The steak is one of the most prized meat cuts in all of the cooking. It’s seen on tables across the world, it’s served at fancy restaurants, and it’s a staple with any home cook that knows what they’re doing.
Most people don’t know how to buy their first cut of beef but when they start looking for a good steak, they’re often left wondering where to start. Luckily for you, we’ve got your back with this guide!
There are many options when it comes to cuts, grades, and preparation methods so we’re going to break down some basics that will help you navigate your next trip to the butcher. Gtameats.ca is a great resource to check out if you just don’t want to step out of your house and have the best steak come to you instead.
Measuring The Quality
A good way to measure your steak’s quality is by looking at its texture, thickness, color, marbling, and grades.
The first and most important thing you need to look at when choosing a steak is its texture. There are three common textures for steaks:
- Tender: This type of texture is soft, usually with little marbling. These types of steaks need to be cooked slowly or they’ll turn out dry and tough.
- Semi-Tender: Steaks of this type have some marbling throughout the meat which will keep them moist during cooking but also means they’re not as tender as their rival, the tender texture cut.
- Tough: As the name suggests, these cuts of steak are tougher than others because more connective tissue exists throughout making for a chewier product. They don’t have enough marbling to add moisture during the cooking process so they will need a much higher heat in order to be cooked well. If overcooked these meats will turn out dry and tough.
When buying your first steak it’s generally a good idea to start with a cut that is 2 inches thick or less. This will allow you to try out the cooking and seasoning techniques without having to worry about overcooking the product because of its thickness. Once you’re comfortable enough with this style of cut then move onto thicker steaks for more all-around uses around the kitchen.
The color of a steak is directly related to its freshness and age so pay attention next time you’re at your local market. Steaks that are bright red with a moist sheen are usually fresher cuts, while brownish-red meat states that they’ve been sitting around for a little too long.
If you see any gray spots then you know something isn’t right! When it comes to grade, the color of your steak isn’t always 100% indicative since it’s not always available to the public. That being said, if you see a prime or choice cut sitting behind glass then you know that its coloring is telling you that it was properly aged and stored for this purpose.
The marbling is what sets high-quality steaks apart from their subpar counterparts. The more marbling there is in your beef product, the higher grade it will be which means better flavor and texture. This fat comes from within the muscle tissue so pay attention when choosing how thick your steak is because thicker cuts usually have more marbled meat than thinner ones.
Steaks are given grades by the USDA based on their overall quality when butchered and processed for consumption. The grading system is entirely voluntary, at least it used to be, meaning that your butcher can choose not to provide you with this information if they don’t want to.
- Prime: These graded steaks are of the highest quality with an abundant amount of marbling which gives them their moist texture while maintaining superior flavor over standard cuts of beef.
- Choice: A step-down prime, choice-grade steak still has a good amount of marbling but not as much as those graded prime.
- Select: The final grading for beef is select and it is the leanest type of cut available. This grade has very little marbling which means the steak needs to be cooked quickly over high heat in order to avoid drying out or burning.
Choosing From Different Varieties Of Cuts
There are several cuts of beef to categorize steaks that will help you find the one that’s best for your needs. These include:
Bone-In vs Boneless
One of the first things you’ll notice is if your steak comes with or without bones. If your butcher stocks both varieties, it might be worth seeing which ones fly off the shelves before heading back again to buy some more. For most people, this isn’t a very important factor so it boils down to personal preference.
Ribeye vs Top Loin
These are two of the most popular types of steak cuts and there’s a reason for that. They’re both tender, flavorful, and very affordable.
The first thing to consider when choosing between these two is where on the cow they come from. There will be a large section of meat that sits directly above the ribcage which is labeled as a ribeye cut. The top loin steak comes from right below this area so it’s bigger than its counterpart but also contains less marbling overall.
A bone-in ribeye typically has more marbling although this can vary from animal to animal. They have a rich flavor due to their location next to the ribs of the cow so they’re often packed with spices when they’re served.
The top loin however has a more mild, straightforward taste which some people prefer in their steaks. When it comes to appearance, the ribeye is usually cut into small individual portions that are then surrounded by the fat that gives them their distinct appearance while top loin cuts are generally larger and thicker chunks of meat.
Round vs Sirloin
These two are actually parts of the same muscle so you can expect them both to be very tender although there will be differences between them based on where they came from.
Rounds tend to have less marbling overall so it’s best for quick-cooking methods whereas sirloins have more marbling which makes them perfect for high-heat grilling.
Rounds are cut into the sirloin tip which is then further cut into individual steaks or made into ground beef. The round steak is sometimes referred to as an inside strip, center cut, top butt, ball tip, or triangle roast.
Top Round vs Bottom Round
The last type of steak you’ll find in your local grocery store are rounds which tend to be very lean cuts with little marbling that can also be tough if overcooked or frozen for too long. They’re mostly used when making ground beef since it’s harder to ruin this kind of meat but they’re not necessarily a bad choice for quick and easy dishes.
When you’re trying to choose between these two cuts, keep in mind that rounds from the top and bottom of the cow are comparable. The only difference is where they’re cut from so feel free to pick out whichever coloring and marbling you like best. If you want leaner meat for your quick cooking method, go with the round steak; if you prefer more flavor when grilling, look for the sirloin roast.