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Welcome Back, Steak

A few things to consider before you pick out the first steak of grilling season

You know that old friend you haven’t seen since summer? Time to welcome him back.

Steak season. When the snow finally melts and the temperatures start to rise, grillers crave the soulful taste of smoke and fire from a hot grill, and instinctively reach for their favorite cuts of red meat. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you pick that first great steak of the season.

  1. 1

    How To Pick A Steak: Beef Grades

    A great steak starts with great meat. First look for a USDA grade, and keep an eye out for these 3 categories:


    The top of the USDA scale. More intramuscular fat (marbling) running throughout the meat makes for a juicier, tastier steak. Less than 3 percent of processed beef is graded Prime.


    One step down in grade, and accounts for about half of all processed beef. While Choice beef contains less marbling than Prime, it’s cheaper, and easier to find.


    A much leaner option that is more susceptible to drying out while cooking. Less internal fat means less moisture.

    Other Considerations

    The Certified Angus Beef (“CAB”) label you sometimes see indicates a well-marbled beef, comparable to Prime or Choice grades. In order to receive a CAB stamp of approval, beef must meet 10 scientific criteria for marbling, size, and uniformity.

    And if you’re looking for something extra special, American Kobe (Wagyu) grades above Prime—and above the USDA scale—and features intense marbling and rich flavor. You can find Wagyu online at specialty providers like Snake River Farms.

  2. 2

    Know Your Cuts

    There are lots of different cuts of beef to choose from, but don’t be overwhelmed. Here’s a quick primer:

    The Steakhouse Standards

    These tender cuts tend to be somewhat pricey, but they’re worth it if you’re looking for a true steakhouse experience at home.

    • Bone-In or Boneless Ribeye: A beef lover’s steak, with full flavor and lots of fat.
    • Fillet: The Cadillac of steaks. Melt-in-your-mouth tender, with virtually no fat.
    • Strip Steak: Somewhere between a ribeye and fillet in tenderness and marbling.
    • Porterhouse: A “best-of-both-worlds” cut as it includes both the tenderloin and the strip.
    • T-bone: Similar to the porterhouse, but with a smaller portion of fillet.

    Working Man’s Steaks

    Some familiar cuts that may not be revered steakhouse favorites, but can still deliver a delicious, satisfying steak.

    • Flank Steak: A multipurpose cut with a prominent natural grain.
    • Skirt Steak: It’s long, flat and thin, and takes well to a marinade.
    • Tri-Tip: This full-flavored cut is traditionally prepared with a dry rub.
    • Flat Iron or Top Blade: A well-marbled cut, usually split into two flat steaks.
    • Chuck steak: A rectangular steak that usually includes part of the shoulder bone.
    • Top Sirloin: A large, relatively inexpensive steak with moderate tenderness.
    • Top round steak: An extremely lean, inexpensive cut.

    The Secret Butcher Menu

    OK, here’s the stuff that true steak aficionados love. A good butcher can hook you up with these underappreciated gems.

    • Hangar Steak: AKA, the Butcher’s Cut. Extremely tasty, but you only get one per cow.
    • Cap of Ribeye/Spinalis Steak: Flavorful cut found on top of the fat above the Ribeye.
    • Bavette: A less expensive, more flavorful alternative to flank steak.
    • Teres Major/Shoulder Tender: An extremely tender tenderloin-shaped cut.
    • Spider Steak: Another “Butcher’s Cut”. It’s small, and features good marbling.
    • Chuck Flap/Flap Steak: A thin cut often confused with the hanger steak.
    • Mock Tender: A cheap, lean cut that takes well to marinades.
    • Chuck Eye: This is a less expensive alternative to the Ribeye.