The Ultimate Guide to Steaks

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steak cuts

I grew up in the restaurant business. Not just anywhere, but out on Eastern Long Island where some of the best restaurants in the country reside. My father has managed and owned several restaurants in the Westhampton Beach and Quogue area, so if there’s anything I know it’s fine service, a well-made cocktail and superb food. If there’s anything New York knows, it’s a good steak. Julia Child once said “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” Let’s put the basic pastas, chicken and salad behind us and turn a corner to what should be everyone’s culinary obsession: a terrific steak.

 

If you’re new to the world of steak, meaning that the only steaks you’ve really “enjoyed” were bought from King Kullen and prepared by your mom on a Wednesday night, you might have some questions about how it should actually be prepared. You should know the difference between a T-Bone steak and a Ribeye and, most importantly… what your steak should be paired with. What beverage, what sauce and what side dish. I’m here to help relieve you of these questions. By the end of this article you will not only know more about steak than you thought possible, but you will not be able to wait until the next time you’re able to dine and devour a sensational steak. Not knowing the differences between different cuts of meat and how to prepare them stops today!

 

Steak Rules:

There are 5 imperative rules you should know when approaching a steak.

 

1. Steak Temperature Guide

  • Well done (I can’t abide by this)
  • Medium-well (I will roll my eyes)
  • Medium (now we’re talkin’)
  • Medium-Rare (Yummmm!)
  • Rare (OH BOY!!!!!)

 

I highly recommend using a meat thermometer when cooking a steak. Especially if you’re new to it. Leaving the thermometer in the meat while it cooks is for the best, because the more you prod and move your meat to test it, the more you’re allowing the juices to escape. However, touching and feeling the meat to gauge its temperature is fine too. As you’re learning how to cook steak, the “prodding” practice is a great way to feel the difference between a medium cooked steak and a rare cooked steak.

 

A rare steak should be removed from the Grill at about 130 degrees. medium rare (140), medium (155) and well done (165).

 

medium rare steak cutted

 

A fact to also keep in mind is that with whole cuts, the external temp is the most important to exceed 160 degrees in order to fight necessary bacteria, the internal temp, in most restaurants, is often free from harmful bacteria as it is an intact, healthy piece of muscle tissue.

 

A rare steak will have a bright red center (The juices will almost look as if the meat is bleeding. Don’t be discouraged or disgusted. This is a GOOD thing), medium rare will have a warmer red center. (Not as bright), A medium steak will have a warm pink center (this is particularly how I like my steaks done), A medium-well steak will have a light pink center and a well-done steak will have little to no pink coloring.

 

2. How to Prepare Your Steak

 

Have you ever walked into a butcher shop and asked yourself why they hang the meat? What is a meat locker? How long does meat have to be hung up before you can prepare it? Another important question to ask yourself is, “Are you letting the meat rest before you slice into that gorgeous juicy steak pre consumption”?

 

Dry aging is a process in which the hanging of the meat allows the natural enzymes of the meat to flow, enabling it to reach its most tender and flavorful state. The meat should be hung until it is just about to turn, that is when it is at its best. Surprisingly enough, butchers really only started hanging meat in the 50’s. In recent years meat hanging has actually been replaced by a process called “wet aging”, however dry aged beef is still sold in higher end restaurants today. The meat is hung for approximately 10-14 days. The process of dry aging, however, is so costly and time consuming that many butchers have ventured into alternate preparation methods.

 

Raw dry aged t-bone steak

Raw dry aged t-bone steak

 

A meat locker is where the beef is generally hung where temperatures are kept cool in the 30’s to ensure that it will not spoil or freeze.

 

All this thought and construction for steak is only complimented by what should happen after the meat is taken off the grill. It is vital that steak sit for a few minutes after it is removed from the heat source as the meat tends to cook for an additional 5 degrees during its resting time. This is before you cut into the meat and take in its deliciousness. If you cut into the meat too soon, the juices will flow out, but if it sits for a bit (10 minutes) before consumption, the juices remain intact after the first slice in.

