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The Experts Share Tips to Selecting the Perfect Steak

December 18, 2018

BROOKINGS, S.D. - With grilling season in full swing, many grillers are in search of the perfect steak. SDSU Extension staff teamed up with the South Dakota Beef Industry Council to share their best tips to selecting the perfect steak.

"With so many different options out there it's good to have plan before you head out to shop," explained Amanda Blair, Associate Professor & SDSU Extension Meat Science Specialist. "The type of steak you select is a personal choice."

Blair explained that if a consumer knows their preferences for flavor, tenderness or marbling, selection shouldn't be too tough. However, if you're unsure, she, along with Holly Swee, Director of Nutrition & Consumer Information and Adam Rhody, SDSU Meat Lab Manager, developed this guide for you.

Traditional Steak Options

"A general rule of thumb is, the more expensive the steak, the more tender it should be. But, finding a great steak really depends on what you like," explained Rhody.

If your top priority is tenderness, a tenderloin - also known as a filet or filet Mignon - is a great option.

If you're after an extremely flavorful cut, a sirloin should be on your list.

Looking for both tenderness and flavor? Ribeyes and strip steaks are what you're looking for.

"One reason ribeyes and New York strips are so flavorful is the amount of marbling," Blair said.

Marbling is the small flecks of fat within the meat. The amount of marbling determines the grade. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) beef grades typically found in grocery stores or at restaurants are Select, Choice, and Prime.

These are also related to price.

Select cuts will have the least amount of marbling and Prime will have the most. Cuts with a quality grade of Prime are most often the most expensive.

Other popular beef items for summer grilling are fajitas and kabobs.

"Grocery stores will sell these items, but you can save a little money by cutting them yourself," Rhody said.

A sirloin works great for kabobs since it is a tender, lean cut. For fajitas, try a beef skirt steak or flank steak, which can be grilled whole and sliced thinly across the grain.

New Value Cuts

Speaking of price, the beef industry has developed several new value cuts over the past few years including the flat iron, Denver cut, and chuck eye steak.

"These cuts have great flavor and tenderness and generally sold at retail for less than more traditional steaks such as the ribeye," Blair said.

However, since they're new to the market they may not always be available at retail so if a consumer has a difficult time accessing them, ask the butcher or grocer.

"The flat iron steak, in particular, is gaining popularity because it is very tender and flavorful, but they're sold in the meat case cut a couple different ways," Blair said.

She explained that one cutting method results in an oval shape with a long section of connective tissue down the middle, which can lead to tenderness issues. The more preferred cutting method results in a rectangular shaped flat iron.

Lean Beef Options

Beef is a great option to add to your diet because it contributes important nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc.

"There are plenty of lean beef options that can be incorporated into a balanced diet," Swee explained. "In fact, there are over 37 cuts that meet the government guidelines for lean."

Many popular cuts in the meat case qualify as lean such as flank steak, tenderloin, T-bone steak and 95 percent lean ground beef.

"A good rule of thumb is to look for the word loin or round in the name - which usually indicates a lean cut," Swee said.

The American Heart Association has also named nine fresh lean cuts of beef that meet the Heart Check-mark certification.