With so many options available, it’s no wonder that people without the proper knowledge and experience may struggle to make the right choice when selecting a steak. That’s why we’ve prepared a guide to help you identify the key factors to consider when selecting. Look at our recommendations and choose a steak that perfectly matches your preferences.
What to Consider Before Buying Steak?
Even if you have a specific cut of steak in mind, each piece is unique, so it’s important to evaluate each one individually to find the best one available at your market. When selecting a steak to take home, pay attention to the following tips:
Choose the Right Cut
Steaks from different parts of a cow’s body have different flavor profiles, textures, and marbling, giving you various options to choose the right cut for the right occasion. Below are some common cuts that you should know; these cuts are the kings of steakhouses and are typically available at any butcher’s shop:
- Filet Mignon
- Strip Steak
The four cuts mentioned above are the most popular due to their tenderness and flavor. However, their popularity also makes them some of the most expensive cuts of steak available. It’s worth noting that there are many more cuts of steak beyond these four. Some of these cuts are lesser-known or underrated but equally delicious.
We have decided not to include all of them in this article as it would make it difficult to understand and follow. Instead, we invite you to refer to our dedicated guides that list each type of steak individually:
- Best Cuts of Steak – The general list of our favorite cuts.
- Leanest Cuts of Steak
- Fattiest Cuts of Steak
We encourage you to read the recommended guides above as soon as you finish reading this article. These guides contain information on dozens of different steak cuts, each with unique characteristics that distinguish them.
Generally, you can cook steak in many ways. However, it’s important to note that certain cuts require specific cooking methods. Not all steaks are suitable for quick and hot grilling, just as not all cuts are ideal for smoking or sous vide cooking. Therefore, before choosing a steak, it’s important to carefully consider how you would like to cook it and determine if a particular cut suits that preparation method.
The situation is similar when it comes to recipes. For instance, not every type of steak is suitable for stir-fry, tacos, or salads. Therefore, it is important to verify beforehand which type of steak the recipe requires.
Grades & Marbling
When selecting a steak, it is crucial to consider the beef grades and pay close attention to the marbling of the steak. Generally, the more marbling a steak has, the better it will be.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies every cattle sold in the United States based on its tenderness and marbling, which indicates the steak’s quality for the consumer. But what exactly is marbling? In short, it refers to the intramuscular fat that gives flavor and juiciness to the meat. Why is marbling so important, and how does it affect the steak? Our guide to understanding marbling in steak has all the answers.
In regards to beef grading, the USDA scale has several levels. Prime is at the top of the scale, which refers to steaks with the highest marbling. Below that is Choice, followed by Select – you can easily find steaks with these grading levels in most stores. Prime steaks are the priciest option, but if you’re looking for a good balance between cost and marbling, choice cuts are a great option. For more information on the USDA grading system, please refer to our guide on beef grades.
Please be aware that different grading systems may apply to beef sourced from outside the U.S. In particular, various countries use distinct criteria to grade wagyu beef. To assist you further, we have included guides to some of the other popular beef grading systems used worldwide:
The thickness of the steak plays a crucial role in maintaining the perfect balance between its exterior and interior. A too-thin steak risks overcooking before it develops a well-seared crust. The ideal thickness for a steak is between 1.5 and 2 inches, with 1 inch being the absolute minimum. However, it’s important to note that this recommendation does not apply to genetically lean cuts such as skirt steak or flank steak.
Beef aging is a process that uses the enzymes present in the meat to break down its connective tissue gradually. There are two methods of aging: wet aging and dry aging. Both methods affect the texture and flavor of the meat, but dry aging produces superior results. Dry aging makes the steak more tender and gives it a richer flavor.
Generally, most people consider aged steak superior to fresh steak, but we recommend running a taste test to determine your preference. We suggest purchasing both fresh and aged steak for comparison.
It’s important to note that the aging process of beef is costly, which results in a significant increase in the price of aged steak, often by several tens of percentage points. Therefore, when choosing a steak, we recommend considering whether it has been aged, and if so, for how many days and by what method.
Compare prices at different butcher stores, especially when ordering online. Prices can often vary widely, and you may come across special promotions. Despite the higher price, some cuts may differ significantly in quality compared to competitive offers. When looking for prime-graded cuts, it’s worth analyzing each cut’s degree of marbling.
Other Things to Consider When Buying Steak
To make your steak selection even more tailored to your preferences, consider these additional factors:
- Side dishes – When choosing a steak, it’s essential to consider the side dishes you plan to serve with it. Some cuts of steak can be quite large, to the point where a single person may be unable to finish it, particularly when accompanied by sides. A prime example of this is the t-bone or porterhouse steak.
- Seasoning and marinades – When it comes to seasoning, do you expect more from your steak than just salt and pepper? If you love experimenting with different marinades and seasonings, pay attention to which cuts of meat work well with custom flavorings. Thin cuts like skirt steak, for example, are often an excellent choice for marinating and seasoning to your liking.
Is it better to buy pre-cut steaks or cut them myself?
Pre-cut steak offers convenience and eases in estimating how many steaks you need to buy, as well as ease of storage in the refrigerator or freezer (since they take up less space). However, purchasing a whole strip loin, for example, provides many more benefits. Firstly, you can save a lot of money this way, especially when it comes to more expensive beef. Additionally, you can cut your steaks to the desired thickness.
For those committed to steak-making, aging the beef at home is another option worth considering. Not only does it help you save money, but it also enhances the flavor of your steak.
What’s better: bone-in or boneless steak?
Contrary to what many people believe, bone does not directly affect the taste of the steak. The bone acts as an insulator, preventing moisture loss and overcooking in its area. Additionally, the bone enhances the appearance of the steak and adds to the eating experience. In short, there is no difference in taste between bone-in and boneless steak. Therefore, the choice between the two comes down to personal preference.
Are cheap steaks worth the time?
We recommend cheap steaks for people with at least basic knowledge of steak cooking. Why? For the most part, cheap cuts are tough and have little marbling, so they require proper cooking techniques to become tender and flavorful. Of course, some less popular and inexpensive steaks can still be great, but they usually require more effort and attention than a high-end cut.