The right cut of beef

The two most important items to consider when cooking steaks: which cuts of beef, and USDA grades to buy. As long as you don’t overcook the steak, if you start off with a great piece of meat, you will enjoy a damn fine steak.

If you limit your steak cooking to the following cuts, your enjoyment increases dramatically:

·         Ribeye

·         New York Strip

·         Tenderloin/Filet Mignon

·         T-Bone/Porterhouse

The T-Bone steak is literally just a new york strip on one side of the bone, and a small strip of tenderloin on the other side of the bone. A porterhouse steak is a T-Bone with a larger tenderloin portion.

My favorite cut is the Ribeye and it isn’t even a close race. The filet/tenderloin is seen as the most premium cut, usually due to its tenderness, but I find it lacking in flavor.  That’s why you will often see filets dressed in a sauce, or wrapped in bacon. This is done to make up for its lack of flavor. It is very tender (which I believe causes the lack of flavor since fat marbling contributes to beefy flavor), and it is indeed a very tender cut. And I obviously don’t think it’s a bad cut, because I’ve enjoyed many great filets and would not have included it in the list of steaks to buy.

The New York Strip has great flavor, but is not as tender as the filet. Also a great cut but if you overcook it, it does become a big tougher.

And then we have the ribeye. The king of all steaks in my not so humble opinion. It’s actually 3 muscles in one cut when you look at it, with an eye, and two other muscles surrounding the eye. It provides the fullest flavor of all the cuts, while maintaining a tenderness that is greater than the NY strip and approaching the tenderness of the filet.

It can be a bit fatty, especially with large chunks of fat around and in between the different parts. But that’s ok, the fat lends great beefy flavor when cooked up. You can cook with the fat parts left in and eat around it (or eat it if you are so inclined), or you can remove the fat before cooking. I do it both ways. Keep in mind, when removing the fat sometimes the steak starts to fall apart since the ribeye cut is comprised of 3 different muscles. Get some kitchen twine and tie it up to keep it nice and tight.

GRADE

You want to start with the best steak you can afford. If your budget is $10, I’ve had great steaks for that price. If you can splurge, go for it. Here are a few guidelines.

USDA comes in a few grades, but Prime and Choice are what you want to look for. Use the USDA grades as a guideline. Look at the meat. I’ve seen Prime grade steaks look worse than Choice steaks. What you want to look for is marbling. The fat that is wedged in between the meat fibers. I’m not talking about the big chunks of fat in between muscles, but strings of fat directly incorporated into the muscle. If the steak doesn’t have any marbling, it’ll still be ok but it won’t be great.

I check my local supermarket weekly circulars to see what’s on sale. For some reason all the supermarkets usually have the same cuts on sale each week. They’re probably conspiring somehow. Some weeks there won’t be anything good on sale. Some weeks it’ll be ribeye. The next week it’ll be strip. I’ve had great steaks for $5-6 lb. Choice grade with decent marbling.

If you have a bit more money then seek out local butchers or premium markets such as Whole Foods or Bristol West. You have great choices at the latter two. Prime, dry aged, designer ranches, Wagyu/Kobe, etc.

Remember, the single most important factor in how your steak tastes is the cut of beef you start with.

At the risk of being labeled conceited, I believe my technique is superior to every other technique I’ve seen on TV, or experienced at a restaurant. But I’m at an advantage, since I only have to cook one or two steaks, and not 100. That said, my steaks flavor may or may not approach the big steak houses because they get to choose the best cuts. I’m buying prime cuts from Costco or Whole Foods. The big steak houses get to choose their beef before it even hits the retail market.

Only 1% of all beef gets labeled USDA Prime. Imagine if you got to choose the top 1% of that 1%. You’re getting some damn good beef. The best technique won’t rescue a crappy piece of beef. So if you can, try to start with a good cut. It does make a difference.

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