Steak Sense

Get a red-meat reality check before you heat a pan or stoke up that grill.

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Life is too short for chuck steak. If you’re going to indulge in a delicious slab of beef, get a good cut and cook it correctly.

Note: If you like your steak well-done, please stop reading this. We’re not going to tell you how to buy high-end steak if you’re just going to ruin it.

Okay, back to the meat. Tenderness is the primary factor in steak pricing. The more tender the steak, the more it costs. The tenderest cuts come from the back and sides of the cow, where the muscles aren’t used much. Cheaper meat comes from the cow’s legs, chest, shoulders and flank, where muscles are strong from constant use. Only a small part of a cow can produce high-end steaks, so that’s why the good cuts are so pricey.  

seasoned steak on a cutting board

Here’s a rundown on the four most popular top-drawer steaks.

filet mignonFilet mignon, also called tenderloin or filet: This is the most tender and most expensive cut. Primo filet runs around $20 a pound. It’s a small, thick steak with lean, fine-grained meat. It’s boneless and has a mild, buttery taste. There’s no fat on this cut, it’s all meat.

The best way to cook it: Filets are two inches thick, so cook in a pan instead of on a grill. Pan-sear quickly until brown, then remove from the pan and let the steak “rest” for about 10 minutes before eating.

The steak will keep cooking after you take it off the heat, so use a meat thermometer to check it while it rests so you will know when it’s ready to serve

New York strip steakNew York strip, also called top sirloin, strip, Manhattan or Kansas City strip: This a boneless cut with fat on one edge and fine streaks of fat throughout the meat.

If you want juicy, beefy flavor, this is the steak for you. It’s not as melt-in-your-mouth tender as filet mignon, but it’s a sweet cut of meat.

The best way to cook it: Pan-sear or grill. Use high heat to brown the outside quickly without overcooking the inside. Don’t rest this one. Serve immediately.

porterhouse or t-bone steakPorterhouse, also called T-bone: This steak is for the indecisive because it offers two types of meat. On one side of its T-shaped bone is a filet mignon, and on the other, a New York strip. You get buttery, beefy and juicy in one cut of meat.

The best way to cook it: Grill it. T-bones are tricky because the filet side will cook faster than the strip side. You need to use a two-level fire on a gas grill. If you’re using a charcoal grill, keep the filet side to the outside of the grill, away from the heat.

You may want to grill some practice T-bones before having company over for steak. They’re difficult to get right.

ribeye or Delmonico steakRibeye, also called Delmonico: This cut is sold with or without a bone in it. Ribeye has fine streaks of fat running through the meat with an occasional pocket of fat. That fat makes it super-juicy and lends a very beefy taste.

The best way to cook it: You can grill, pan-sear or broil it. Just be sure to use high heat. And be aware, all that yummy fat can cause flare-ups when you grill it.

Keep a squirt bottle of water handy so those shooting flames don’t turn your lovely ribeye into a charred chunk.

A final must-know about meat. There are three grades: 

1. Prime: Sold at fine butcher shops. It’s most desirable and therefore worth a splurge.

2. Choice: Sold at grocery stores. It’s moderately good and more affordable.

3. Select: Sold everywhere. If you can afford to, skip it. This is airline food.

pan-seared steak with asparagus and rosemary on a cutting board