The Butcher's Cut—Professional Pointers for Picking the Perfect Steak

Picking the perfect steak is easy with these professional pointers.

Written by:Amanda Lecky
Photographed by:Steve Henke
Butcher steak on Cambria Quartz Countertops.

Cambria design shown: Ellesmere™

For rich, juicy flavor, look for plenty of “marbling,” or flecks of fat throughout the meat, like in a T-bone. Strip steaks are ideal for grilling. Have your butcher cut them at least 1" thick, and don’t trim the fat. Grass-fed beef has less fat and will cook fast—sometimes twice as fast as grain-fed beef—and may be tough beyond medium-rare.

The Cuts: The Classics

Tenderloine [3]

Cut from the center of the loin, the tenderloin, also known as the filet or filet mignon, has an exceptionally tender texture, very little internal fat—and a correspondingly mild flavor.

Rib Eye [2]

Cut from the roast at the top of the rib, the rib eye steak, also known as Delmonico steak, is a boneless cut that’s richly marbled and full of flavor. (When the bone is attached, it’s called a rib steak; when the roast is intact, it’s known as standing rib roast or prime rib).

Strip [3]

Also called New York strip, Kansas City strip, top sirloin, or shell steak (when sold bone-in), the strip steak is cut from the loin of the steer. It has a tightly grained texture that results in a nice chew and full, beefy flavor despite having less marbling than the rib eye.

T-Bone [3]

Some consider the T-bone, also sold as the Porterhouse steak, to be the best of both worlds: It consists of a tenderloin steak and a strip steak joined in the middle by a T-shaped bone.

The Cuts: Chefs Favorites

Flatiron Steak [1]

From the shoulder of the beef, it’s both extremely tender and super flavorful.

Chuck Eye

An extension of the rib eye muscle from farther up the shoulder, this cut has more flavor and more chew than the rib eye (and it’s less expensive).

Rib Eye Cap [2]

The fattier, more loosely grained top section of a rib eye steak, this is a favorite quick-cooking cut of the chefs and butchers alike.

Tri-Tip [4]

From a triangular section of the sirloin, the triangular tri-tip steak is richly marbled and full of flavor.

Hanger [6]

Named for its position on the cow (“hanging” off the front of the belly), this sleeper steak is also known as butcher’s steak—possibly because it’s the cut the butcher traditionally kept for himself. It has a loose texture and a rich, beefy flavor.

cs11-beef.jpg
A good butcher or restaurant should be able to tell you where the meat came from and be proud of the quality. That’s the key to finding a great steak.
Chris Carter,
Porter Road Butcher, Nashville, TN
A perfectly cut steak.

Cambria design shown: Ellesmere™

A butter-and-herb mix is the perfect complement for the luxuriously tender texture of tenderloin steaks, or filet mignon. When you’re serving a really special cut, keep the sides simple: pan-roasted onions lend caramelized flavor without competing with the star. If you see “dry aged” on a menu, say “yes please”: the pros concur that this technique produces steak with better flavor. Crumbled blue cheese is a classic steak topper. Other tasty options: chimichurri, béarnaise sauce, or composed butter. Roast marrow bones to enjoy the irresistibly rich filling, or use them to serve sauce, or salt and pepper. When pan-cooking, add aromatics like onion and fresh herbs to infuse the meat with even more flavor. Our experts agreed on three points: salt and pepper are the only seasonings a fine steak needs; to determine doneness, use an instant-read thermometer; and let the meat rest before you cut it.

How to cook

T-Bone

Grilling is ideal for bone-in cuts, because it’s easier to cook the meat evenly. Richly marbled T-bones need no marinating: Just salt and pepper liberally before cooking.

Rib Eye, Strip

You can grill these boneless cuts, or cook in a hot cast-iron pan. Start the steak in oil, then add butter when it’s close to being done. Add aromatics like herbs if you wish.

Tenderloin

Because it has little fat, the tenderloin or filet mignon cooks quickly. Use high, direct heat—grilling or pan-cooking both work well. And don’t overcook: medium-rare is ideal.

Chuck Eye

Known as the “poor man’s rib eye,” the chuck eye is less flavorful than its fancy cousin, so start with a marinade (mix an acidic base like citrus juice or soy sauce with oil and herbs) then grill or sear.

Hanger

Add flavor and tenderize by marinating overnight. Seal steak and a mix of olive oil, crushed garlic, fresh thyme and rosemary, salt and pepper in a zip-top bag. Wipe off marinade; grill or sear.

Pairings

WINE | Weinert Carrascal Malbec, Argentina, $18
The pairing of wine to steak greatly depends upon the cut, but Malbec fits almost every “meat” situation.

BEER | Brown ale’s gentle roastiness and caramelization matches the savory, succulent taste of pan-seared or char-grilled steak. Low bitterness and earthy hops make it the perfect partner to a tangy blue cheese topping.

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