How to Choose the Perfect Steak

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There are several different types of steaks out there. Which one should you choose? This guide will get you through cuts of steak, price, tenderness and marbling, grades, and brands in attempts to help you choose which is the perfect steak for you.

Get to know your butcher.

It doesn’t matter if you buy your steaks at the supermarket or at a gourmet butcher shop. If you want to learn about meat, how to purchase it, what’s the best buy, how to cook it — start a relationship with your butcher. All you have to do is ask

Pick your steak like you pick your clothes.

Would you grab just any old pair of pants off the rack? No. Same with a steak. Look at each one carefully.

Know your cuts of beef and look for value cuts.

Going hand-in-hand with choosing the right steak is learning the different parts of the cow. It’s important to know how to distinguish between all the primal cuts so you can ask your butcher questions and understand their responses.

Know your grades … and which you can afford.

The lower the grade, the leaner and tougher the beef. Prime is the top grade, in terms of flavor, marbling and tenderness. As far as consumers are concerned, there are really only two grades: choice and select. Choice is the higher grade. The leanest, least expensive meat is generally graded select and it makes up the lion’s share of meat in the self-service case.

Look for thick cuts.

Avoid steaks that are less than an inch thick, they’re too easy to overcook. Be careful when buying steaks in packs — it’s often difficult to get a side view to see just how thick they are.

Don’t trim the fat.

Almost any butcher will recommend leaving most of the fat on the outside edge of the steak before cooking. The fat helps to keep the steak moist while helping hold its shape during cooking. It also enhances the meat’s flavor. You can trim off any excess fat before serving once the steak is cooked.

Behind the glass or on the shelf?

Believe it or not — it’s the same meat. Markets tend to put a higher grade of meat in the full-service glass case, but not always. If you’re unsure, ask your butcher to explain the difference.

Be wary of fancy brands.

To help promote beef, the industry has introduced what it calls branded beef, which often have special names that don’t mention the meat’s grade. Some of those names are developed for marketing purposes or to give certain cuts a prestige distinction over others. Be wary before you buy. These names essentially mean nothing and, unless you ask the butcher what you are buying, you really have no idea what you are getting.

To get a perfect steak …

Buy a thermometer. It doesn’t matter how you cook it — grilled or in a pan — use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature. It does away with all the guesswork regarding timing.

Enhanced? Natural? Organic?

Enhanced beef means meat that has been injected with additives (such as flavoring, tenderizer or a salt solution). Natural beef means it’s been minimally processed without additives, colors or preservatives. That description fits most of the beef being sold. Organic beef must meet the USDA’s national organic program standards, meaning cattle must be fed entirely with organic feed, must not be given growth hormones or antibiotics and must have access to pasture.


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