Are You Choosing the Best Cut of Beef for Your Steak?
The first step in cooking a perfect steak is choosing the right cut of beef. You want one that is tender and has plenty of marbling. In general, the best cuts of beef for steak come from the rib, short loin or tenderloin primal cuts. Examples:
Tenderloin steak sometimes called a New York strip or a Kansas City strip, which is short loin ; Porterhouse and T-Bone steaks, which are composed of both short loin and tenderloin meat; Rib steak, which is from the prime rib cut; Filet mignon, which is a steak from the pointed end of the tenderloin. Tenderloin steaks can also be taken from the back or rear of the loin, where a small seam of connective tissue may run through the steak, making it less desirable than filet mignon. Chateaubriand comes from the centre cut of the loin.
Cooking with dry heat The reason why the cuts of meat described above are the best steaks is that they come from muscles that do not get much exercise and are therefore very tender. This makes them excellent for dry-heat cooking methods such as grilling and broiling. Some cuts of meat are perfectly delicious when cooked with moist heat, but would be extremely tough and chewy if cooked with dry heat. Think stew , for a good example of this. So, for the best steak, we like to stick with the cuts of meat mentioned above.
A note on filet mignon is in order here. As we said, filet mignon is a steak from the tenderloin of beef prime cut and a very tender cut of meat. You will often see filet mignon steaks prepared wrapped in bacon. There is a reason for this practice: filet mignon is not as tasty.
That's true. You see, tenderloin is quite lean, and it is the fat that gives a lot of flavour to a piece of meat. Therefore, filet mignon is wrapped in bacon to give it more flavour. There's nothing wrong with that, but filet mignon is relatively expensive. To me, for that kind of money, a steak shouldn't need a strip of bacon wrapped around it to taste good.
How to buy beef Not all steaks are the same. You'll see all kinds of cuts of meat in the supermarket that have the word "steak" in their names, but be careful. Chuck steak, blade steak, round steak, tip steak or even sirloin steak are not the best steaks to cook the perfect steak. Generally, if it has the word rib or tenderloin or strip in its name, it will be a good steak.
Certainly, it is possible to grill a good flank steak or even a chuck blade steak. But in the case of flank steak, you have to marinate it first, and there is nothing wrong with that. Flank steak is really tasty. But if you want that sensation of cutting into a thick, juicy steak, flank steak won't give it to you.
Look for the marbling My personal favourite steak is a boneless rib-eye steak. It's incredibly tender and flavourful. You may prefer a different one and your preferences may change over time. For years, my favourite steak was New York strip steak, but nowadays I'm a steakhouse steak. But remember, not all steaks are the same. You don't just want a steak, you want a good steak. Fortunately, you can easily distinguish a high quality steak from a lesser one, just by looking at it. You just need to know what to look for. And that something is called marbling.
The word marbling refers to the small specks of fat that are naturally found in the muscle of the meat. The more marbling a steak has, the tastier it will be. See the photo above for an example, if you will also notice a difference in price. Conversely, if you have ever looked at two steaks in the butcher's shop and wondered why one cost more than the other, you will probably see that the more expensive one had much more marbling.
Quality designations, such as prime , choice and select , can be useful, but not all steaks you buy in the shop will have these designations. If they do, prime is the best quality, followed by choice, then select. Also, these quality designations are largely based on marbling, so even if the meat has not been graded, you can identify a superior cut of meat by looking for marbling.
How thick should a steak be? If you are buying your steak in the supermarket, you may be limited to steaks that are on the shelf or in the meat case. But at a butcher or specialty meat shop, the butcher may cut your steaks for you, which means you'll need to specify how thick you want them.
My preference is 1½ inches. For me, one inch is a little too thin, while two inches may be too thick. I would never go thicker than two inches, nor thinner than one inch. Too thin and you're missing out on the luxurious experience of eating a perfect, juicy steak and you also run the risk of overcooking it.
Too thick a steak gives you the opposite problem: if you're not careful, you can cook the outside well but undercook the inside. Also, let's be serious: unless you have a huge mouth or one that comes off at the hinges of the jaw, more than two inches of steak will be uncomfortable to eat. An inch and a half is the perfect thickness for a steak.
For the best steak, dry-cured beef. Finally, let's talk about aging. All beef is dry-aged before it reaches the supermarket or butcher. There are two methods of ageing beef, wet and dry. Wet-aged beef is simply aged in vacuum bags and is the most common way to age beef in the supermarket. Dry-aged beef, on the other hand, produces a more intense flavour and is the way the best quality beef is aged.
Dry-aged beef has been hung in a cooler for a period of time, usually a few weeks, in humidity-controlled conditions, which allows excess moisture to drain away, thus concentrating the flavour and also tenderising by allowing natural enzymes to break down some of the connective tissues that make a steak tough.
While it may be rare to find dry-cured beef in the supermarket, a better butcher or specialty food shop should carry it. A word of warning, however: this superior quality and flavour will cost you. Dry-cured beef is more expensive, pound for pound because it has less moisture and, therefore, less weight than a regular steak. Yes, if you think about it, it means you're paying for water. But, in the words of the famous steak aficionado Frank Sinatra, that's life.
A dry-aged steak will also have to be trimmed more, which means the butcher will have to charge a little more to make up for the pieces that were cut off. So a dry-aged steak will cost more, but it's worth it.
And the best steak is ... And then redouble, please ..., the best steak is a dry-aged rib-eye steak, short loin or prime sirloin in cuts, with plenty of marbling and cut into slices about 1½ inch thick. Choose your meat wisely and you'll be on your way to cooking the perfect steak.
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