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A guide to steak cuts

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From sirloin to strip, our guide to the array of steaks in the butcher’s cooler.

OUR EXPERTS: Bill Begale, Paulina Meat Market, Chicago; Ryan Farr, 4505 Meats, San Francisco; Joshua Applestone, Fleisher’s Grass-Fed and Organic Meats, New York City

TOP SIRLOIN
WHAT IT IS: Ask for just a sirloin steak, and you’ll likely get a cut from the less-tender bottom sirloin area; boneless Top Sirloins are leaner, as well as Applestone’s favorite steak to serve company. “Dry-aged sirloin has a great amount of marbling, a little chew and a deeply beefy taste,” he says. HOW TO BUY: Look for a dry-aged cut at least 2 inches thick. HOW TO COOK: Farr recommends grilling Top Sirloin to medium rare on a grill no hotter than 250 degrees. Stretch larger steaks for a crowd by slicing and serving on a platter.

NEW YORK STRIP
WHAT IT IS: A tender (though not quite as tender as a filet mignon or ribeye), boneless cut from a steer’s short loin. With a bone, it’s called a Shell Steak, and with a bone plus tenderloin meat, it becomes a Porterhouse or T-Bone. HOW TO BUY: The short loin is a large muscle area that can yield big cuts; purchase only what you need, or split a large strip between two people. The meat should be well-marbled. HOW TO COOK: One of the best cuts for grilling, New York Strips are versatile; cook them according to your preference. Applestone recommends brushing them with melted butter, bone marrow or a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

FILET MIGNON
WHAT IT IS: Filet mignon is a slice of a steer’s tenderloin (a long, thin muscle on either side of the spine); this cut isn’t big on flavor—the tenderloin doesn’t carry weight, so it contains less flavor-injecting connective tissue—but it’s the most tender cut available. HOW TO BUY: Filets’ near-nonexistent marbling means they’re prone to drying, so try to find cuts with fat attached (you can remove it before serving). And be prepared to spend: Most cows produce only a few pounds of tenderloin, making filets the most expensive steaks out there. HOW TO COOK: Filets are easy to overcook; give them a solid sear on high heat, then a quick cook on slightly lower heat—and never cook them more than medium or medium-rare. For extra-rich flavor, Applestone and Farr brush on a pat of herbed butter.

RIBEYE
WHAT IT IS: This juicy boneless cut from the animal’s rib section (called a Rib Steak if the bone’s attached) is big on flavor and more marbled than filet mignon. HOW TO BUY: “Get the fattiest cut available,” says Applestone. “It should be well-marbled and preferably dry-aged.” HOW TO COOK: Sear it, then cook over indirect heat to develop some fatty flavor. Begale says this cut’s hard to ruin, but it’s best cooked medium.

PORTERHOUSE
WHAT IT IS: Tender Porterhouses have a New York Strip on one side of the bone, and a large chunk of tenderloin on the other; their T-Bone siblings offer the same Strip with just an inch or so of tenderloin. Both cuts come from the steer’s loin—Porterhouses from the rear, and T-bones toward the front where the tenderloin is smaller. HOW TO BUY: “If you can get marbling, good,” says Begale. “And don’t just look at the size of the filet. Often, with a bigger filet, the strip steak tends to get a little gristly; if you meet in the middle, you’re getting a good strip and a good filet.” Our pros suggest buying the thickest steaks possible, and splitting them between two people. HOW TO COOK: A Porterhouse’s tenderloin will cook faster than its strip, so it’s best for experienced grillers who know their grill’s hot zones. Farr suggests keeping the fat on and cooking low and slow, grilling the fat side first for maximum caramelization.

FLAT IRON
WHAT IT IS: Also known as a Top Blade steak, this trendy, heavily marblized cut comprises two muscles from a steer’s shoulder, just above the shoulder tender meat. HOW TO BUY: This cut’s one of the most wallet-friendly in the meat case. Ask your butcher to cut a whole Flat Iron into two steaks by removing the tough tissue between the muscles. HOW TO COOK: Its tender, beefy taste makes the Flat Iron an ideal canvas for marinades. On the grill, “Give it a good sear, transfer to indirect heat and cook it low and slow,” says Farr.

HANGER
WHAT IT IS: A pair of muscles that “hang” from a steer’s diaphragm. The meat is slightly grainy, but
boasts a rich, beefy flavor. HOW TO BUY: Ask the butcher to remove the tough gristle from the center of the cut, creating two long, thin steaks. HOW TO COOK: Its strong flavor can stand up to bold rubs and marinades, though a Hanger’s beefiness can stand alone, too. Grill it no more than medium-well, as the cut’s prone to drying out.

 


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