America loves its beef. In 2020 alone, some $30.3 billion in beef was sold nationwide — and chief among beef offerings is steak.
Grilled, pan-seared, sous vide or even tartare, steak lends itself to countless styles and flavors. But what cuts of steak reign supreme? Can there even be said to be one optimal cut?
It's can be a difficult question to answer, to get help get to the bottom of it, let's take a look at all of the key cuts and how best they can be utilized.
The Main Cuts
If you were to spend an evening at any of your local steakhouses, you would notice a few recurring features on every menu.
These are your standard cuts. No matter what the occasion is, you can always count on one of these for a satisfying dining experience.
Top sirloin is the old standby. It's the most versatile cut of all, and hence it's always a good idea to keep a few on hand.
You could pan-sear one of these in moments for a quick and easy weeknight bite. Be sure to remember to use the right oil for high-heat searing, though.
However, as it's a lean cut sirloin lacks the marbling that lends other cuts their flavor. That usually means having to amend the flavor one way or the other.
Marinading is the simplest way to go. But for a more interesting option, stir-frying is an ideal choice. That the cut is so lean makes it ideal for dicing, and the mild flavor will benefit from the veggies and seasonings of the stirfry.
Ribeyes are a much more marbled cut than sirloin. So while they can be seared as well as any sirloin, they'll benefit the most from grilling.
As far as seasoning, less-is-more for the ribeye. The fatty marbling already has all the flavor you could ask for, so salt and pepper will do the trick most of the time. If you're feeling extravagant, maybe add a little dry rub.
Or if you must complement the flavor, ribeyes benefit beautifully from the right wine pairing. Specifically, there are few things better in life than a grill-fresh ribeye and good zinfandel. Pesenti Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA produces an excellent organically farmed zinfandel. We covered this wine just last month for your reading (and drinking) enjoyment.
That said, a steak is only as good as its preparation. And something to bear in mind with ribeye is that they have a tendency to overcook. Rather than rely on a timed cook, it is prudent to use a meat thermometer instead.
New York Strip
New York Strip is a popular cut due to a fatty cap that imbues it with a wealth of flavor.
It makes for a very easy grilling experience because, like the ribeye, it requires little in the way of preparation. Just add salt and a dash of seasoning, then grill for 3-4 minutes on each side for a perfect steak each time.
You could think of filet mignon as a superior sirloin. It's just as versatile as its more common counterpart, lending itself equally well to a variety of cooking methods. But it has a leg-up in terms of tenderness, being a buttery smooth cut that melts in your mouth.
As a more premium cut than sirloin, you would do well to keep the seasoning to a minimum so as to enjoy the natural flavors. Sprinkling the steak with a dash of salt and a little herb butter before grilling is the optimal cooking method.
Other Cuts of Steak to Consider
The four preceding cuts are the classics, the ones you can find on almost any restaurant menu or at the supermarket meat counter. But they're far from the only cuts worth your attention.
If you're interested in a more unique steak, here are some worthy contenders.
Flat Iron Steak
Flat iron steak is somewhat a newer style, and so it falls into this category. But one taste and you may well have a new favorite.
After filet mignon, flat iron steak is the next most tender cut. It's sourced from the beef shoulder and is beloved by chefs and diners alike for its marbling and texture.
It was traditionally overlooked, however, because the amount of sinew and connective tissue in the region meant that the shoulder wasn't good for much else besides ground chuck. It was only recently that a method was devised to trim away all those tougher tissues, leaving behind one of the most enjoyable cuts there is.
It's another versatile cut, good for grilling, broiling, pan-frying, and more. Whatever your preferred method, its rich marbling will produce a decadent finished product when cooked to a perfect medium-rare.
Flank steak is sourced from close to the loin. As one of the leanest cuts there is, it makes a great choice for those trying to avoid fattier cuts.
In terms of preparation, it's a good all-around cut, suitable for grilling and searing. Because it's a bit of a tougher slice, braising is a good choice as it can help soften up the cut.
Also, due to the leanness, flank steaks are susceptible to drying out. To print this you'll want to make sure to never cook one beyond medium and to slice very thinly against the grain.
Skirt steak is sourced from the plate, underneath the ribs. It's a bit coarser and fattier than flank steak, its nearest neighbor.
That extra marbling makes it an excellent candidate for the grill, giving the steak a velvety richness when cooked hot and fast. That same property makes it equally at home being pan-seared, as well. In either case, high heat is essential to sear a crust onto the steak and lock in the flavor.
Alternatively, if you find yourself craving a little more spice in your life, the skirt steak is the traditional choice for making steak fajitas. The key here is a lengthy marinading period of 4-10 hours. This gives the steak plenty of time to soak up those spices that so wonderfully complement its natural flavors.
An important caveat regardless of how you prepare your skirt steak: always slice against the grain. If you slice with the grain, it can be almost too dense to chew.
The Right Cut for the Right Plate
For all the cuts of steak that exist, it's not reasonable to single one out as superior to the rest. To say that is to ignore all of the delicious dishes that can be made from even the more humble selections.
It's partly why steak subscriptions are one of the most popular ways to shop for steaks online. They let subscribers experiment with delectable cuts that they might not have considered on their own.
To see exactly what a steak box subscription has to offer, check out some of the options and perks that let you get impeccable cuts delivered.