It’s July in Wisconsin! Take a walk around the neighborhood any given Saturday or Sunday, and there’s a good chance you’ll smell a grill burning – and no meat screams for a grill like steak.
Here’s a quick primer on the meat that we know as “steak:”
First, let’s look at the relatively affordable “fringe” (my word) steaks: skirt, flank, and hanger.
Skirt steak comes from the “plate” section of the animal, south of the ribs. Like its companions, it’s a working portion of the muscular system, so it can be tough.
A flank steak comes from roughly the same area of the animal (bottom side of the abdomen), but more towards the rear. It is leaner than the skirt steak, and will need a bit of work to make it tender. You may see it labeled as a “London broil.”
Hanger steak “hangs” between the rib and belly of the beast. It’s known for its great flavor, but it is still a bit tough. The cut is also called the “butcher’s steak,” as it used to be the butcher’s secret that he took home with him at the end of the day. But the secret is out now, and the hanger steak is gaining popularity. Give it a try.
Each of these steaks will be best with a marinade. Marinades work the trifecta of keeping a leaner steak moist when cooking, while tenderizing and adding a desired flavor. Cook one of these steaks quickly over a hot grill (medium rare or it could get tough), let it rest, and then slice it. Think of these steaks for meals like fajitas, tacos, carne asada, or an Asian preparation like bulgogi.
Next, let’s look at the “steakhouse” steaks:
The ribeye comes from the rib portion of the animal. It is the contemporary granddaddy (oxymoron?) of steaks. Nowadays both boneless and bone-in are called “ribeye,” though that wasn’t always the case. A well-marbled bone-in ribeye is a slice of heaven on earth. And, like these other cuts, you’ll pay for it.
The tenderloin starts near the rib, and works its way back through the short loin and into the sirloin, expanding as it goes. Filet mignon is the small, forward tip of the tenderloin. As its name implies, it is an extremely tender piece of beef, but lean and (in my opinion) somewhat lacking in flavor.
From the short loin portion of the animal, you get strip steaks. You are now in the Mecca of the steak-world. The strip steak (think New York Strip) is boneless, tender, and flavorful. A T-bone consists of a small strip and small tenderloin (which runs through the short loin), separated by a bone. The porterhouse is a big, uber T-bone, containing a large strip and a larger portion of tenderloin. These are all great cuts.
Finally, there’s the sirloin. Sirloin can be a bit of a crap-shoot. If you’re buying sirloin, look for or request “top sirloin.” This is a good cut. But if you buy what is labeled as a “sirloin” steak, it is most likely the more inferior “bottom sirloin” cut. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (in a Jerry Seinfeld voice), but you just don’t want to pay for a top sirloin and get the lowly bottom. The bottom sirloin is a tougher piece of meat, and eventually turns in to the sirloin tip roast.
All of these cuts (with the exception of the tenderloins) should be seasoned (salt, pepper, Canadian steak seasoning, some other kind of rub, etc.) and then tossed on a hot grill. Ideally you’d like to create a flavorful crust around a succulent piece of “mid-rare” meat. The tenderloin is usually roasted or pan fried.
- Let your steak rise to room temperature before throwing it on the grill.
- Grading: “Prime,” “Choice,” “Select,” and “Don’t even think about going any lower than Select.”
Feel free to share your favorite cut and how you prepare it.
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