Choosing a Cut of Beef

Picture this: you’re standing in the butcher section of your local grocery store. Company is coming or dinner needs to be prepared and all you see is a sea of red Styrofoam containers each with a different cut of beef. Which do you pick? How can you tell if it’s good?

Memorial Day weekend typically kicks off the summer grilling season and for some, picking out the right steak can be as confusing as picking out the right bottle of wine. You want to pick something that is fresh, easy to prepare, and delicious. But how? Let me tell you the secret of picking out the perfect steak.

While all cuts of meat are not created equal, a few consistent rules will help you select the pick of the cooler. First, look for meat with bright red color. If you see the color of the meat has darkened to almost a purple color the meat is not fresh. Second, a 1/3 pound of steak is typically a good portion of meat for one person. Unless you want to serve “the ol’ 96er” do the math of 1/3 pound per guest so you don’t over buy.

Now you’re ready to pick the cut. And while, several articles match the cut with the part of the cow, the aim of this article is to simplify your selection so you get the right cut for your occasion.

The most expensive and tender piece of beef is the tenderloin. You can buy tenderloin in various sizes including a long cut; which looks like a sausage when packaged in plastic. The tenderloin is a lean cut of meat with adequate marbling (or fat) to melt in your mouth. For example, filet mignon is filleted tenderloin. The challenge of the tenderloin, while impressive, is to prepare it perfectly. Many restaurants make such a delicious tenderloin that it is difficult to replicate their taste and presentation especially if you are grilling the long cut. If you are looking for an impressive cut, this is your steak.

Two popular cuts that often are confused are the porterhouse and T-bone. The steaks are mirror images of the other and have the T-shaped bone. The T-bone separates two different cuts – the tenderloin and the NY Strip. The porterhouse has a larger tenderloin and smaller NY Strip while the T-bone has a larger NY Strip and smaller tenderloin. These are flavorful, easy to prepare grilling steaks. They may be a little larger in size, so if you have an appetite these are for you. Be sure to buy cuts that are similar in size, especially thickness, to make grilling even and cooking times consistent.

If you are looking for a flavorful cut without too much marbling, the NY Strip is a good choice. The NY Strip is a tender lean cut with a thin slice of fat on the side. Strips are easy to prepare and taste great rubbed or marinated. They are “stripped” from the same part of the animal as the tenderloin, making them a tender, delicious, and less expensive alternative to the tenderloin.

The ribeye steak is typically a thicker cut with a lot of marbling. It is not a lean cut of beef. Some love its juicy flavor while others think it is too fatty. For this popular cut of meat, grilling often requires extra attention. As the marbling melts into the grill, flare ups can occur. Be sure to watch it closely while grilling to avoid excessive charring. Pick a thinner cut for easier grilling.

Sirloin does not have the perfect tenderness of the NY Strip or tenderloin, but is another lean cut of beef that is easy to barbeque. It is typically cut into steaks and has a thin slice of fat on the side like the strip. Usually these come in a pack in larger quantities (> 2 pounds) which make them great for a larger get together. Sirloin also tastes great cubing for a stir fry and marinated.

For a more exotic alternative, another great grilling steak is the skirt or flank steak. Both are flat and full of flavor. Look for leaner cuts that are very long; a good cut will weight about one pound. Check to see that the flank steak is tender by bending the vacuum package in your hands. If you pick this one, try it as carne asada in tortillas. Because flank steaks are juicy, flare ups are very common. Grill these on low heat and don’t pack the grates with meat. Leave enough space for it to slough the grease. Cook it for about four minutes on each side, slice, and serve. If you see the chuck wagon steak, it is similar in shape to the flank steak, but a tougher cut with gamier taste.

There are also a number of delicious roasts such as tri tip or London broil that taste great. Look for lean cut roasts that are not too fatty. Try your butcher’s marinated roasts and grill on low heat. To avoid burning, cook the roast in foil for about 20 minutes per pound Remove foil and cook for about 3 minutes on each side to sear in the flavor.

So, the next time you are standing in the butcher section looking at a sea of red Styrofoam containers you now know how to pick a delicious, fresh cut of steak. Still confused? Just some ground beef and make burgers.

Oh – and if you’re technology-minded and own an iPhone, the fine folks at Weber have just released their “Weber’s On the Grill iApp which, for $4.99, will give you over 280 classic Weber recipes plus 40 recipes for rubs, marinades, and sauces that will help you add a bit of spice to your meat grilling. Click HERE to go directly to the iTunes App Store and get the app.

Happy grilling.

[image via: http://thefunkyapple.com]