If I wanted to treat myself, spending an evening splurging on a spectacular dinner at my favorite steakhouse -- and enjoying one of their high-quality steaks cooked to perfection -- would be at the top of my list. However, an exquisite cut of steak can be experienced at home, too. It's still a splurge, but cooking a steak at home is easier on the wallet. Knowing which steaks are the cream of the crop, why, and how they differ from one another will lead you in the right direction and transform your kitchen into your own personal steakhouse. Let's take a closer look at some of the most popular cuts and start sizzling up some delicious steak!
Unfortunately, not all steaks are created equal. Thetype of cut can significantly affect the taste and texture of the steak. Tougher, chewier cuts of beef contain significant amounts of collagen or connective tissue. Higher concentrations of connective tissue are in areas of the animal that are heavily exercised, such as the shoulders and legs. The more tender cuts of meat will come from areas of the animal with less connective tissue.
Tougher cuts of steak are particularly tricky to cook, considering you want to avoid chewing on leather. The longer muscle is cooked, the tougher it will become. The connective tissue that makes the steak tough can be broken down by certain cooking methods, but it's not really possible with grilling or pan frying. Tough cuts of meats are better suited for the low-and-slow methods of cooking, so break out your slow cooker or smoker to tenderize them.
These affordable cuts can be cooked in a way that makes them tender or flavorful, but they aren't regarded as choice cuts of beef. Most of these cuts come from parts of the cow that do most of the heavy lifting.
The tender cuts can take the heat, so get ready to have steak on your plate in a flash, especially if you like yours medium-rare! These beauties are tender due to their lack of connective tissue and their marbling, the veiny white streaks of fat running in between the muscle fibers of the steak. The more marbling a steak has, the more flavor it has, and marbling is a characteristic of many high-quality steaks.
The ribeye is also known as the Delmonico or Scotch fillet. It is a tender cut from close to the rib of the cow. The bone must be removed from the ribeye for the steak to be referred to as one. Otherwise, it would be called a rib steak. The ribeye is heavily marbled and therefore an excellent choice for steak lovers seeking a cut of meat with lots of rich, beefy flavor. While the ribeye steak is delicious, there are more tender steaks to be had.
The New York strip steak, also known as the Kansas City strip steak, is a tender cut from the strip loin, a part of the sirloin. This popular cut of steak is slightly less tender than the ribeye and other high-quality cuts on our list, but it doesn't falter in the flavor department.
The tenderloin is harvested from the center of the loin section of the cow. It is the most tender part of the animal, hence the name. The tenderloin is butchered into three cuts: the rump, the center cut, and the tail. We will focus on the center cut, since it contains the two most familiar steaks of the tenderloin: the filet mignon and the Chateaubriand.
The filet mignon is cut from the tapered end of the tenderloin, while the Chateaubriand is cut from the larger end. However, unlike the filet mignon, the Chateaubriand is not sliced into filets.
These steaks will set you back a pretty penny and may not be the best choice for your neighborhood block party, since they are the most expensive on our list. Even though these delicate cuts of beef are incredibly tender, they're cut short in flavor. They're at their best when enhanced with seasonings, sauces, and wrapped in other tasty meats such as bacon.
The T-bone and porterhouse steaks are similar yet have noticeable differences. Both steaks are cut from the short loin, making them both tender and desirable. Each has a T-shaped bone running down the center with a tenderloin on one side and a strip steak on the other.
They differ in size, and size matters. The T-bone gets the short end of the stick -- literally -- by being cut closer to the front of the short loin, resulting in a smaller portion of tenderloin. A T-bone's tenderloin filet must be at least a quarter of an inch thick for the steak to be considered a T-bone.
Now that you know the size of the T-bone, can you guess how big a porterhouse is? The tenderloin filet must be thicker than 1 1/4 inches to be considered a porterhouse steak. The porterhouse is a monster steak, usually weighing in at two pounds or more. This makes it a hefty meal for one and a better fit for two.
The tri-tip steak is one of the most affordable cuts on our list. This triangular piece of meat is cut from the bottom sirloin of the cow. It is lean, yet tender. The tri-tip is not huge on beefy flavor, so it's a good idea to dress this steak up with some seasonings before you throw it on the grill. The tri-tip is also the perfect steak for marinades and steak rubs.
Skirt steak is all the rage right now! This cut is from the diaphragm muscles of the cow, a heavily used set of muscles. The skirt steak is popular for its rich and beefy taste, but preparing skirt steak can be rather tough. It's essential to slice this steak into thin strips against the grain with a quality steak knife; otherwise, you'll be chewing on this one for a while.
The flank steak is a cut from the abdominal muscle of the cow. Like the skirt steak, it can be rather tough, since it is a thicker piece of meat than the skirt steak. It is popular with meat lovers for its meaty flavor. Also like the skirt steak, the flank steak will need to be sliced into thin strips against the grain.
Thanks to this handy guide, you can now approach the meat counter with confidence and order some amazing steak to take home and cook. If you haven't tried all of these cuts, try a new cut or two, and you may discover a new house favorite.