Whether they’re pre-packaged or in a butcher’s case, not all steaks are the same. There are multiple factors that go into steak such as quality, origin, it’s physical features, and more. But when you figure out what you’re looking for, picking steaks will be a simple task, saving you time and money when grocery shopping. We’ll now go over on how to pick the best steak for cooking.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has three main grades of beef that are widely regarded and used across America to determine high-quality beef. The three grades are: USDA Prime, USDA Choice, and USDA Select. Those grades are differentiated between the amount of marbling a piece of beef has. Marbling is the amount of fat that streaks throughout a piece of beef, resembling a look to marble. More marbling means more flavor, juiciness, and tenderness.
- USDA Prime- This grade has the highest amount of marbling and can be found commonly in restaurants or hotels. Prime beef is perfect for broiling, roasting or grilling.
- USDA Choice- Choice beef has less marbling than prime but is still high-quality beef. They can also be used for broiling, roasting, or grilling.
- USDA Select- If you prefer your meat with less fat and more on the lean side, select beef is perfect. This may have not as much juiciness or flavor as choice or prime beef, but it can be more cost friendly.
Type Of Cut
Various sections of a cow have different types of flavor and tenderness. Steak cuts located in more muscular areas will be less tender, where steaks located in the fattier areas will be more tender. The tenderer cuts are usually more expensive when shopping for steak.
- Chuck- One of the more active parts, so it involves more muscle and is tough but flavorful.
- Ribs- A very tender steak that and can retain its tenderness through different types of cooking.
- Brisket- Involves the chest muscle so it can be tough and needs to be slowly cooked to be more tenderized. The brisket is commonly used to make pot roast and corned beef.
- Plate- Contains short ribs, and skirt steak which is used to make carne asada. The plate is thin and very flavorful, which is perfect for quick cooking.
- Shank- Located in the thigh muscles, so it’s very tough and only used for very specific dishes such as osso buco.
- Loin- Compromised of the short loin, sirloin, and tenderloin. The short loin is located near the front of the loin and is one of the more commonly used cuts. It includes t-bone, porterhouse, or strip steaks. Sirloin steak is the rear part of the loin and is divided into the top and bottom sirloin. The top sirloin is leaner and can be less expensive, while the bottom sirloin is more tender and flavorful. The most tender cut of beef, the tenderloin runs from the short loin to the sirloin and is used to make filet mignon.
- Flank- A very tough cut of meat so it should be cooked quickly so it doesn’t dry out.
- Round- Contains active muscles like the chuck, so it can be tough, but not as flavorful as the chuck.
If the steak you’re interested in purchasing has a smell that’s sour or ammonia-like, do not purchase it. It is likely that the steak is expired or stale, and you always want to have the freshest steak possible. Looks for steaks that have a meaty smell and don’t smell “off” or have some type of irregular smell.
If you prefer prepackaged steak, open the package when you get home and smell the steak. If it doesn’t smell good, take it back to the seller immediately and let them know. If you don’t feel like going through that process, dates labeled “sell-by”, “use-by”, “best before”, etc., on prepackaged steaks are useful. If the date is before or on the same day you’re purchasing, it’s best to stay away from that steak and look for ones with the latest date possible for better freshness.
Picking the perfect steak is easy if you know what to look for. After you consider factors such as grade, type of cut, and smell, you also have personal preference. At the end of the day, you should pick a steak you feel comfortable with, and what fits your personal needs or liking. If you prefer your steak bright red or dark red, grass-fed or grain-fed, it’s all up to you.
For very specific questions, don’t be afraid to ask the butcher who’s selling the meat questions because they are the ones that cut and put out the steak for display. The butcher will be able to help you choose from the meats they have to offer, and it also helps to build comradery with the person you buy your steaks from.