Flat-iron steaks like the one above are becoming more popular with restaurant chefs and diners, with sales topping 90 million pounds per year.

FROM MY KITCHEN WINDOW: Flat (iron) crazy

CINDY WELCH, Chef, caterer and food enthusiast

Oct. 21, 2008 - Because I love to try new foods, I have a rule when I visit another town or city; Don't eat at a restaurant that you can eat at in Sulphur Springs.

I love all varieties of food. I definitely would not be called a meat and potatoes person, but there are times when only a juicy steak, a steaming baked potato and salad will satisfy my appetite.

In these days of a tighter economy, satisfying my urge for red meat can be pretty expensive if I reach for my old favorites, the rib eye or a New York strip.

There is, however, a new cut on the market that is proving to be an economical, tasty and tender alternative to the long-standing steak house favorites.

On a trip to Austin a few years ago, one of my former students was working as a sous chef at an Austin restaurant. He suggested I try the flat-iron or top blade steak.

For several years, restaurants have been offering flat-iron steaks, making them increasingly popular with owners, chefs and patrons alike. Recent figures show flat-iron steak sales now top 90 million pounds per year, putting it at number 5 on the best-sellers list. Because it's taken from the blade, or shoulder, portion of the beef, a flat-iron is less expensive per pound than steaks from the rib and loin.

In an attempt to find more economical cuts of meat, the Cattleman's Beef Board and the National Cattleman's Association sponsored research at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. The research team came up with the flat-iron (top blade) steak as an alternative to more expensive cuts.

Some people believe the steak gets its name because its shape resembles an old-fashioned, triangular flat-iron, while others say its name came from the French, who called it that because of the "iron hard" connective tissue in the middle.

In search of a local resource for flat-iron steaks, I visited meat markets at our local grocery stores.

At Piggly Wiggly and Brookshire's, the flat-iron is called a top blade steak, and at Wal-Mart it was designated as a chuck-tender steak.

Averaging $3 to $5 per pound, it came in under the cost of a rib eye, at $6 to $7 dollar per pound, and the New York strip, at $10 to $12 per pound.

My family has enjoyed eating some great steak this week as we tried the recipes below. These steaks stay moist and juicy, as long as you don't cook them past medium. They really are at their best when cooked at medium rare.

All three recipes below can be served whole or sliced for tortillas or a salad.

Chili Rubbed Flat-Iron Steak

2 flat iron steaks

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons onion, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place steak in a shallow baking dish with salt. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over steak. Turn to coat and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate for 1 hour. Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high heat. Place meat on grill or in pan and reserve marinade to baste meat often. Cook until meat reaches desired doneness and remove from pan. Let meat sit for a few minutes before serving.

(I preferred the marinade with less chili powder and more salt.)

Perfect Flat-Iron Steak

2 flat iron steaks

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon parsley

1/4 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

1/4 cup red wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup dry mustard powder

Place steak in a large resealable bag. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the steak in the bag. Press out as much air as possible when you seal the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. Fry the steak in a preheated nonstick pan for 3 to 4 minutes per side until medium. Let meat sit for a few minutes before serving.

Asian Flat-Iron Steak

2 flat iron steaks

2 tablespoons olive oil (or sesame oil)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon green hot pepper sauce

2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons honey mustard

Whisk together all of the marinade ingredients. Place meat in a resealable plastic bag. Pour in the marinade and marinate for 4-6 hours. Remove steak from the marinade. Cook on a medium hot grill or skillet until meat reaches desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side. Let steak sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

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For the past 20 years, Cindy Welch has been involved with all aspects of cooking, including formal culinary training, experience as food service director for First Baptist Church of Euless, a personal chef and owner of Cindy's Casa Cuisine. Cindy's favorite hobby is

"providing delicious food for the people of Sulphur Springs." Her columns cover all aspects of the cooking experience.

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