 

3. What to Pair Steak With

 

This might be my favorite rule. Knowing what to pair your meat with (in regards to beverage, sauce and seasonings) can make or break the plate. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your palate with a full-bodied red wine which will take away from what you’re about to eat. Pinot Noirs tend to be a favorite coupled with steak. The lighter red wine compliments the meal without upstaging it. This is true especially when it comes to leaner meats. The fattier the meat, the more full-bodied you can go. It’s all about the balance. Fatty protein found in your cuts help balance the sharper tannins found in your wine, creating a heavenly gourmet happening.

 

great selection of wine to pair your steak with

 

If you’re not a fan of red wine, you can steer towards a rose to also assist in the balance of your meal. And if you’re a beer fan, darker beers are recommended with T-bones and Porterhouses.

 

As far as sauces are concerned, I’m a fan of “less is more”. Allow the meat to speak for itself. I love a good béarnaise sauce with some cracked pepper on my steak. It adds a rich, vinegar tang-like flavor to the meat. Others prefer a mushroom based cream sauce. This will have more of a creamy truffle taste to it, which I find can overwhelm the taste of the actual steak. The darker your steak, the thicker the sauce. If you must have a BBQ based sauce on your steak, I suggest having a sauce infused with barbecue, rather than it being a full on pour of pure BBQ sauce. A flavored butter sauce with some garlic, coriander & lime would do great on a steak. Hollandaise and peppercorn sauces are also very popular.

 

tenderloin steak cut

 

On the side of your plate you should definitely have a vegetable of some kind. A Potato-based side is my number one choice. Whether you serve it mashed, fried or in chip form, that vegetable is a loyal friend to the steak. A gourmet macaroni and cheese, perhaps with brie and fontina cheese, would be a delicious side-dish as well. You can also never go wrong with roasted mixed vegetables drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary to accompany your entrée.

 

4. Steak Cuts Guide

 

Right off the bat you should know what meat you’re eating. You hear the word “Tender” thrown around a lot, and honestly, what makes a steak tender is how often the muscle was used on the animal during its time alive. The more unused, the more tender.

 

 

Tenderloin Steak Cut

Beginning with the Tenderloin, of which you’ll find in the middle of the loin on the animal, sits beneath the ribs next to the beefs’ backbone and tends to be the most tender part of the cow. Grilled, broiled or roasted, this meat can be prepared in several different ways. Filet Minion is the most popular title falling under this cut. What you may find interesting is that a tenderloin steak has an equal amount of fat to that of a chicken thigh. It’s the perfect filet to choose if you’re trying to watch your waistline while craving a tender steak.

 

Favorite Tenderloin Steak Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 head fresh garlic
  • 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8th teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8th teaspoon pepper
  • 1lb sliced mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4th teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 cup beef broth.

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat: 350°F.
  2. Roast an entire head of garlic ( cutting off top) in a small baking ramekin. Coat top with EVOO, salt, &  pepper.
  3. Bake until the cloves are soft and golden, about 1 hour.
  4. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle.
  5. Squeeze each head of garlic to expel the cloves into a bowl.
  6. SAVE THE OIL and add ½ tablespoon of butter. Set on counter to hold.
  7. Increase oven temperature to 400°F.
  8. Bring steaks to room temperature and sauté mushrooms.
  9. Once browned, add the salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, brandy, beef broth, and roasted garlic.
  10. Reduce heat to simmer to keep warm. Make an empty space in center of pan, for the steaks.
  11. Rub steaks with olive oil, and liberally season with salt and black pepper.
  12. Preheat grill to med-high for 5 minutes, with lid closed.
  13. Sear the steaks for 2 minutes on each side, then place them in the pan, surrounded by mushrooms.
  14. Pour the garlic-infused oil with butter, from roasting the garlic, over each steak.
  15. Immediately place in the oven for 6½ to 7 minutes for medium rare.
  16. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and rest for 5 minutes, for juices to settle in meat.
  17. Serve steaks, smothered in mushrooms.

