A Complete Guide to Steaks
Let’s talk about steaks—large, beautiful and juicy beef cuts. If you do not see how New York and Ribeye differs from one another and you do not understand why Filet Mignon is so expensive, you should definitely read further.
Whether you’re cooking a steak at home, or going to a restaurant for a special occasion, it is a good thing to know how and what your perfect slice will be made from.
Beef steaks are an expensive dish, since the best cuts of beef are used for them. A perfect steak can be cooked with only 7%-10% of meat cuts.
And here’s the first aspect of a good steak: the feeding type. There are two feeding types:
The meat is rich in flavor, but is less marbled (or has no marbling at all). Such meat will never get the ‘prime’ status, i.e. the best meat for steaks, in the United States.
High marbling scores (producers can control the marbling degree). However, such meat has less fatty acids and vitamins, and sometimes the taste vanishes almost completely.
Steak lovers highly value grain-fed beef for its pronounced grainy taste, tenderness and marbling. In any case, it is up to you to decide what type of meat you like most.
Type of Cuts
The next aspect is the type of cuts, in other words, from which part the meat piece is taken. The less muscles are used during the life-time, the more tender the meat will be. The most tender meat parts are found in locations that are farther from the back, legs, and neck. When choosing the steak type, you choose the degree of marbling, flavor and tenderness of the future steak. See below the image showing where each beef cut comes from. When the beef is cut, the meat is “aged”. This process takes from 20 days. In this time, meat becomes more loose, tender and gets a distinctive flavor.
There are many types of cuts, but we will discuss the four most common ones: Tenderloin, New York, T-bone, and Ribeye. All these cuts are taken from the parts where the meat is most tender.
Since steak cuts make up a small part of the bull’s body, their cost is fairly high. That is why it is important to understand whether you like flavorful pieces, or the most tender fillets—it is up to you. This is a short guide on the most popular beef steak cuts.
Filet Mignon (Tenderloin)
Also known as: Tenderloin, Filet, Fillet steak, Chateaubriand
How it is sold: Without bones, the most expensive steak cut.
Where it is cut from: Under the ribs, the entire tenderloin starts wide and then tapers at the other end (forming sort of a “tail”). Filet mignon is cut from the smaller end, Chateaubriand is taken from the wider end.
How it looks: The silver film is removed, the cartilage and fat are removed, the tenderloin is a small and compact cut. The meat is lean, with very fine-grained texture. Because of their small size, tenderloins are made thicker than most steaks.
How it tastes: The most delicate of all steaks and meat, with “creamy” texture, slightly pronounced taste of meat.
How to cook: Since tenderloin pieces tend to be thick, the best way to cook them is to sear them over high heat until they get browned, and then finish cooking in the oven.
Strip Steak (Strip Loin)
Also known as: Kansas Steak, New York Strip Steak, Striploin
How it is sold: Most often without bones.
Where it is cut from: A thin edge, which runs along the spine, farther than the ribs.
How it looks: A strip of fat on one side, the marbling is even and well-distributed, there are no separate fat pockets.
How it tastes: It has a bright “steak” taste and a strong flavor, the meat is tender, but inferior to rib eye or filet mignon.
How to cook: Over high heat. Sometimes the steak is cooked fat side down to melt this fat a bit.
Porterhouse is a larger version of T-bone, weighing up to 3.5 lbs.
How it is sold: With a bone in the shape of the T letter.
Where it is cut from: Cross-section of the Short Loin part
How it looks: If you are in doubt whether to choose filet mignon or strip loin, take both. A T-bone consists of both types of steak separated by a T-bone.
How it tastes: Combines the flavors of filet mignon and striploin.
How to cook: Since these are two different types of cuts, you should take special care while cooking this steak: the fillet part will cook faster, so, if possible, remove it from the fire, while the striploin part should be heated more actively.
Also known as: Delmonico Steak, Scotch Fillet, Entrecote
How it is sold: With or without bone
Where it is cut from: Upper chest, after the 5th rib
How it looks: A lot of fat, high marbling score, pieces with fat pockets closer to the neck. The main central part (the “eye”) is less grainy, while the outer parts are more fatty and grainy.
How it tastes: Juicy and flavorful steak, the most popular among meat lovers, rich flavor.
How to cook: It is easy to cook it, just fry it on all sides, ‘sealing’ the juice, then put it to the oven.
