Beef can be cut in a lot of different ways. And everyone cuts differently. The Germans cut differently from the French who cut differently from the Americans. There are also regional and even shop-specific cuts. However you cut a steer, there are going to be a ton of steaks with many different names. There are an infinite number of steaks in a steer. This can be confusing when you’re shopping. We get it.
If you’re a fan of beef, you probably have a favorite steak. Or maybe you don’t and you’re searching for one. We always encourage people to taste through different steaks. Here’s how to approach all of the steaks that you might find at any given moment in our vending machines.
Josh Applestone thinks of steaks as falling into one of two categories: “There are your fast steaks and your slow steaks,” he says. When deciding on a steak, consider how much time you have. The little, thin, small steaks are good if you’re short on time. But look closely when you’re shopping! Skirt steak could be considered thin or at least thinner, but it’s long and often sold whole so not the best idea for a quickie. “Flat iron or sirloin flap are two good examples of fast – their girth and footprint mean they’ll cook quickly,” says Applestone. On the flip side, if you have time on your hands, a slow steak is anything thick or with a bone. Those you can take your time to cook and savor.
Next, consider where you are cooking your steak. Our perfect steak recipe calls for searing the meat in a skillet on both sides and then transferring the pan to the oven to finish cooking. But some steaks aren’t even thick enough to make the transfer. If you only want to cook on the stovetop, something like a top blade is good. To transfer to the oven post-searing, you’re going to want something thicker.
A grilled steak is a thing of beauty. But grilling is not the easiest way to cook a steak. You are going to have to pay close attention. No wandering off to drink a beer! You’ll wind up overcooking your steak. Bone-in steaks are easier to grill than most – especially thick ones. They protect the muscle meaning there’s less of a chance of overcooking.
Finally, consider what kind of steak you like – lean or fatty? Strong or mild flavor? Something with a little chew? Are you a fan of marinades (you’ll want a tougher cut)? Are you a purist? No matter your preference, there’s a steak for you.
Flank, a tough belly muscle, has a beautiful grain, nice marbling, and devoted fans. If you’re new to flank, it’s similar to skirt steak. It takes very well to marinades so you can really flavor it any which way. Mix herbs with acid (don’t neglect citrus; orange always does something nice), and then cook over high heat. Or follow a specific recipe, like this New York Times one for flavorful Vietnamese marinated flank steak. You can either grill flank or sear it on your stovetop. When serving, don’t forget to slice against the grain.
Flat iron is a nice, lean, and versatile steak. They’re also flavorful and affordable. Buy one just for you, or get a bunch to feed a crowd. There’s almost nothing you can’t do with a flat iron. Try them on the stovetop, the grill, or the oven. You can do nothing but season with salt or you can marinate them. They do really well sliced thing over salad; try this Food and Wine recipe with Thai dressing. However you plan on serving your flat iron, just be careful not to overcook; it’s a very lean steak.
There is only one of these steaks per steer, making the hanger a coveted cut. You know it takes well to marinades because, as with flap and skirt, you can see that it has a (loose) grain. Hangers do well with our preferred stovetop-to-oven method, or on the grill. Either way, you want to get a nice crust going with high heat in the pan or on the hottest part of your grill. A hanger steak gets tough when cooked beyond medium rare and can be mushy if undercooked, so you might want to bust out your meat thermometer when you’re making one. Get it off the heat when it hits about 130 degrees. Want to learn more about the hanger steak? Check out this Serious Eats ode.
RIBEYE STEAK (BONE IN & BONE OUT)
Fat is flavor and that’s why the ribeye steak – with or without a bone – are so good. This is your go to when you want a high end and well-marbled (aka fatty) steak. We dry age ours for 28 days and cut to 1” thick unless you specify otherwise. Perfect for a celebration or just because. They’re great using our stovetop to oven method. Just make sure your windows are open and/or your hood is all of the way on because the fat content makes some smoke. Sear your ribeye in a cast iron skillet for two minutes per side, then transfer the pan to a 300-degree oven. You’re going to leave it there for somewhere between 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the steak. It’s never a bad idea to use a meat thermometer to cook a truly perfect steak; internal temperature is a better measure of doneness than time. If you want your ribeye to taste like a restaurant steak, baste it with butter (and maybe herbs, like in this Alain Ducasse-inspired Food and Wine recipe.