 

tenderloin steak cut

 

T-Bone Steak Cut

The T-Bone steak and the porterhouse tend to be put together when describing different cuts of meat. The reason being is that they are both cut from the superior “short loin”. The differences between the two is that one, the Porterhouse, is cut from the rear-end of the short loin and the T-Bone is cut from the front end which has a smaller filet portion. Best on a grill, though can be fried, this one is so delicious it barely needs any sauce or seasoning. These two are among the more popular of steak cuts being that there is more fat marbling than other cuts. Fat marbling is a key ingredient to a tender, flavorful steak.

 

Favorite T-Bone Steak Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1/4th cup chopped onion
  • 1/4th cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

 

Directions:

  1. In a large re-sealable plastic bag, combine the ingredients; add steaks. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
  2. Drain and discard marinade. Grill steaks, covered, over medium heat for 6-10 minutes on each side or until meat reaches desired doneness

 

Grilled T-Bone Steak

 

 

The Strip Steak Cut

The strip steak is found in the middle of the cow’s back. You’ll hear it called many things like The New York Strip, shell steak, the club steak or my favorite… the beauty steak. Regardless of what you call it, it’s definitely one of the more popular steaks. Also prepare this one on a grill with a little bit of salt and pepper. This meat, again, doesn’t need a lot of dressing. The bones in some of the other cuts act as heat conductors, allowing the meat to cook evenly throughout so make sure you check on this cut while it cooks since the strip is boneless.

 

Favorite Strip Steak Recipe

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup minced garlic
  • ¼ cup steak seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning

 

Directions:

  1. Mix the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, steak seasoning, red wine vinegar, basil, and Italian seasoning.
  2. Pour into a large re-sealable plastic bag.
  3. Pierce steaks on all sides with a fork, and place in the bag.
  4. Gently shake to coat.
  5. Seal bag and marinate steaks a minimum of 2 hours in the refrigerator.
  6. Preheat grill for high heat.
  7. Lightly oil the grill grate. Discard marinade.
  8. Place steaks on the grill, and cook to desired doneness.

 

Bloody Strip Steak, Tomatoes And Mushrooms On Hot Grill

 

The Ribeye Steak Cut

The Ribeye cut is found on the ribs of the cow. In some areas this cut is called the “cowboy cut” which can refer to the actual bone remaining a part of the cut served. The veiny fat pieces found in the raw ribeye dissolve when cooked and make the final product extra juicy and flavorful. You’ll often find ribeye meat in cheesesteaks. Should be grilled, pan seared, or oven roasted and served with either a herbed butter or mushroom cream sauce or… cheese whiz! If you’re goin’ “Philly” on it. Fat marbling is so pivotal to a steak and the ribeye is most popular to consumers due to its luscious marbling.

 

Favorite Ribeye Steak Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) softened unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 (20-ounce) bone-in rib-eye steaks
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

 

Directions:

  1. Combine the butter, chives, parsley and mix well.
  2. Preheat to 375 degrees
  3. Set a 14-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the steaks with the salt and pepper.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the pan, and, once hot, place 2 of the steaks, fat side down, in the hot pan.
  5. Sear the steak until well caramelized and most of the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes.
  6. Turn the steak over and sear for 5 minutes on the other side. Once seared on all sides, place the steaks on a small baking sheet and repeat with the 2 remaining steaks.
  7. Roast in the oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted into its center registers 135 to 140 degrees F, about 6 minutes for a medium-rare to medium steak.
  8. Remove the steaks from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing in half, and slicing each half into strips that run across the grain.
  9. Add 2 tablespoons of the compound butter on top of each steak and serve immediately.

 

Meat Ribeye steak entrecote. Top view

 

Sirloins Steak Cut

Sirloins are the best option for the most health conscious being that they’re surrounded by fat that can be sliced off. The veiny fat which you see in other cuts doesn’t take over the sirloin. This cut can be left on the grill a little longer and is great with a good béarnaise sauce.

 

Favorite Sirloin Steak Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pound sirloin steak (1 inch thick)
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 pound green beans

 

Directions:

  1. Season the steak with ¾ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  2. Cook in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.
  3. Let rest 5 minutes, then slice against the grain.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and shallot.
  5. Meanwhile, steam the green beans until tender, 4 to 6 minutes.
  6. Top the steak with the mustard sauce and serve with the green beans.

