The food world can be confusing to navigate. Open a restaurant menu, and you might feel like you need a dictionary to tell the difference between filet and flat iron or martini and mojito. This multi-part guide is by no means comprehensive, but it might teach you a thing or two. The first installment dissects the different parts of the cow and gives you the lowdown on the most common cuts of steak.
Flat iron steak comes from the chuck, located in the shoulder. Containing a significant amount of marbling (streaks of fat), it is considered the second most tender beef muscle after tenderloin.
Rib roast comes from the rib section, which is often tender, well-marbled, and rather expensive. The resulting steak is rib steak. When the bone and most of the fat and lesser muscles are removed, this steak yields rib-eye. Delmonico can refer to a rib-eye steak. These cuts can be called prime rib.
The diaphragm in the ”plate” area yields two cuts that are considered flavorful but not very tender: hanger steak (above) and skirt steak, which contains tougher muscle and also more fat that makes it tastier. Flank steak comes from the abdominal muscles, and it is leaner than other cuts.
The tenderloin is located along both sides of the spine. Filet Mignon comes from the small end of the tenderloin, and it is considered the most expensive and most tender cut because the muscle does not bear weight and, as a result, contains less connective tissue. However, these steaks are not the most flavorful.
T-bone and Porterhouse steaks are cut from the short loin, and they contain a T-shaped bone. Porterhouse steaks come from the rear of the short loin and contain more tenderloin, whereas T-bone steaks come from the front part of the short loin and contain less tenderloin. These two cuts are highly valued and high-priced because they contain meat from the two most-desired parts, the short loin and the tenderloin, and because they tend to be rather large. Often considered the best steak, Porterhouse costs even more than T-bone due to its larger tenderloin.
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Strip steak (above), also commonly known as New York strip steak or Delmonico, comes from the short loin. The muscle is tender because it doesn’t do much work.
Since it comes from near the rear, sirloin steak is tougher than meat from the rib or short loin sections. It contains part of the hip bone. Boneless sirloin steak is sometimes called rump steak.
Steak comes in several grades of quality, the best being USDA Prime because it has the most marbling. Prime is most commonly made available to high-end restaurants. Technically, only USDA Prime rib steaks and rib-eyes should be called prime rib, but the definition has become looser.
The next best grade is Choice, which is often the highest quality you can find at the supermarket. Select, the most common grade sold in supermarkets, has the lowest amount of marbling, which makes the beef leaner but also less tender and flavorful.
There is much more to the art of the steak, but this introductory guide should get you through most restaurant menus. Happy eating!