The Most Popular Cuts Of Steak Ranked Worst To Best – Analyzing the meat section of your local grocer or the shelves at your nearby butcher shop can be confusing. Steak comes in a wide variety of different cuts, tenderness, flavors, required cooking methods, and price points. We know red meat should be enjoyed in moderation, which is good news for both your dietary health and minimizing contributions to harmful environmental emissions. Also, the price of red meat has grown considerably over the past couple years because of imbalances in supply and demand, according to Forbes. Nowadays, you may be paying more for your next cut of steak, which is why you need to know what you’re looking for.
Steak can be an easily accessible option or more special once-in-a-while treat. There are steaks that are fit for one of those occasions and some that fit both. The important thing is, you end up getting a quality steak that is the best bang for your buck. This ranking will help you determine the best cut of steak for you, your purpose, and your wallet.
1. Round Steak
Round steak is taken from the upper rear of the cow. Round steaks can be sold as a top round cut, bottom round cut, or an eye of the round cut. According to The Spruce Eats, round steaks tend to have the least fat marbling, making them very tough and less flavorful than steaks coming from other parts of the cow.
Because this cut is 100% muscle, round steaks cannot be cooked quickly with high heat like their fattier counterparts. Instead, they must be cooked on a very low heat setting for an extended amount of time. Plus, most round steak recipes call for the addition of other moisture.
While it is true any steak seasoned and cooked properly will yield a tasty result, these characteristics make round steaks not fit for the grill at your next barbecue, a stove top skillet, or even a reverse sear roast in the oven (via Food Fire Friends). Subsequently, round steaks are also not a convenient option for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Cooking round steaks well takes a lot of time and a more intensive effort.
Furthermore, any flavor of round steaks comes from foreign elements like seasonings or braising liquids, which makes them a poor choice when craving the hearty, meaty taste that most other cuts of steak can provide. While round steaks cost far less than more flavorful, less involved steak options, the monetary advantage does not supersede its many shortcomings.
2. Flank Steak
Flank steaks are another muscle-y, cost-efficient cut, but their versatility does help to balance out their toughness. Flank steaks come from the flank of the cow, which sits below the tenderloin and sirloin along the underbelly, according to Food Fire Friends. Because of this location on the abdomen, flank steaks are tougher because of their exercise whenever the steer walks or turns its body. The intensive work of the muscle can actually be seen on a cut of flank steak. Its long, thick muscle fibers and low fat content are a sign of its constant use. Although this cut sits in an area of the steer surrounded by fat, the flank itself remains very lean.
Flank steak’s toughness can be minimized depending on how it is cooked but slower braises will not break down the muscle fibers of the steak well enough, which will keep the cut chewy. Cooking a flank steak fast on high heat will help break down the fibers better by retaining more moisture. Slicing the flank steak thin, across the grain will also help break down these muscle fibers and yield a more tender, juicy, flavorful final product. Flank steak also takes very well to marinades. The longer the marinade, the better the steak.
Like round steaks, however, the flank steak requires a lot of additional components to meet its full potential. Flank steak can be a delicious, less expensive option, but the quality does not come with the steak alone. It comes with your own effort.
The tri-tip comes from the tri-tip roast, which is cut from the bottom, leaner portion of the sirloin, per Taste of Home. This triangular shaped cut is at its best when over high heat and to an internal temperature below medium. Although the bottom sirloin is generally tough and muscle-y, the tri-tip comes from the part of the bottom sirloin that usually includes specks of fat and marbling. The fat content is not high, however, so seasoning and cooking method is key (via Better Homes & Gardens).
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Tri-tips can be grilled, seared in a pan on the stovetop, oven-roasted or even broiled. Grilling is your best option, however, as the higher heat capability combined with the smokiness helps add another layer of flavor that makes up for this cut’s lack of fat.
Tri-tips are normally available as whole cuts or sliced and packaged into individual portions. Either way, the tri-tip is an inexpensive steak option that will satisfy your meat craving if prepared and cooked properly. More flavorful cuts within the same price range do, however, remain smarter, more delicious choices.
T-bone steak may be the most overrated cut there is. According to Omaha Steaks, T-bone steaks are cut as a cross-section of the short loin and therefore contain part of the tenderloin, or filet mignon, as well as the short loin, or NY Strip, each of which is separated and held together by the same bone.
There is, however, a common misunderstanding regarding the amount and the quality that exists in a T-bone cut. Many mistakenly believe porterhouses and T-bones are interchangeable but this is not the case, as Steak Revolution explains, and it’s certain porterhouses would take offense to that widely held belief.
There are between six and seven T-bone cuts available from one cow, and only two or three porterhouses (via Omaha Steaks). Plus, many T-bone steaks are cut where the NY Strip collides with the top sirloin, resulting in an inedible piece of sinew. While the NY Strip is a delicious and low maintenance cut of steak, the idea that the T-bone grants you two cuts in one is not exactly the case. When you pick out a T-bone, you end up paying more for less.
5. Skirt Steak
Skirt steak and flank steak are very similar, but skirt steak does come out on top for a variety of reasons. According to The Kitchn, skirt steak also comes from the abdomen of the cow, but skirt steak actually comes from the diaphragm, which makes it another hyperactive, tougher cut. Skirt steak does have a more beefy flavor than flank steak, but it does have more muscle fiber, so high heat, quick cooking methods are also the best for optimal tenderness. Skirt steak is also perfect for long marinades and should be sliced as thinly as possible across the grain.
Skirt steak usually has a higher fat content, which is what sets skirt steak above flank, according to Cooking Light. This extra fat helps balance out the stronger muscle fibers and a proper rendering of that fat contributes to the more meaty flavor. If you’ve ever had Mexican fajitas, you’ve probably had skirt steak, so you know how delicious it could be.