Blog: Steak Tips

Steak Tips: Understanding the Grades and Cuts of Steak

By MariJo Kolze

Few things are better than a nice tender steak. On average, Americans consume almost 250 pounds of meat each year. But, oddly most Americans when asked don’t actually know the different cuts and grades that make their steaks so enjoyable (or not). To make sure you never have a bad steak again, we feel it’s our duty to educate our steak-loving fans. If you’re in a grocery store looking to purchase a great steak, two of the most important things to consider are the cut and the grade. Let’s dive in a bit deeper!

Grades of Steak: 

When it comes to grading in the United States, the USDA is the primary authority. To guarantee consumers like you can enjoy a fresh and flavorful steak, the USDA must develop and maintain grade standards for meat. It is determined by two main factors: the amount of marbling (how much fat) in the meat, and its maturity (the age of the animal). There are numerous beef quality grades to choose from as there are a total of eight. However, the three consumer grades in the United States are prime, choice, and select. The top grade is prime, the same grade you’d likely find at a high-end restaurant, while choice and select are at the bottom. The remaining grades of meat are of lower quality, and are processed into foods like hot dogs that you might see grilled on your barbecue during the summer.

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Prime grade beef remains the highest in quality. Whenever you treat yourself to a high-end restaurant and dine out, you usually order and eat this grade of beef. Because prime grade beef is of high quality, it is in limited supply, which drives up market prices. The flavor of prime grade beef is well worth the price increase. If you're wondering how to prepare this type of grade, we recommend that you dry-cook it for maximum flavor. Dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting, and grilling is a great way to prepare prime roasts and steaks.

The next best option is to purchase a choice grade. Choice beef is still high in quality, but has less marbling than prime. Since it is a lower cut quality than prime, consumers have greater access to choice beef since it is more affordable. The main difference between choice and prime meat is the fat content, as prime meat typically contains more. Under this choice grade, you can still enjoy tender, juicy, and flavorful steaks. If you want to cook your beef to be nice and tender, you should try braising or roasting your meats. You can even simmer your meat in a tightly covered pan to keep its moisture. As for picking choice grade steaks, filets and rib steaks are always fan favorites.

Select beef is the last grade available to consumers. Compared to higher grades, it is considered the leaner meat. The meat is fairly tender, but it lacks some of the juiciness of the higher-grade cuts due to its minimal marbling. BBQ grills are best suited for cooking tender cuts of meat, such as ribs, loins, and sirloins. These would make great options to serve your guests at your next barbecue! For the best steak, we recommend marinating your steaks before cooking in order to get the most tenderness and flavor.  

Cuts of Steak: 

The second factor to consider is the cut of the steak. There are different cuts of beef based on which part of the cow they come from. In other words, the quality of the steak is determined by where it is cut from the cow. Choosing the ideal steak cut for what you want to cook is probably the most important part of getting the right steak at the right price. Learning the differences between the different cuts of beef and finding out how to cook each type of beef is the key to a great BBQ. You have plenty of options to choose from with the variety of cuts and cooking styles available.  

The meat from a cow is divided into different sections known as primal cuts. There are then sub-primal cuts that come from these primary cuts. Cuts of meat can be separated into three main categories: rib, short loin, and sirloin. 

In the rib category, which is located in the middle of the cow, you'll find cuts like back ribs, ribeye filets, and ribeye steaks. Meats in this section are full of flavor and have lots of marbling. We recommend using a sauce, such as our Original Waterloo BBQ Sauce, to enhance the flavoring even more. The fattier the cuts, the better they can be prepared when slow cooked and roasted. Some, however, are not best prepared for slow cooking. For instance, ribeye steak is best grilled or fried in a skillet. When you are looking for a tender cut of beef that has extra marbling, try finding a meat from the rib category. 

When it comes to short loins, these cuts are typically leaner and tender. It comes from behind the rib section, towards the back of the cow. Since these cuts are leaner, they are best grilled or fried, and at a high temperature. On the other hand, T-bones, porterhouse steaks, and tenderloins are cuts that do well when cooked at low temperatures. In this category you'll find the most expensive steaks as they are highly prized because of their tenderness. 

Sirloin cuts are the third category coming from the back of the cow. The sirloin is less tender than a short loin, but is still very flavorful. The sirloin includes some of your favorite choices like filet mignon, tri-tip, and strip steak. These cuts are also leaner and best cooked on high heat, on the grill, in a skillet, or in a stir-fry. When you're craving a flavorful and tender cut of beef, cook a cut from the loin. 

Any steak no matter the cut or grade, will always taste better with our Waterloo BBQ sauce. Next time you fire up the grill, keep these steak tips in mind!

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