Cuts of Beef

All steaks are not created equal:
Tips on selecting a satisfying cut of beef

By P.I. Osborne, Retired WVU Extension Service Specialist

The different cuts of steaks are associated with a number of different names that tend to confuse consumers. Steak Unlike our grandparents who were on a first name basis with a local butcher, consumers today are often on their own when it comes to selecting a steak or any cut of beef to serve the family.

Today, beef is often delivered to the grocery stores in “tray ready” packaging already cut and wrapped. The consumer even has a choice of pre-seasoned and/or precooked products ranging from pot roast to prime rib, all in the name of convenience. With all the options when selecting beef many consumers are overwhelmed when arriving at the meat case.

Can steak be part of a well-balanced diet?

A review of the terminology and a few rules of thumb should help you when selecting steaks. Steak is a versatile cut of beef that tastes great and delivers the ultimate eating experience. Too many people consider steak as an indulgence, something to be enjoyed on special occasions but not necessarily as part of a healthy diet. Yet, on average, the 29 lean beef cuts, which include 15 of the consumers most popular cuts of steaks have less than 175 calories and meet the government definition for lean. Beef is a naturally-nutrient rich food that is an important part of a well-balanced diet and suits almost any menu and budget. When consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat, lean beef does not increase cardiovascular risk factors.

Selecting a steak steak2

Most consumers rank taste and tenderness as the most important characteristics when selecting steaks. Following a few selection hints can help ensure that your next steak will provide a nutritious, pleasant, eating experience. The tenderest cuts of steaks come from the rib and the loin.

In order of tenderness

  1. filet mignon,
  2. strip steaks (New York Strip and Kansas City Strip),
  3. T-bones,
  4. porterhouse, and
  5. rib eyes.

Other steaks originating from the chuck and round that are great for grilling are

  • top sirloins,
  • chuck eye of round,
  • flat iron and,
  • petite tenders.

Less tender cuts of steaks that require marinating are

  • flank,
  • skirt,
  • top round,
  • London broil, and
  • chuck shoulder steaks.

Grades of Beef steak3

When selecting a steak that will be moist and juicy after cooking, look for one with some level of marbling. Marbling is defined as the small flecks of fat dispersed in the muscle that ensures the meat will be moist and juicy.

All beef has some level of marbling, and the UDSA grades of Prime, Choice and Select indicate the levels of marbling.

The Prime grade contains the most marbling and is most often reserved for the higher end, white tablecloth restaurants.

Grocery stores primarily offer Choice and Select cuts of beef. Grilling melts away the marbling and the amount removed is directly related to the level of doneness. The external fat around the edge helps to protect the juiciness of the meat and can be trimmed away after cooking.

Proper grilling and preparation of steaks have a direct influence on the enjoyment and satisfaction.

A wealth of information and suggestions are listed on the label so take time to read and follow the suggestions. Consider the following before making your meal.

  • A suggestion that few patio chefs fail to follow is warming the steak to room temperature just prior to grilling or pan frying.
  • Another hint to remember, the rarer a steak is prepared, the more tender the meat.
  • Thicker cut of steaks are easier to grill for rare to medium-rare doneness. A thicker cut of meat is easier to sear on the outside, which helps hold the juices in the meat.
  • If you prefer a done or well-done steak then a thinner cut of meat is suggested and is easier to prepare.
  • Marinating leaner cuts of beef adds flavor, improves tenderness, and maximizes moisture content. Marinated steaks are great for grilling, offering a lean, inexpensive alternative for the family meal.

Lean meats

Lean meats can be a nutrient rich part of your diet and a number of cuts of steaks are available that fill the requirement. When shopping for Lean cuts of beef, consumers should look for the words: loin and round. The leanest steaks are the top round, loin and top sirloin rump steaks. These include the old standards Filet Mignon, New York and Kansas City Strip steaks, and top sirloin. The newer steaks in the meat case that are both lean and tender are the ranch steak, petite tenders, and flat iron steaks.

Organic and Grass-fed beef

An often asked question, Is organic, natural or grass-fed beef healthier for me? No matter what type of beef consumers choose, they can be confident all types of beef can be included in a healthy diet. All beef has eight times more vitamin B-12, six times more zinc and three times more iron than a skinless chicken breast.

Grass-finished beef contains slightly more omega-3 fatty acids (less than one-tenth of a gram more per 3.5 ounces), but no specific type of beef is considered a primary source for omega-3s. Grass-finished beef also can provide more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than other beef. CLA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid health professionals believe has cancer fighting properties; however, it is not clear if there is a health benefit in this difference.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets the standard for foods to be labeled organic, organically produced food is no safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods. The important issue is you know have a choice and a number of options that suit your taste.

And, of course, all beef, regardless of production method, has to meet the same safety standards. And all beef, regardless of production method, is leaner than ever before.

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