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Wednesday, December 6th
Few things can delight your tastebuds as well as a flavorful steak can. Whether you are ordering a meal at your favorite steakhouse or you are preparing to grill a steak at home, one thing is certain. The steak that you choose will directly impact your dining experience. What should you look for when you are choosing your next steak?
The Thickness of the Meat
One of the most important initial factors to consider when you are making a selection is the thickness of the meat. The thickness can impact the proper cooking method and how long you should cook it. Thinner meat may seem like it would be easier to cook, but this is actually not the case. When a steak is overcooked, it becomes tough and dry. It also may seem less flavorful. There is a fine line between cooking a steak to perfection and overcooking it. For thinner cuts of meat, this fine line becomes narrower. Even keeping a thick steak on the grill for an extra 30 seconds can make a huge difference between a perfect steak and an overcooked steak. Thicker cuts of meat are more forgiving in this important area. Cooking a steak is a fine art. If you are still trying to get your timing down, choosing a thicker cut of meat may be a smart move. Regardless of your skill level, the ideal thickness for a great steak is at least one inch.
The Meat's Marbling
Marbling refers to the whitish lines that run through a red slab of raw meat. These lines are comprised of fat. You may initially think that you should find the leanest piece of meat that you can. After all, most people do not prefer to eat a mouthful of animal fat. However, marbling is actually a good thing. As your steak cooks, these lines of fat in the meat become reduced or rendered. Through this process, the fat actually creates a juicy, flavorful steak. Beef without marbling often results in a drier and less flavorful steak.
However, too much fat can be a bad thing. Ideally, there will be many thin lines of marbling. Thick areas of fat generally will not render fully, and they will remain fatty chunks in the steak. The best meat for a juicy, delicious steak is one with thin lines of marbling throughout the steak so that juice and flavor are evenly dispersed. Keep in mind that some cuts of meat naturally have more marbling than others.
As you peruse a steakhouse menu or walk down the meat aisle in your supermarket, you may notice cuts like T-bones, porterhouses, rib-eyes, sirloins, filets and more. These are all popular cuts of meat for a delicious steak, but which ones should you lean toward? The cuts describe the area of the cow where the meat comes from. Some areas are naturally leaner, fattier, juicier or more tender than others.
A T-bone steak, for example, comes from meat located close to the stomach. It is appropriately named because of the T-shaped bone that runs through the center of the meat. This bone divides the steak into two unique cuts, and these are a tenderloin and a strip steak. Notably, the fact that a T-bone steak has two cuts of meat in it can make it more challenging to cook properly. Nonetheless, both cuts are usually tender and flavorful when they are prepared properly. Keep in mind that a porterhouse steak is a type of T-bone steak. The difference is that the tenderloin cut of a porterhouse must be at least 1.25 inches thick. Most porterhouse steaks are substantially thicker than this.
Rib-eye steaks are popular because of how juicy and flavorful they are. This meat cut comes from an area of the cow that has rich marbling. Some rib-eye steaks may be less than an inch thick. However, if you are picking out a rib-eye steak at the grocery store, keep in mind that the ideal cut is closer to 1.5 inches thick.
Many people enjoy eating sirloin steaks as well. Notably, sirloin steak comes from the rear of the cow where there is less fat and marbling. This is a lean cut of meat that can often be tough, and this is particularly true when it is not cooked properly. However, this is also one of the most flavorful cuts of meat.
Also called a tenderloin, a filet is another popular cut of beef. This cut is derived from meat that runs from the cow's ribs to its rear, and a filet is specifically the portion of this cut that is located closer to the ribs. This unique location makes a tenderloin extremely tender. The cut is usually relatively small in diameter, but it is common to find them up to three inches thick.
A strip steak is another option to consider. It comes from the rib section of the animal. Because this is not a muscular area, a strip steak is often tender. It may also have some marbling, which adds to its flavor and juiciness. Most strip steaks are between one and two inches thick, and some are sold as a bone-in cut. The most ideal thickness is 1.5 inches.
The Cooking Method
Before you settle on a specific cut of beef or choose a thickness for the meat, it is important to consider how you plan to cook your steak. The most common methods are grilled, pan-seared, and oven-baked. A steak cooked over an open flame has an additional element of flavor that you may not get with other methods. However, grills normally have high temperatures, so the steak must be monitored carefully. Furthermore, steak drippings from a well-marbled cut of meat can cause the flame to shoot up and char the steak. If you plan to grill a steak, consider using a drip pan to catch the drippings before they reach the flames. Both thinner and thicker cuts of steak are suitable for the grill, but it may be easier to cook the meat properly if it is a thicker cut.
Some cuts of meat are particularly tasty when they are cooked in a pan on the stove. These may be thinner cuts where you need to maintain a specific temperature to avoid overcooking the meat. It is also easier to cook a steak in olive oil seasonings on the stove versus on the grille. With this in mind, pan-cooking could be great for cuts with less marbling.
You may assume that baking steak in the oven would produce a dry, tough piece of meat. However, when done correctly, baking can result in the perfect steak. Generally, you should pan-sear the steak in a frying pan first. This is to create the slightly crisp texture that you want as well as to lock in the fat's juices. One of the great benefits of baking a steak in the oven is the ability to add a delicious sauce while the meat is cooking. This may be particularly beneficial when you are cooking a leaner cut of meat. The actual cook time will depend on how well-done you want your steak and how thick the cut is. Because the meat may continue cooking after you pull it out of the oven, you may want to do so slightly before it is baked to your satisfaction.
You can see that the thickness of the meat and the cut may impact your cooking method. If you have your heart set on grilling, you may choose a different cut than you would if you do not feel like firing up the grill.
Make Your Steak Selection
Everything from the thickness of the steak and its cut to its marbling and your preferred cooking method must be taken into account as you make your selection. While choosing the right steak is important, preparing the steak is both an art and a science. With this in mind, you may need to practice cooking many steaks before you have mastered the right technique for each cut that you enjoy eating.
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