How to purchase and prepare the perfect steak
Each cut has its own unique texture and flavor; they also vary in size, price and tenderness.
Rib Steak – Thanks to abundant marbling, the rib steak is the juiciest and most flavorful of all steaks. Exceptionally tender, it’s available bone-in or boneless (rib eye). Steaks from the “large end” of the rib are the highest in marbling and a real prize for the lover of juicy steak.
Tenderloin or filet mignon is beef’s most tender cut, and with only 6-8 pounds per steer, it’s also the most expensive. Slender, irregularly shaped, and completely encased in gristle and fat, they require special care from the butcher. Filets are often wrapped in bacon to make up for their lower-fat level.
Strip steaks are boneless, medium to well-marbled and easy to carve. Juicy, flavorful and tender, strip steaks are one of beef’s most popular cuts.
T-bone – On one side of the T-shaped bone is the tenderloin, and on the other the strip steak – but cooked with the bone, this steak is more than simply the sum of its parts! Large in size (1-2 pounds), tender, juicy and flavorful; the T-bone is a first-class steak.
Sirloin lacks the marbling and tenderness of other quality cuts, but its fine flavor and low price make it a particularly good value. Large in size (from 1-2 pounds), moderate in price and usually boneless, sirloin steak is a fine choice for the budget-minded.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers an optional grading inspection that assesses potential quality. Inspectors evaluate size, animal age, color and – most importantly – fat marbling, then assign the appropriate USDA grade.
USDA Prime offers abundant marbling and the greatest potential to yield juicy and tender steaks. Only 2 percent of all beef can meet the stringent standards for the Prime grade, making it more expensive and relatively rare. USDA Prime steaks are the most juicy and flavorful of all steaks.
USDA Choice grade is also high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. This grade represents a wide range of marbling levels, from slight to abundant, generally producing steaks that are tender, juicy and flavorful.
Premium Choice is a subcategory representing roughly the top 18 percent of USDA Choice beef, or that with the most abundant marbling. Very close to Prime grade, Premium Choice beef is of exceptional quality.
USDA Select has the lowest level of internal marbling and lacks the juiciness and flavor of higher-graded beef. Only the most tender of USDA Select cuts should be cooked with dry heat. Select is the least expensive grade of quality beef.
Standard and Commercial grades are frequently sold as non-graded or store-brand meats.
The term organic is not a grade or measurement of quality and has no bearing on taste, juiciness or tenderness.
Butchers and chefs have long known that aging sides or primal cuts of beef for three to four weeks can dramatically improve both tenderness and flavor. During aging, the muscles’ own enzymes are the principal elements of change, breaking down tissue as they enhance and mature flavors.
Aging beef is an expensive step, because in the process, valuable weight is lost to evaporation and additional trimming. In today’s price-conscious market, the extended aging of beef is rare.
Aged beef exhibits visual clues that the savvy buyer can identify. While fresh cuts of beef are a very bright red, shiny and wet-looking, aged cuts have a duller appearance, lacking that moist, wet shine on the surface. Some cuts will even have a dark edge. Once the steaks are cut, aging stops and spoilage begins so you cannot age a steak in your refrigerator.
Use `Dry’ Heat
Dry heat from a grill is clearly the best way to cook quality beefsteaks. Hot, dry heat has a searing effect, evaporating excess liquids as it browns, this is very important with steak. If the heat is not high enough, the steaks stew in their own juices – great for a chuck roast but ruinous to steak.
Once removed from the grill, a steak or roast continues to cook, rising in internal temperature 10-15 degrees – this is called carryover cooking. Resting your steak after grilling takes advantage of carryover cooking, allowing cooking to finish and internal juices to settle. To serve a juicy steak at medium rare to medium, remove it from the grill at approximately rare to medium rare. Place on a plate, cover with foil and rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Poking a steak with a mechanical tenderizer or a fork allows valuable juices to escape during cooking, robbing a steak of juiciness and flavor. Never poke your steak before cooking, pierce with a fork to turn, or cut into it to see if it is done.
Professional chefs usually rely on a practiced sense of feel to judge a steak’s doneness. Try it: With practice you’ll be able to judge a steak quickly and accurately. Poke the steak with your finger from time to time as it cooks; the more it done it is, the firmer it becomes.
Preheat gas grill on highest setting. Once your grill is good and hot, brush the grate clean with a grill brush.
With your grill as hot as possible, place steaks on cooking grate evenly spaced, close lid and LEAVE THEM ALONE! If temperatures are right, your steaks should develop dark brown grill lines in approximately three minutes. Rotate 45 to 90 degrees, but do not turn over, placing them on a new, hot part of the grate. Close lid for another two to three minutes.
Turn steaks over and repeat. For thicker or more well-done steaks, reduce grill temperature after browning the first side so the second side doesn’t burn before the steaks are done to your liking. Rest and serve with grilled crosshatch pattern facing up.
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