Steak lovers always have a favorite less-expensive cut. Sirloin flap fits the bill and stands out for its big flavor and texture. It’s a thick steak with great grain and fat content. Some people even call it faux hangar. It’s a go to cut when we’re out of strip or flank, too. For people in the know (like butchers and our staff) it’s their first choice. It does well with a marinade and on the grill. You could let it sit in a sesame/soy blend, or go for olive oil and citrus, then cook it hot and not past medium-rare. Then cut it thinly across the grain and serve.
Cooking a porterhouse steak is an art form. It’s part strip steak (which cooks one way) and part tenderloin (which cooks another way). So you want to heat up your favorite pan and sear it all over and then cook it extremely slowly or else you will overcook the tenderloin and undercook the strip. It doesn’t need anything but salt and pepper, though if you want to finish it with butter no one is stopping you.
Feeding a crowd or your big family? This is your steak. It’s a lovely one, too — a simple dry aged steak with light marbling and no fat cap and great flavor. These steaks vary in size, so if you’re not a big group and see a smaller one in the vending machines, grab it. It needs nothing more than salt and does equally well on the grill as it does seared in a cast iron skillet and transferred to a 300-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes, depending on how big the steak is.
This well-marbled muscle is known for its intense flavor. And it’s much sought after, especially since there are only 2 of them per steer, and so it’s frequently sold out. It’s often seen curled into a rose shape in a butcher’s case. When you uncurl it, it can be quite long. It’s another one of those grained steaks, so you know it takes well to marinades (try these fajitas, you won’t be sorry) though it’s so flavorful it does well seasoned with only salt and pepper, grilled, and served with arugula.
STRIP STEAK BONE IN & BONE OUT
Strip is a lean and fully flavored high-end steak. It’s a true classic – with or without the bone. It’s less marbled than a ribeye, but it still has a nice, thin fat cap. We dry age ours for 28 days and cut to 1” thick unless you specify otherwise. It really needs nothing more than to be seared in cast iron skillet for two minutes on either side, then transferred to the oven for 6 to 8 minutes at 300 degrees. But if you want to do something different, you could cut one up and try this Tandoori steak from The New York Times.
Fun fact: The teres major is the second most tender cut on a steer, which is why some people refer to it as mock tender, faux filet, and shoulder tender. And yet it’s really inexpensive, especially compared to tenderloin which means you can eat it freely and even feed it to your kids. Keep in mind that it cooks fast. Season it well with salt and you could either grill it or sear it in a hot skillet on both sides. Depending on how thick it is, you might then transfer the skillet to a 300-degree oven for a few minutes. If it’s thin, it won’t need it.
Well loved around these parts, you’re lucky this thin, tender, beautifully marbled steak even makes it out of our cut room. It’s so special we recommend that everyone try top blade at least once. Also? It’s super affordable and it cooks quickly – a perfect mid-week dinner steak. All you have to do is sear each side quickly in a cast iron skillet or on the grill, being careful not to overcook (this is a steak that doesn’t need to be transferred to the oven to keep cooking). It pairs pretty well with mushrooms, too; try this Epicurious recipe.
If you’re looking to try a new-to-you steak, give tri-tip a whirl. It’s affordable, under-loved, and just a delicious piece of meat! Give it a grill and then carve it up against the grain. It makes a great steak sandwich.
Whole animal butchery offers a tremendous amount of flexibility. It gives us the leeway to try new cuts. Recently one of our staff members who lives in Mexico part time suggested we start cutting culotte steaks; they’re popular there. It comes from the top sirloin; it’s the sirloin cap. Its fat cap protects the meat when you grill it. Skewer it and try it churrascaria-style, sliced off the skewer. It’s great for people who like a good separation of lean to fat; you can char the fat and still have a nice rare steak.