Ordering from a steakhouse can be intimidating, especially if you find out during your visit that there is more to it than asking for your steak medium-rare. Using these tips and tricks, you can learn the proper way of ordering steak at a restaurant.
Cuts of Steak
The cut of your steak determines from which part of the body the beef comes. It also affects its flavors and textures:
- Strip Steak: While a thinner cut of meat, this reliable choice usually has a longer piece of tender, well-marbled beef. It is popular for its texture and ability to showcase the flavors of the meat. Strip steaks cook quickly and are easy to cut as well.
- Tenderloin: Tenderloin is usually the most tender and buttery selection available. This choice gives you a thick cut of meat with a milder flavor that is generally enhanced by steak butter or sauce. Filet mignon is cut from a specific section of the tenderloin.
- T-bone/Porterhouse: This cut is a combination of tenderloin and strip steak, giving you the best of both worlds. It is expensive and a bit trickier to cook but gives you a tender and flavorful cut with multiple textures. A porterhouse is a larger cut than a T-bone steak.
- Ribeye: These cuts are decently priced and are bursting with juiciness due to their high fat level. Tender ribeye steaks are often considered the best cut in terms of flavor.
- Sirloin: Sirloin gives you a leaner cut of beef with a rich flavor. It also tends to be an affordable option compared to other steaks.
Check out our list of the best cuts of steak ranked.
The USDA sorts beef into four qualities that have significantly different tastes and textures. Look for these categories when you see steak on the menu:
- Prime: This is the best quality of steak with visible marbling, showing fatty deposits in the raw meat. In addition to adding flavor and keeping the steak juicy, this gives your steak a tender texture. The majority of these steaks are shipped only to restaurants and are very expensive.
- Choice: While still high-quality steaks, this meat comes from older cows or has other imperfections that result in less marbling. They are still tender and delicious with the benefit of lower prices than prime steaks.
- Select: These steaks are a step up from average grocery store beef. You will still enjoy their tenderness, but a lack of marbling means less juice and flavor.
- Standard: This is the kind of steak you find wrapped in plastic in grocery stores. There is almost no marbling in this meat, so it is significantly less flavorful than steaks from restaurants.
Breeds of Cow
As a result of competition, some restaurants serve steaks from particular breeds of cows as a selling point. The following are the most commonly specified breeds:
- Angus: This breed hails from Scotland and usually has better marbling than cows typically used for steak, resulting in juicy and tender cuts. However, many restaurants lie about serving Angus steaks, so only certified beef is guaranteed to come from Angus cows.
- Wagyu: These steaks from Japan are some of the best in the world. They have incredibly heavy marbling that far surpasses typical prime grade beef. Wagyu steaks are also challenging to find even in major restaurants, and the ones that serve them do so with extremely high price tags.
- Kobe: Another type of steak from Japan, Kobe beef has even more marbling than Wagyu beef. Only nine restaurants in the United States serve Kobe steaks, which can sell for as much as $300 a pound.
Even before a restaurant cooks your steak, there are multiple ways to influence its flavor and texture.
Unlike other foods, you do not typically want your steak fresh. Rigor mortis makes meat tough for up to 12 hours after an animal’s death, so you need to age the beef to make it softer. This aging typically occurs during its shipping, but some restaurants age the meat for longer to give it more flavor.
Beef is aged either through wet aging or dry aging. Wet aging places the meat in cold, vacuum-sealed bags to allow its enzymes to tenderize the meat. Dry aging keeps the beef in sanitized rooms for periods of up to 60 days. While both methods bring out the flavor of the beef and soften it, dry aging is generally more expensive and considered better.
Natural vs. Organic Beef
When a restaurant says it serves natural beef, it means that the cows are not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Organic cows have the same benefits and unlimited outdoor access, plus a diet that only includes grass and grains. These better living conditions promote better health in the cows that results in improved flavor.
Deciding on a cooking method is one of the most well-known parts of ordering a steak. If you need help deciding or want to try ordering a new method for some variety, take a look at these options:
- Blue Rare: These steaks are challenging to find because their cooking temperature of around 115 degrees can be dangerous if improperly handled. The outside is brown and warm, and the inside has almost no pink rings, appearing purple instead.
- Rare: Most restaurants serve this as the closest option to raw steak. The inside is red with a small pink ring near the lightly charred outside. This bloody cut is chewy but flavorful with juices that will run over your plate. Ribeye and porterhouse steaks are often ordered rare.
- Medium-Rare: Your cut will have a decent amount of red and pink on the inside with a firm brown exterior. The temperature is usually near 140 degrees. This option is the most common selection and is generally recommended by chefs.
- Medium: Right in the middle with an internal temperature of 150 degrees, medium steaks are still juicy and tender. They have a rich brown exterior and some red in the center. This option is a good choice for customers concerned about their steaks being cooked all the way through.
- Medium-Well: Your steak will only have a bit of pink in the center and will be significantly firmer. Cooking at this level or above carries the risk of drying out the steak.
- Well-Done: These steaks have absolutely no pink in the middle. They are typically tough and not juicy, but a good steakhouse can give you a well-done steak without burning the outside.
Be sure to check out our detailed guide to steak doneness.
Your Perfect Order
After learning all there is to know about steak types, the only thing left is to place your order. The right way to order your steak is to find out what you like and order it with confidence using the information we have given you.
Steakhouses and other restaurants offer you options for a reason, so you should trust in their ability to prepare a delicious steak to your liking.