With or without a bone?
Bones make cooked meat more flavorful and delicious. When you cook meat on the bone, in this type of steak, the bone marrow and other substances from the bones add flavor to the meat, adding more juice and flavor depth that could not otherwise achieved in a boneless cut. Bones also retain their juices and help the heat spread inside the meat so that it cooks more evenly.
Less popular and common steaks are Tomahawk (rib eye on the bone), Cowboy, Flat Iron Steak, Prime Rib, etc.
Degree of Doneness
And here is one more important aspect that adds to the final taste of the steak.
It determines how juicy your steak will be. There are degrees of doneness from the lowest Blue Rare (114F-120° F), Rare (125-131° F), Medium Rare (132-140° F), Medium (141-149° F), Done (142-158° F) and Well Done (>158° F).
Doneness depends not on the cooking time and temperature only, but also on the type of cut, steak thickness (at least an inch) and the cooking method. All professionals agree that you can test the meat doneness correctly only with a thermometer. But beginners won’t find this method very easy, since when pierced, a piece of meat loses juice, and an inexperienced cook may need to run the test for up to 10-15 times during cooking, which will negatively affect the taste of the finished product.
That is why, there is a less accurate, but common technique. Feel the palm of your hand, just below your thumb. Bring your thumb to your other fingers and touch your thumb base with the other hand’s pointer finger. And then compare with the firmness of the meat.
Anyway, it all comes with practice, and step by step, you will learn how to cook your steaks to perfect temperature.
How to cook
First of all, your meat should be warmed to room temperature. In other words, take it out of the fridge, throw the bag and leave the meat as is for an hour. The meat will sear properly if it is warmed up to room temperature. Otherwise, you will get a dark steak with a crust and the central part will stay cold.
Salt and pepper the steak a minute before cooking. Just cover each side with spices, pressing a little with the palm of your hand. Some people put oil on the meat, others grease the frying pan. It all depends on how you cook. Try different things out.
There are many ways to cook steaks: in a frying pan, on an electric grill, on a charcoal grill, live fire, and so on. But one thing stays the same—you should place the steak on a very hot surface, e.g. when the fire almost smokes. This is the only way you can instantly ‘seal’ the juice inside the steak by forming a crust. And the steak won’t stick to the hot pan. You can cook the steak for 3 minutes on each side, or you can turn it several times every minute (this is how Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay cook). One thing stays the same—do not move the steak, put it down and wait. If the steak is thick enough, or it has a strip of fat (strip steak), you may need to fry the steak on the sides too.
If you need to bring a thick steak to full doneness, put it to the oven (preheated to 180 degrees) for 3-7 minutes.
Any meat, including steak, needs time to “rest.” This means that after searing, you should put the steak on a plate and wait 5-10 minutes before serving. During this time, the juice from the central part will give moisture back to the meat. The steak will become evenly juicy and tender.
Do not touch the steak with a fork while cooking. All you can do with it is flip it. By piercing a steak, you can destroy its texture. Use thongs only.
A very important factor in cooking is to allow the steak to reach the Maillard reaction (the moment when the surface turns brown). This can be achieved by leaving the steak to fry long without any ‘interference.’ Then take a spatula and turn the meat over. Let it reach the Maillard reaction again.
President’s Dirty Steak
And of course, every steak lover should try Eisenhower’s steak. This steak was named after its author, the 34th President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower. He roasted the meat directly on the hardwood charcoal— just took it and threw it on the smoldering remains of the firewood. After contact with the wood charcoal, black marks were left on the meat, that is why the steak was nicknamed “dirty.”
The meat is baked on the coals of hardwoods from dicot trees. First, the steak is fried on one side, then on another side. When the meat is cooked, it is cleaned of ash, sprinkled with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt. The president’s favorite cut was sirloin. But this is not the only cut that can be perfectly cooked in such a caveman’s way. T-bone, porterhouse and, of course, ribeye, 3-4 cm thick, are also good candidates for hardwood cooking. Properly prepared hardwood charcoal for this cooking technique play one of the main, if not the main role. The ‘President’s steak’ is not compatible with any coal briquettes! Meat should be cooked only on coals made with your own hands, from hardwoods from certain trees.By the way, black pepper sauce is a good match to a perfect steak.