A lot of visitors ask me about buying steaks so I thought I would start putting together some tips on buying steaks, describing various cuts and what to look for when purchasing a good steak. I'll start with some basics and add to this page as I learn more from my resources. You may also be interested in How to Grill a Good Steak? and where to buy steaks online and why just below....
Top Steak Buying Tips
- My #1 tip is get to introduce yourself to your local butcher and become friends.
- Buy the best grade of meat you can afford...Prime, Choice, Select in that order.
- When possible, buy from the butchers counter not the pre-packaged section.
- Look for steaks with fine texture and firm to the touch.
- You want the color to be a light cherry red color, not deep red. And by all means stay away from gray meat.
- Look for a steak that has marbling. It is the thin threads of fat running through the meat that makes it Prime and gives it that incredible flavor.
- Dry aging is considered better than wet aging but that may be a matter of taste. However, avoid meat that has no aging and is too fresh.
- If you do buy packaged meat, stay away from any with excessive moisture, tears or that are past their sell by date.
- Just because the label says Angus, doesn't mean it is Certified Black Angus (CBA)
- Visit the Reluctant Gourmet Web Site often and sign up for my free newsletter on the bottom right side of this page!
#1 Getting to know your butcher
It doesn't matter if you buy your steaks at the supermarket or a gourmet butcher shop. If you want to learn about meat, how to purchase it, what's a good buy today, how to cook it, start a relationship with your butcher. These are the folks who know what you don't and will be glad to help if you just ask.
My own local butchers tell me that customers don't take advantage of their knowledge and experience. They come in with their own preconceived ideas of what a good steak should look like and end up buying an inferior product. A good steak is expensive so why not ask the expert who handles the products everyday what they think is a good bargain. You may be surprised by getting better cuts for less money.
#2 Buy the best grade of meat you can afford
Most of us rarely have the opportunity to buy and taste Premium beef. That's because only 1 - 2.5% of all beef processed in this country is good enough to be graded by the USDA as Prime. The inspector takes in all sort of things when grading for Prime but as a consumer, we are mostly looking at marbling, that network of fat that traverses throughout the meat.
Given a choice at the market between a perfectly lean piece of meat and a Prime cut with lines of fat running through it, most of us would pick the lean steak. But it's the marbling that gives the Prime cut the incredible rich, juicy, tender flavor and texture that we are looking for.
Just because Prime isn't that readily available or in a price range we can afford, there is nothing wrong with Choice. There are different grades of Choice so you may want to shop where they consistently buy beef at the higher end of the Choice grade. How will you know? By getting to know your butcher and asking.
Select has the least amount of marbling making it lean but not so tender or tasty. More importantly, you are not going to pay that much more for Choice than you are for Select, so if you can, spend the extra dollars and buy Choice. In my opinion, there's nothing worse then chewing and chewing and chewing through a tough, flavorless piece of meat.