If you have ever been to a steak house for the first time, you have probably been confronted with a dilemma – choosing a steak from various steak cuts to eat. For the uninitiated, it’s overwhelming and confusing to discern what cut is best. At first glance, they all look relatively the same. However, the location of the cut is crucial in determining the flavour and consistency you wish to enjoy from a steak. Learn here what the various steak cuts entail for taste based, so you know what you should order the next time you enter a steak house!
The Recipe for the Right Steak for You
No matter what steak cut you prefer, it’s integral to understand the elements of what makes a great steak. Without these elements, you’re in for a pretty lousy steak. Typically, what makes a good steak amount to the tenderness and flavour. However, the question is: “What characteristics of a steak determine tenderness and flavour?” It all comes down to three bodily tissue components – muscle, collagen, and fat.
Cows will have more muscle than in other parts of their body. Some might assume that more muscle in a steak cut might be best. On the contrary, you want a cut that has less muscle. Why is that? It’s because it ultimately reflects the level of tenderness in the meat.
If you’re looking for utmost tenderness, you want a cut where there is little muscle. For instance, a loin steak cut is a perfect choice. Lion cuts are rather popular as many steak houses stapled names for steak cuts include NY strip, T-Bone, porterhouse, tenderloin fillet, and fillet mignon. The tenderness of loin cuts comes directly behind the ribs, where there is little muscle.
Meanwhile, a cut where the muscle is used the most (like the shoulders) will be much tougher. This particular cut is known as a chuck, which is flavourful despite its lack of tenderness. Notably, chuck cuts are best made into ground chuck (hamburgers), short ribs, shoulder tender medallions, chuck pot roast, shoulder steak, flat-iron steak, and stew meat.
When thinking about the tenderness of a steak cut, you need to think about collagen. Why is that? Collagen is the connective tissue that holds muscle together – it essentially provides structure. If you wish for a tender steak, you will want to go for steak cuts with less collagen.
The more collagen in a cut like a shank steak makes it tougher since it’s located in the front of a cow’s forearm. It makes sense it would be less tender since collagen is usually in areas like the skin, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage, bone. Like a chuck cut, a shank steak can still be flavourful despite its toughness. However, it’s drier, so it’s best used for beef stock, stew, or lean ground beef.
However, a round-cut steak is an exception to the correlation between less collagen and tenderness. A round cut has less collagen but is still considered quite tough and chewy. Why is that? Well, round cuts are located near the cow’s hind legs. There may be less collagen in this area, but it does have a robust amount of lean muscle. As mentioned previously, more muscle in a cut means a steak will be less tender. A round cut is flavourful but is tricky to cook. Mainly, this cut is famously slow-cooked for a rump and eye roast.
Fat is a big factor in what makes a great steak cut.
Despite some people’s aversion to fat in food, it’s what provides juiciness, flavour, and tenderness to a steak. The more fat, the better a steak is. Because of all the marbling, expensive steak cuts like wagyu or Kobe have lots of fat in them. Marbling is the white flecks of fat within the meat’s muscle that has less muscle fibre and collagen per unit of meat. In turn, it makes marbled steak meat softer and easier to chew.
So, what cut of steak has the most fat?
The steak cut with the highest fat content among them all is ribeye. Ribeye cuts come from the cow’s ribs and backbone, where there is a rich amount of fatty marbling and tenderness. You can imagine that this cut is high in demand as it’s naturally found in most steak houses. However, its popularity does mean it’s a pricier cut whether you dine at a steak house or buy a cut yourself. But, the high cost makes sense for a high-quality cut.
Taste is entirely subjective. Yet, the consensus for the best steak is usually one that’s rich in fat with low amounts of muscle and collagen for tenderness and flavour. However, steak cuts with less fat and more muscle and collagen may be tougher, but they still pack flavour and are great to use in various meals. Tougher steaks are typically less expensive, so it’s important to note when you’re on a budget and need a cut that’s still good for certain meals. Though ultimately, tender fatty steaks are worth the high price.