How to Choose a Steak

So many types of steak—so little time! Here's the ultimate guide to different cuts of steaks, including how to select a steak and the best cuts of meat to buy depending on how you plan to cook them.

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Choosing Steak

Not all types of steak are created equal: Some are tender and rich with fabulous marbling, while others are lean and require a little TLC—often in the form of a marinade—to yield moist, tender results. We'll take you through the many types of steaks available at the supermarket. You'll find guidelines on what to look for when buying steak, as well as which types of steaks to choose depending on the cooking method you prefer.

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What to Look for When Buying Steak

No matter which types of steak you buy, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • The meat should have good color and appear moist but not wet.
  • Any cut edges should be even, not ragged.
  • When buying packaged meats, avoid those with tears or with liquid in the bottom of the tray.
  • The meat should feel firm and cold to the touch.

Cheat Sheet for Choosing Steak

In the sections below, we'll tell you the most common types of steak you'll find in the supermarket today, including the best way to cook each cut. Take a look, and you'll become a steak expert in no time.

If you're looking for a steak-buying hack, here's a cheat sheet of the best cuts of meat, depending on what you're looking for: 

The Most Tender Steak: Beef tenderloin steak is the top choice if tenderness is your goal.

Best Cuts of Meat for Special Occasions: Though pricey, beef tenderloin, top loin, T-bone, and ribeye steaks are among the richest, most opulent steaks money can buy.

Best Beef Steak Cuts for Grilling: Many cuts fill the bill, including top loin, T-bone, tenderloin, and ribeye. While flank steak, skirt steak, and tri-tip steak are also good grillers, marinate them beforehand for best results. Sirloin steak is also a good choice, though it can dry out quickly if overcooked. 

Types of Steak from the Sirloin: Top Sirloin and Tri-Tip Steaks

Sirloin cuts come from a section of the animal located between the loin (which is very tender) and the round (a tough section in the back). While sirloin steaks are not as tender as cuts from the loin (e.g., filets, strip steaks, and T-bone/porterhouse steaks), they're more tender than beef steak cuts from the round. Full of rich, beefy flavor, sirloin steak is one of the more inexpensive types of steaks. These quick-cooking steaks are also one of the best cuts of meat to choose when you're in a hurry.

• Tip: Keep a close eye on sirloin steaks during cooking, as they can dry out quickly when overcooked.

How to Pick a Good Sirloin Steak: Choose one of the two cuts below based on how you plan to prepare it.  

Type of Steak: Top Sirloin Steak

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook, stir-fry. When cut into cubes, sirloin steak is also great for quick-cooking kabobs. 

Type of Steak: Tri-Tip Steak (also known as triangle steak)

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook, stir-fry. Because tri-tip steaks are leaner than most cuts, consider marinating them for 2 to 3 hours to keep them moist during grilling. In fact, tri-tips are one of the best beef steak cuts to choose when you want to try out a new marinade.

See more on how to cook a tri-tip steak.

Types of Steak from the Loin: Beef Tenderloin, Top Loin, and Porterhouse Steaks

If you're looking for the most tender steak possible, choose one that's cut from the loin of the animal. The loin sits below the backbone; because this area gets less exercise than others parts of the animal, the loin is the source of some of the best cuts of meat for a juicy, tender steak.

While these types of steaks are also some of the most pricey beef steak cuts, for beef-lovers they're worth every penny! Moist loin cuts can be quickly cooked, meaning these are among the best cuts of meat for grilling, broiling, and skillet-cooking.

How to Choose Steak from the Loin: Whether you choose top loin, tenderloin, or porterhouse steaks, look for well-marbled meat with vibrant color and a moist but not wet surface.

Tip: For more even cooking, let these beef steak cuts stand at room temperature about 30 minutes before searing. 

Type of Steak: Beef Tenderloin Steak (also known as filet mignon)

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook, stir-fry

Type of Steak: Top Loin Steak (also known as strip steak, Kansas City steak, and New York strip steak)

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook, stir-fry

Type of Steak: Porterhouse Steak. This steak is comprised of both a top loin (strip) steak and the tenderloin, separated by a bone. Smaller versions of porterhouse steaks are known as T-bone steaks.

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook

A Tender Steak from the Rib: Ribeye Steak

The rib sits under the front section of the backbone of the animal. One of the most popular beef steak cuts from this section is the ribeye. This steak has it all: tenderness, juicy marbling, and a rich, beefy flavor.

Choosing Steak from the Rib: Look for great marbling—that's the secret to this cut's moist, juicy appeal. This tender steak should also have a vibrant color and a moist but not wet surface.  

Type of Steak: Ribeye (also known as Delmonico steak)

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook, stir-fry

Types of Steak from the Short Plate and Flank: Skirt and Flank Steaks

The plate and the flank sit in the midbottom section of the animal. These two areas yield beef steak cuts that have become popular in recent years: the skirt steak, known for its bold flavor, and the flank steak, which is also a flavorful cut, though it's somewhat more lean than skirt steak. 

Type of Steak: Skirt Steak

Best Way to Cook: Marinate before broiling, grilling, or stir-frying. You can also braise this cut.

Type of Steak: Flank Steak

Best Way to Cook: Marinate before broiling, grilling, or stir-frying. You can also braise this cut.

Types of Steak from the Chuck: Chuck Top Blade Steaks and Flat-Iron Steaks

The chuck (or shoulder) of the animal yields steaks known for their rich, meaty flavor. However, some chuck steaks can be tough and will only yield a tender steak after long, slow cooking. Though there are other cuts of chuck steaks that can be quickly grilled, broiled, or skillet-cooked, you may wish to marinate them first for more tender results.

How to Choose Steak from the Chuck: Select a steak based on how you plan to cook it. Common types of steak from the chuck include: 

Type of Steak: Chuck Top Blade Steak (boneless)

Best Way to Cook: Braise or cook in liquid, or tenderize before broiling or grilling. 

Type of Steak: Flat-Iron Steak (also called shoulder top blade steak)

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook

Type of Steak: Shoulder Petite Tender (also called a mock tender)

Best Way to Cook: Broil, grill, skillet-cook

Types of Steak from the Round: Top and Bottom Round Steak

These beef steak cuts come from the rump and hind leg of the animal. Because the muscles in this area have been toughened by exercise, these steaks are leaner and less tender than most other beef steak cuts. While they are flavorful and economical, they're not our top choice for throwing on the grill! In fact, these types of steaks are often braised (cooked slowly in a small amount of liquid) for the most tender results. A popular example of braised round steak is Steak Braciole.

Try our Steak and Vegetable Braciole recipe

How to Choose Steak from the Round: Be sure to pay close attention to which part of the round you are buying. Bottom and top round steaks are two different cuts of steaks. While a top round steak can be broiled, grilled, skillet-cooked or stir-fried, you'll need to marinate it before cooking to keep it moist. Braising is the best way to cook a bottom round steak.

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