 

sirloin steak cut

 

The Rump Steak Cut

 

The Rump gets its name, like the others, from its location on the cow. It’s a little tougher than the other cuts, but still has vast amounts of flavor. Great on the grill or in a roast, should be cut against the grain and is best served with oven roasted veggies.

 

Favorite Rump Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 3 cup mushrooms (sliced)
  • 4 cups chicken or beef broth
  • 8 ounces Porter (or dark beer)
  • 2 teaspoons dark molasses
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
  • 3 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ (1/2 stick) butter, cut into cubes
  • 5 ounces crème fraiche (or sour cream)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh chives.

 

Directions:

  1. Season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat 1/8th cup of the canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Dredge the steaks in flour, and shake to remove excess.
  4. Sear the steaks on both sides, remove from pan, and set aside on a utility platter.
  5. Add the other 1/8th cup of canola oil to the same pan and sauté the onions and mushrooms until the onions become translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken or beef broth, porter beer, molasses, thyme, hot sauce and bay leaves to the onion/mushroom mixture.
  7. Reduce the heat to low and return the steaks to the pan.
  8. Simmer covered for at least 2 hours.
  9. Rump steaks are a tough meat and will require slow cooking (braising).
  10. You may wish to transfer the ingredients to a crock-pot for this process.
  11. When the steaks are fork tender, remove them to a platter in a warm place.
  12. The liquid in the pan should have evaporated to a large degree, intensifying the flavor.
  13. Whisk in the butter and crème fraiche or sour cream to finish the sauce, spoon sauce over the steaks. Garnish with the fresh chopped chives.

 

Rump Steak cut

 

The Flank Steak Cut

The Flank steak is a very lean steak with a rough grain. It’s a very easy steak to overcook and should be thinly sliced when served. It’s a long cut. London Broil is a popular dish which uses this cut. Can be pan fried, grilled or broiled. If braided, the tenderness reaches a fantastic pique. The Flank steak provides you with a great “color by number” way of cutting to perfection. Cut perpendicular to the lines stretching down the meat and you’re in business.

 

Favorite Flank Steak Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño chile pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed
  • 1 large handful fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped (great flavor in the stems), about 1/2 cup chopped
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons cider or white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

 

Directions:

  1. Lay the steak in bowl or baking dish.
  2. Combine marinade ingredients and pour the marinade over the steak.
  3. Make sure each piece is well coated.
  4. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours or overnight.
  5. Remove the steak from the marinade. Lightly brush off most of the bits of cilantro and garlic (do not brush off the oil).
  6. Place on the hot side of the grill. Grill the steak for a few minutes only, until well seared on one side (the browning and the searing makes for great flavor), then turn the steak over and sear on the other side.
  7. Once both sides are well seared, move the steak to the cool side of the grill, with any thicker end of the steak nearer to the hot side of the grill.
  8. Test with a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the steak).
  9. Place the steak on a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

 

Succulent Flank Steak on the BBQ Grill

 

Hanger Steak Cut

 

Hanger steaks have a strong beefy flavor to them. It’s a favorite to sell in a restaurant and best broiled. My favorite little fact about the namesake of this steak is that it “hangs” down between the rib and tenderloin. It’s not an active muscle, hanging out the way it does on the animal, so it tends to be as tender as the cuts I mentioned previously. Should be broiled with a dash of salt and a sprinkling of pepper. Great for steak frites.

 

Favorite Hanger Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • six 7-ounce hanger steaks
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 medium shallots, peeled, trimmed, thinly sliced, rinsed, and dried
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley leaves

 

Directions:

  1. Heat sauté pan or skillet over high heat, then add the oil.
  2. When the oil is hot, season the steaks with salt and pepper, slip them into the pan, and brown evenly, turning as needed, until they’re done the way you like them.
  3. Transfer the steaks to a heated serving dish and set them aside in a warm place while you make the shallots.
  4. Place the pan you used to cook the steaks over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter and the shallots.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, until the shallots are softened but not colored.
  6. Add the vinegar and cook until it evaporates, then add the wine. Bring the wine to the boil and allow it to cook down until it is reduced by half.
  7. Pull the pan from the heat and swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter then stir in the chopped parsley.

