Whether it’s broiled or fried, sautéed or roasted, or you have a great grilling recipe, beef has long been a favorite on American plates, and that goes doubly for steak. That’s thanks in part to stabilizing prices as well as the rise of trendy, red meat-heavy diets like the paleo diet and keto diet. Of course, steak is also flat-out delicious, as our ancestors knew. The word steak stretches back to the Saxons, an ancient Germanic tribe, whose term “steik” meant “meat on a stick.” But with so many different types of steak out there—not to mention all the types of steak cuts—it can be overwhelming when you’re in the mood to make a steak for dinner, but can’t narrow down which type you want to make.
Today, steak is served from raw (steak tartare, which is actually uncooked ground beef) to well done (often only grudgingly so in steakhouses). Generally, steak comes from three areas on the steer and is sliced across the muscle. There are so many cuts, it might seem like you need to be a butcher to figure it all out, but really all you need is a good guide, like the following. Find 15 different types of steak and cuts right here. (And don’t miss brushing up on different types of bread and different types of pasta too!)
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Also called a minute steak, because that’s about how long you want to cook it, cube steak is thinly sliced from the round (or back end) of the steer and then pounded until it’s tender. This leaves the beef with cube-shaped marks, leading to its name and an appearance somewhat resembling ground beef. Typically a top sirloin, cube is great for chicken-fried and Swiss steaks, and can be pan fried, braised or even sautéed.
Although it’s only been around in the U.S. for about a decade, Denver steak is becoming a very popular piece of beef. The fourth-most tender cut of cattle muscle, it comes from the eye of chuck, located along the front shoulder. While most flesh from this section is tough enough, it’s primarily used for ground beef or stew meat, and Denver steak is culled from the part of the muscle that doesn’t get much exercise. It’s nicely marbled, with a potent beef flavor, and should be cooked on a very hot grill and then cut across the grain to keep it tender and tasty.
3 Filet Mignon
This steak is tender enough that it almost melts in your mouth, so it’s no surprise that it’s the most expensive cut of beef. Filet mignon, which means “thick, dainty slice” in French, comes from the tenderloin, a long, cylindrical muscle along the spine of the steer that doesn’t bear much weight. (Chateaubriand and beef Wellington also come from the tenderloin.) Because it’s so low in fat, filets will dry out if overcooked. Many chefs prefer to sear them briefly over high heat, finishing them off at a lower temperature before serving them with a sauce that punches up their mild flavor.
A wonderfully tasty cut of beef, flank steak comes courtesy of the rear lower abdominal area, or the flank. It’s lean and fibrous, which means this hard-working, flat muscle should be tenderized with marinade, and cooked fast, at a high temperature, not past medium. It’s also possible to braise flank, but however you cook it, make sure you slice it against the grain to prevent serving up chewy bits. Flank is sometimes sold as London broil.
The name may not entice, but flap steak (which comes from the bottom of the sirloin, close to the flank area) is not only economical—it also tastes incredible when marinated. Coarse-grained, it holds the seasoning beautifully, and is similar enough to flank steak and skirt steak that it can replace them in recipes. Grill flap steak over high heat to medium—it really is best this way—and slice it thinly, against the grain.
6 Flat Iron
Less expensive than a filet or strip, but more tender than other low-priced steak, the flat iron is a chuck cut sliced from the shoulder of the steer. While most chuck is tough, flat iron comes from the top blade muscle, which doesn’t have the same connective tissue. Grill a flat iron—so dubbed for its triangular shape—or cook it in a hot pan to about medium-rare.
Favored by butchers and restaurants, hanger steak gets its name from how it’s positioned in the cow: hanging between the rib and the loin, supporting the diaphragm. With an intense beef flavor, this member of the flat steak family, which also includes flank and skirt, fares best with an acidic marinade, made with wine, vinegar, or citrus juice. For best results, cook it on a high heat not past medium, and slice it against the grain.
8 London Broil
London broil is less a steak than a cooking method, but supermarkets often sell it by name as a cut of beef, so it gets an inclusion on this list. The meat itself is sometimes skirt steak—but usually top round, which is lean and therefore tougher—making it far less expensive than steaks like filet mignon. London broil can still be plenty tasty—just be sure to marinate it with an acidic component, then broil it for less than 10 minutes or so, finally cutting it diagonally.
Sliced from the center of the rib section and sold bone-in or boneless, this is one of the most juicy, flavorful cuts of steak, thanks to its marbling. Slightly chewier than tenderloin, it should be cooked over a dry, high heat, with minimal seasoning—even salt and pepper will do—to emphasize the delicious, beefy taste.
This super-lean cut of beef comes from…yes, you guessed it: the steer’s hindquarters. Also called round steak, or even the less-appealing butt steak, rump steak is cheaper than many other steaks because it’s among the least tender. As with flat steaks, it’s crucial to marinate rump steak before attempting to grill it, although braising, broiling or pan-frying are preferable cooking methods. Be sure to let rump steak rest for 15 minutes before slicing it against the grain to keep in the juices.
Similar to a T-bone but thicker, the porterhouse is cut from the short loin, sold bone-in, and offers two steaks in one—the strip and tenderloin. Porterhouses contain more tenderloin than T-bones do, because they’re cut from the back of the loin, making them an especially hefty piece of beef. Sometimes weighing as much as a whopping 24 ounces, they can be so massive that steakhouses serve them as a meal for two. Whether you broil or pan-sear this beauty, it requires little seasoning.
When choosing a sirloin, it’s important to remember that not all are created equally. Less expensive than ribeyes, this steak come from the sirloin section of the steer, near the hindquarters. The muscles here can become lean and tough because they’re used heavily, more so in the bottom sirloin, which sits closer to the leg, than the top sirloin. Bottom sirloin cuts, generally labeled simply as “sirloin” in supermarkets, make for good roasts and stew meat. Top sirloin, which is located below the tenderloin, is a more tender meat that’s great for grilling, particularly with a marinade.
The go-to steak for fajitas and stir fry, skirt is a long, thin cut that’s like flank, though it comes from the steer’s diaphragm muscles, rather than the bottom abdominal area. Tougher than flank, it boasts a stronger beef flavor. Marinate skirt steak for at least 30 minutes, cooking it over high heat until not much more than rare, and cut it across the grain to maximum tenderness.
Known as a New York strip when it’s boneless (as it’s usually cut), and a Kansas City strip when it’s sold with a bone attached, this steak is harvested from the short loin. Less tender than a tenderloin, but with a fine, buttery flavor and good texture, it has a lower fat content than the ribeye. You can cook it the same way as a ribeye however—seasoned with salt and pepper, over a dry, high heat.
Once you feast on this steak, you’ll never forget it. And feast you will: The tomahawk (which is basically a ribeye that includes around five inches of rib bone) is so massive that it can feed you and a few of your friends. Taken from the loin, the same area which produces porterhouse and T-bone steaks, the tomahawk is beautifully marbled, tender, and flavorful. Weighing between 30 and 45 ounces, and around two inches thick, this behemoth is best seared and then finished in an oven or with a grill’s indirect heat.
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