Once a carnivore navigates the litany of high-end steak choices regarding grass-fed or grain-fed; dry-aged or wet-aged; heritage, angus, or wagyu, he's faced with a range of beef cuts to choose from. In the world of steak cuts, the more expensive option isn't necessarily the best in terms of taste: T-bone and porterhouse steaks, two related cuts with Flintstonian proportions, are among the most expensive and most popular, but they've got a couple of problems. The bone makes cooking the steak more of a challenge, which is compounded by the fact that these steaks are actually composed of two different steaks that have different cooking times (tenderloin on one side, strip on the other). This means either the strip risks being on the raw side or the tenderloin is in danger of being charred.
The tenderloin, though living up to its name, also doesn't have a whole lot of flavor, whether as part of a larger steak or on its own. This is because it's not very well marbled, so while it's the go-to steak for rich dieters, it doesn't exactly deliver bang for the buck, tastewise. This is a pity given that it's the most expensive of the cuts, weight for weight. So where do we go in our search for a steak that actually tastes like a million dollars? Here are a few good options:
The Usual Suspects
Strip – Cut from the short loin, this forms the larger half of the T-bone steak. While not the equal of the tenderloin, the short loin still does little work and so is more tender than most other cuts. This combination of flavor, juiciness, and tenderness justifies its standing as one of the most popular steak cuts.
Ribeye – Taken from the sixth through twelfth rib section, these large steaks are usually the most well-marbled part of a steer. This marbling makes them the most flavorful but not the tenderest, though the tenderizing effect of dry aging can make this a moot point for dry-aged steaks.
Some Alternative Steaks:
Hanger – Once called “butcher's steak” because butchers often kept it for themselves rather than sell it, this cut's combination of deep flavor and low price is winning fans the world over. The hanger steak gets its name from its position in the body of the steer – it's a V-shaped pair of muscles with a long membrane down the middle, and it “hangs” from the diaphragm and is attached to the last rib and the spine near the kidneys. Since it can be a bit on the tough side, most chefs recommend marinating it and cooking quickly over high heat and serving rare to medium rare.
Tri-tip – This small triangular muscle weighs in at just a couple of pounds per side of beef and was once just used for ground beef. But when grilled low and slow, roasted whole, pit-smoked, or baked, then sliced across the grain, this piece of meat transforms into a full-flavored low-fat wonder that's easy on the pocket. This steak can also be found under the names “Santa Maria Steak” or “Newport Steak.”
Flat-iron – Cut from the shoulder of a steer, this well-marbled piece of meat includes the infraspinatus muscle. While it doesn't make the most tender steak, it's certainly one of the most flavorful ones. It's the combination of taste and relative affordability that has led chefs to choose this cut to introduce patrons to expensive luxe meats like wagyu.
Brandon Peters is an entrepreneur, writer, amateur cook, and foodie. He enjoys testing the basic dishes at good restaurants.