is made from whole pieces of hardwood and burns much cleaner. Stay away from lighter fluid and use a chimney instead. Lighter fluid seems to hang around and can hurt the flavor of your meat. Hardwood is great as well. It just requires a little more effort.

Where does your meat come from?

We source from specific ranches in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. We look for breed first, and insist on Black Angus. Then we look for consistency in flavor and texture, much of that comes from good farming practices. Meat tastes better when it is pasture raised. Many of the ranches we source from also grow their own feed as well, another practice that translates to quality. Whether you’re a novice visiting for the first time or you’re a regular, we encourage questions. We’re proud to tell the stories of where our meats are sourced.


The Butchery, 8058 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Coast, 949.715.3383


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