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BEST DISH

In this family, all the beef is a cut above

Bill Kinnealey's flat-iron steaks are ready for the indoor grill. Bill Kinnealey's flat-iron steaks are ready for the indoor grill. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Jane Dornbusch
Globe Correspondent / May 20, 2009

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WESTON - Beef is for dinner at Bill and Tricia Kinnealey's home, a beautifully restored antique farmhouse they share with four children, ages 5 to 17. Dinner's not like this every night, mind you, but probably more often than in the average household. Let's just say that if you had access to the kind of steaks, chops, short ribs, and roasts that the Kinnealeys do, you might have meat on the menu more often, too.

The husband-and-wife team are president and executive vice president, respectively, of high-end meat wholesaler William & Co. Foods Inc. And if their typical family meals are simple - "We're working full time, and we have four children. We don't cook four-course meals," says Tricia - they have the advantage of starting with some of the best raw materials around. It's a testament to that oft-repeated cooking mantra: A dish is only as good as the ingredients that go into it.

Firing up the grill is how the Kinnealeys usually start, but a rainstorm precludes that one recent evening. No matter - these inveterate grillers are prepared, and crank up the indoor grill that's part of their powerful DCS gas range. It doesn't get quite as hot as the outdoor grill, says Bill, but it gets the job done.

High heat, he says, is key to success on the grill, and the lack of it is what undoes many grillers. "If it's not real hot, and you close the cover, it almost bakes," he says. You're not going to get the lovely caramelized char that's the hallmark of the perfect grilled steak.

Bill has more tips for getting steak just right, and even if you've heard them before, they bear repeating: Get to know when it's done by touch. He can tell with the press of a finger. Touch your thumb to the tip of your index finger and then feel the fleshy part of the palm under your thumb to get a sense of how soft a rare steak should feel. If it's too rare, you can always put it back on the fire. As for marinade, keep it simple: A quick rub with olive oil will help the cooking process and a sprinkle of salt and pepper subtly enhance the flavor.

Afterward, says Tricia, "We usually top it with some kind of seasoned butter." Overkill? Maybe, but it sure tastes great. And, topped with butter or not, let the steak rest on a platter for a good 10 minutes before carving it.

On this evening, the cut of choice is flat-iron steak, which many experts like. "It was always an inexpensive cut. Although it had a lot of flavor, it was too chewy to catch on," Tricia explains. Then food scientists at the University of Nebraska figured out how to remove that chewy center portion, and a star was born.

"It's a beautiful cut, but if you don't cut it right, you'd be disappointed," she says. Be sure it's "seamed out," says Bill, and you're in for a tender, tasty, and comparatively inexpensive treat, one that's become increasingly popular with both chefs and consumers.

Flat-iron isn't the easiest cut to find (it's still catching on), but of course that's no problem for Bill and Tricia. William & Co. does custom cutting for its clientele (which includes some of the city's best tables). "The chefs understand; they're all very concerned with quality, with service," says Bill, who has worked in the meat industry since his teens.

Bill has had his own business for 11 years. He spent the early part of his career at T.F. Kinnealey & Co., another high-end meat supplier, which was founded by his uncles and run by his cousins.

With the butter-topped steak resting after its turn on the grill, the Kinnealeys whip up a red wine sauce. The reduction that forms the base of the sauce is already prepared. It's a simple concoction with lots of fresh herbs, tomato paste, and butter and it's just the right finishing touch with supremely satisfying, lightly crusty, medium-rare beef.

There's no magic, insists Tricia. "If you're starting with a beautiful product, it doesn't require a lot of time or effort. Take a gorgeous chop or steak, grill it, and you have a delicious dinner."

In this family, getting the steak is the easy part.