 

hanger steak with fries

 

Skirt Steak Cut

 

A Skirt steak cut is the kind you’ll find in things like Fajitas. It has a buttery flavor and is often marinated. On the cow it separates the chest from the abdomen and being that it’s a very “used” muscle, it is chewier than the other cuts. A meat tenderizer is a good idea for the skirt.

 

Favorite Skirt Steak Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 tablespoons juice from about 2 limes, plus 1 extra lime for serving
  • 1/4 cup juice from 1 orange
  • 2/3 cup olive oil, divided
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and fine stems

 

Directions:

  1. Place skirt steak a re-sealable bag and add lime and orange juices, 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  2. Seal and squish around to combine. Place in the refrigerator to marinate at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
  3. When ready to cook, remove meat from the refrigerator. Remove from marinade and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Transfer marinade to a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until reduced by half.
  5. Clean and oil the grilling grate.
  6. Place skirt steak on hot side of grill and cook, flipping occasionally, until well-charred.
  7. Transfer steak to a large plate, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  8. Slice steak against the grain, drizzle with pan sauce and sprinkle with cilantro.
  9. Cut extra lime into wedges and serve with steak.

 

What tickles me about the Flank, Hanger and skirt steaks are their history. They were once so discarded for other more “popular” cuts and now you’ll find in several establishments they’re being presented as a more upscale option. “Never before had chefs been able to properly prepare such a cut, until today!”

 

Whole skirt Steak

 

5. How to Grill

 

Bone or boneless, ribeye or Porterhouse, you will now learn the coveted rules of “steak grilling”. Beginning with your cut of choice at 1 ½ to 2” thick, beef has been salted (you can salt beef days in advance but a minimum of 40 minutes is suggested. The longer, the better)

 

Bloody Strip Steak, Tomatoes And Mushrooms On Hot Grill

 

Your coal is in, your heat is on and you’re ready to crisp the outside and pink the inside. The meat should be cooked delicately and seared at its completion. Don’t forget your tongs, meat thermometer and that when it’s all done on the grill, that meat should rest for 5-10 minutes.

 

Coal reaches higher temperatures than gas, which is why grilling is always preferred. You also lose the smoky taste of the meat if it’s roasted in the oven. Indirect heat is your best bet for cooking the perfect steak. Place the meat on one side of the grill and the coals under the other side. With this method you have much better control over the cooking process.

 

Grilled beef steak on the flaming grill

 

Before the meat goes on the grill, make sure it’s room temperature. This will allow the steak to cook more evenly and reduces overall cooking time. When the steak goes on, keep the lid closed at first. You can flip the meat as many times as you want with your tongs, just don’t use anything that will poke the meat so you keep the juices locked in.

 

  • 120° F = Rare
  • 130° F = Medium rare
  • 140° F = Medium
  • 150° F = Medium well
  • 160° F = Well done

Sear the meat about 15-20 degrees before it’s reached its goal cooking temperature.

 

Searing is browning the exterior of the cut. It’s what causes the flavorful crusty surface of the meat, giving it its grilled flavor. Hot and fast to seal in the juices.

 

grilled beef steak rare sliced with vegetables

 

Now that you’ve learned what to look for in a steak, you should know where to find a steak. Not just any steak, but a delicious, well made steak to make your dining experience the best it can be.

 

New York City is known for their bread, pizza and steaks so it’s hard to determine where on this Island of culinary cuisine one finds the best bang for their buck.

 

We at Atlas Steakhouse pride ourselves on a quality dining experience from the moment you walk in. And steak is our specialty. Our talented staff of servers, bartenders and chefs are experts in their field. We are confident in knowing that after you dine with us you will leave having had not only tasted the best steak in NYC, but that you’ve also had the most unique, delicious cocktail, filled your ears with delightful music and treat your eyes to the stunning atmosphere of our restaurant. It is our duty to make sure you are well taken care of and that you leave a new frequent patron.