Choosing the Right Cut of Steak
The most popular cuts of steak have historically been rib eye, filet mignon, t-bone or sirloin. These are still the most popular with good reason, however other cuts were previously not given the recognition they deserved–and more importantly neither was all that goes into the subtlety of butcher’s and restaurant owner’s decisions.
Ulises Mendez, director of La Vaca Tinta, an incredible steak and wine restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, explained his operation with great detail and enthusiasm. Beef is like wine to him in the sense that it is often a very personal taste and the more one develops their palate, the greater appreciation for the differences. He often has 10-12 different cuts of steak on his menu and roughly 150 labels of wine for perfect pairings. One underrated cut he offers from time to time is the flat iron which is quite tender and lean but still very flavorful. It is not common because it requires a lot of expertise to cut and clean properly due to the low level of fat and size of the cut.
The biggest factor to look for is marbling (the white streaks or flecks of fat within the cut), more marbling means more flavor and more tenderness. This is a simple way to improve the quality when selecting.
The adage ‘you are what you eat’ has been taken to a deeper level with top chefs and growers saying ‘you are what what you eat, eats.’ What a cow eats makes a big difference. Most people are looking for grass fed beef, but the more savvy recommend grass fed, grain finished. The grass feeding makes for a leaner, healthier cow while the grain finish adds nice marbling and softens the flavor of the meat to avoid it leaning towards ‘gamey.’
Like a good wine, the age and the aging process (dry vs. wet) all affect the experience. Obviously the quality grade of the steak is a factor, USDA Prime or Choice are the ways to go and these grades are based largely on, quality of feeding, age and marbling. To keep it simple, those looking for more fat and flavor should look towards rib eye, those seeking tenderness should try the tenderloin which has a milder flavor, and for those seeking fuller flavor the strip steak have a full beefy taste.