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Choosing the Right Cut of Steak: The Marvel of Marbling
Should you order steak, you’ll have your choice of cuts. To narrow down a tough menu decision, read on.
Like choosing the right wire to cut to disarm a teenager’s radio, selecting the right cut of steak can be daunting. Often, though, the choice is simple: the best steak for you depends on how you want it cooked. Fatty steaks deserve more time on the grill, whereas a thin, lean cut is best served rare.
This is because of marbling—the term for the fat deposits that seem to weave through the meat like veins in stone. As a steak cooks, the fat begins to liquefy and seep into the meat itself, enriching its flavor. The more marbling a cut exhibits, the more heat it can handle before it begins to exhibit its full potential; conversely, a leaner cut should never be cooked higher than medium, lest it become dry and tough. Although the cuts available at a market or butcher may vary, most will carry these popular cuts:
Rib Eye: Cut from the tender muscle that runs along the cow’s spine, a rib eye contains some of the richest marbling out there. Cook it to at least medium, though it may be better suited to the pan or broiler than the grill.
Strip Steak: Also known as kansas city steak or new york strip, this tightly textured steak is well balanced, with many thin rivulets of fat throughout. That balance makes it equally tasty whether cooked medium-rare or medium-well.
Filet Mignon: A fancier name for tenderloin, filet mignon is one of the supplest and least marbled cuts out there. Because of its low fat content, it should be served rare or medium-rare, with no uncooked fat.
T-bone: This cut is actually a combination of two other types of steak—strip and tenderloin—separated by a T-shaped bone. Here, a unique challenge: since both meats are suited to different temperatures, you want to make sure the (larger) strip portion cooks longer than the tenderloin.