The Great Steak Debate
Sad but true: Buying or ordering something as simple as a steak can be complicated. With so many choices, confidently picking the right cut for your taste can be flat-out perplexing.
So let Chicago Cutlery® simplify. We met up with Rick Gresh, executive chef at the highly touted David Burke’s Primehouse, one of Chicago’s most popular steakhouses, and let him do the heavy lifting to break it all down for you in the simplest way possible.
After this primer, you’ll know how to pick the perfect steak off the menu or for your next barbecue. So have those CHICAGO CUTLERY® STEAK KNIVES ready to go.
Instead of buying four 10-ounce steaks for your next cookout, ask your butcher to cut one 40-ounce steak, then cook it and cut it into four servings. “You’ll have a much better steak experience,” Gresh says. Note to self: Have a Chicago Cutlery 7-1/2-inch chef knife on hand for this method; the longer the knife, the smoother the cut, because there’s less back-and-forth “sawing.”
LESSON NUMBER ONE: GRADES COUNT
Like in school, grades count—as in U.S. Department of Agriculture grades, which rate steaks according to color, size and marbling (those streaks of white fat that give steak its succulent flavor). For a top flavor experience, spend a little more and buy a 1-1/2- to 2-inch-thick steak that’s graded prime or choice.
“A thicker steak allows you to get the sear you need, then move it to a cooler temperature, where it can slow-cook to break down the proteins,” Gresh explains. “As human beings, we love and crave those browned, caramelized meat flavors, just as cavemen did.”
Here are three more steak tips from Gresh:
- Marbling is critical. Select steaks with a lot of little white specks of fat flecked throughout the meat, as opposed to big chunks in the middle.
- Don’t overlook economy cuts. Flank, flat iron or skirt steaks all taste great when marinated. But they must be cooked with more care because they’re thinner than more expensive cuts.
- Gresh’s favorite cut of steak? A Kansas City bone-in strip steak (aka: New York strip or sirloin steak). Why? The meat extracts extra flavor from the bone as it cooks, and the bone also helps the steak keep its shape and prevents it from losing weight during cooking.
So which steak cut is right for you? Read on and you’re sure to find the right flavor and texture to make your next steak meal Grade A. Whichever you choose, make sure to have a Chicago Cutlery steak knife in hand!
Also known as: Delmonico
- Attributes: Gresh calls the ribeye the “puff pastry” of steaks because it’s riddled with stacked layers of beef and fat, with a thick fat “cap” around the edge that provides it with amazing flavor. It’s the fattiest of steaks—and for once, that’s not a bad thing.
- Flavor: Sweet, rich beefy taste.
- Cooking: Grill it, pan-fry or sear it, then oven-roast to desired temperature. In either case, watch out for flame flare-ups caused by dripping fat. After cooking, use a Chicago Cutlery paring/boning knife to cut off the thick fat “cap.”
- Pairings: Roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions and hearty greens (think kale or Swiss chard), sautéed with olive oil, garlic and a touch of lemon.
NEW YORK STRIP
Also known as: Kansas City strip, top sirloin
- Attributes: Leaner than a ribeye, this cut comes entirely from a cow’s lesser-used longissimus dorsi muscle (the less a muscle works, the more tender the cut of meat). Tighter meat texture with a little more grain makes it a little chewier.
- Flavor: Clean but strong beefy taste.
- Cooking: Grill, broil or pan-fry; less concern about flame flare-ups.
- Pairings: Roasted potatoes and carrots.
Also known as: Beef tenderloin
- Attributes: Super tender and lean, with an almost spongy texture; after you cut into it, you’ll see more red juice on your plate, compared to sirloin or ribeye steaks.
- Flavor: More neutral and less-intense beef flavor; it’s great for people who don’t eat a lot of beef and don’t want an assertive-tasting steak. Neutral taste makes it better suited for toppings, such as blue cheese.
- Cooking: Cut into medallions and sear in a pan; easier to cook than larger steaks.
- Pairings: Whipped or mashed potatoes with green beans.
- Attributes: This beauty’s a “twofer”—it combines a sirloin and a filet separated by a bone. The result: two completely different textures, with a soft, rich and tender filet coupled with a “toothy” or chewier sirloin with a nice fat cap.
- Flavor: Both strong and neutral beef taste.
- Cooking: Grilled or broiled. After cooking, use a Chicago Cutlery paring/boning knife to cut off the thick fat “cap.”
- Pairings: Whipped or roasted potatoes or mac and cheese, plus crisp root veggies such as roasted carrots.
- Attributes: This steak is gaining cachet, even though it comes from a cow’s shoulder muscles, which makes it tougher (remember, the more a cow’s muscles work, the tougher the cut of meat). Chefs used to braise this cut or grind it up—until butchers figured out how to separate just the tenderest part of the muscle. Tends to be chewier than others and swells a bit while cooking.
- Flavor: Depends on what marinade you use. Gresh suggests red wine with herbs; dried peppers or even spicy Sriracha; or an Asian mix with ginger and soy sauce. “Or use Coke, cinnamon, garlic, black peppercorns and some extra-virgin olive oil,” Gresh suggests. Pat the steak dry before cooking; moisture is the enemy of good caramelization.
- Cooking: Grilled, broiled and great for slow cookers.
- Pairings: If you use an Asian marinade, cold noodle salad (soba or buckwheat noodles); if red-wine marinade, roasted or grilled mushrooms and zucchini.