I think of beef a bit like I think about wine. You go through a few stages in your knowledge of it—at first you don’t think there’s any difference between the various types, then you taste a few at the same time and you realize actually there is a big difference. Then, sometime later, you figure out which ones you like and you can order at a restaurant or store with confidence knowing that you know even just a tiny bit about what you’re talking about.
With beef, there is a big difference between the different cuts. This post is a brief primer, but if you’re anything like me, this is just the start of your beef journey. The key is to try different types, ideally more than one at the same time, so you see how they’re different. By a different cut for everyone in your family, and take a piece of each. You don’t need a huge slab of beef to reach your daily recommended protein amount—you might want to opt for relatively small but great quality steaks from a reputable butcher, who will also be able to answer any questions.
Here’s a great chart from Lifehacker that shows a picture of each cuts, and suggests the best way to cook each one. Keep in mind that cuts with more marbling and fat are higher in calories than leaner cuts, so you might want to eat those ones less often. Here are a few cuts that you see fairly often at restaurants and in grocery stores.
T-bone: The T-bone is two steaks in one: part sirloin, part fillet, separated by a t-shaped bone. It’s very similar to a porterhouse, which tends to be cut a bit thicker.
Top Sirloin: This tends to be lower in price than other cuts. It’s one of the leanest cuts, with great flavor. You actually want to look for lean if you’re buying sirloin, as what appears to be fat might be gristle.
New York strip (a.k.a. strip loin): Good flavor, moderate fat marbling, a popular middle-to-high priced option that people love to barbecue.
Filet mignon (a.k.a. tenderloin): A tender steak, often one of the priciest, with a moderately lean profile—somewhere in the middle among the cuts. You don’t want to overcook it, or it’ll dry out. Best enjoyed grilled or pan fried in a small amount of butter or oil.
Rib eye (a.k.a. entrecote): The rib eye is another cut on the pricier end of the spectrum. It tends to have more marbling (which means more fat) than filet mignon, and comes with lots of rich beef flavor. Great for pan-frying then popping in the oven to broil briefly. This is a favorite steak of many.
Hanger: Very lean, and not very tender. You probably want a thin hanger steak, and to enjoy it best, cut it perpendicular to the grains running through it.
Rump: Many steak-lovers love the rump, which tends to have a lot of flavor at a low cost. It’s also one of the leanest cuts available. Though it’s different in the UK, in the U.S. the rump steak is from part of the animal that does a lot of work, so it can be a bit tougher than other cuts. Worth a try.
What’s your favorite type of steak, and how do you prepare it? Share your comments with us below.
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