Friday, September 11, 2009

How to Select Your Steak

By KC Kudra

If you want to end up eating a great steak, there is no other way to do it than by starting with one that is already great. Unfortunately, it can be rather difficult to determine whether or not a steak at the market is of high quality. There are plenty to choose from, but if you don't know what you're looking for, finding the best one will be pretty tricky. Here are a few things to look for when you go steak shopping that'll help you get a better result.

Grade is one of the first things you will want to look at. The USDA, or a third party agency in some cases, does the grading according to the age of the animal and how much marbling is on the carcass, which is then cut into pieces of meat. There is some variance between the actual cuts because of this. However, prime meat is usually better than choice, which is better than select meat - these are the major consumer grades in the US.

Prime is responsible for about two percent of beef production in the US, and you will not find it in most stores, since it is often sold to restaurants or exported. Select and choice are more commonly found on store shelves. You may notice a difference between them if you take the time to try them, however.

Marbling is also something to pay attention to. This has traditionally determined the quality of a steak, since lots of fat means lots of flavor, but lean meat is more tender. Other factors are a big influence as well, however. You may find that grass or partially grass finished beef has more taste than beef, which is, finished with the more traditional grain, but once again, results will vary, and you'll want to spend some time discovering which you like best.

There are lots of different cuts of meat on the market, and some produce much better steaks. They come from three major sections of the animal - the sirloin, short loin, and rib, and each cooks up differently. Rib meats are less tender and must be cooked longer and more carefully than short loin or tenderloin. Think about this when you are asking questions such as how long does it take to cook a steak in the oven?

The short loin brings us the top loin steak, Porterhouse, T-bone and tenderloin, while the sirloin produces sirloin and top sirloin steaks. You may see round, chuck, and flank meats also labeled as steak, but do not put them on the grill unless you want really tough beef. Try them in stews instead, since the quality is much lower. Pick the best steak to begin with, and then find the best way to cook it, since a good marinade will not make a bad steak any better. A good one will improve even a great steak, however.

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