Tag Archives: anatomy

Tri-Tip & Newport Steak

Newport steak, aka “the apartment steak,” is essentially part of a tri-tip steak, which hails from the bottom sirloin portion of the animal.

Tri-tip is usually butchered into larger sizes for people to use on the grill or in BBQ style smoker preparations. A single tri-tip cut can feed a few people. It has a definitive grain direction and can be very tender and flavorful if cooked, sliced and served properly. For a nice write-up on how to properly execute a tri-tip on the grill, check out this post from BBQ Pitstop.

Photo Credit: BBQ Pitstop, https://bbqpitstop.com

If you like the flavor and texture of tri-tip, but only need to feed yourself, you can get a Newport steak, especially if you’re living in Manhattan. In New York City, Florence Meat Market in the west village has popularized the “Newport” cut, which is a single serving size of steak that has been butchered from the tri-tip.

Photo Credit: Kathryn McGowan, https://blog.kathrynmcgowan.com

It also has been called the “NYC Apartment Steak” by food blogger and recipe historian Kathryn McGowan. I think this is a fun reference to the small NYC apartments near the butcher shop in which it is nearly impossible to cook. She provides a recipe as well – check it out. Very simple to execute.

This cut is meant to be easy to cook, and small enough to fit into your small pans, set upon your small stove top in your small kitchen, within your small apartment for which you’re paying a large rent.

Culotte

As a non-butcher, I’m sort of learning beef anatomy on my own. I recently purchased a 7lb hunk of top sirloin to dry-age at home in my SteakAger. Upon close inspection, I noticed that my cut had a strange, skinny, and somewhat triangular-shaped section of meat that was clearly separated by some connective tissue.

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When inquiring about how to best prepare the top sirloin (either as a roast or as individual cuts of steak), I learned that this triangular piece of meat is in fact called the top sirloin cap.

Digging a little further, I came across this great excerpt from Boston Magazine article about butchery:

“Time for a little anatomy lesson, with a subprimal cut of sirloin. 1. Tenderloin. 2. Top sirloin. 3. Top sirloin cap, also known as a Culotte steak. 4. Tri-tip steak. 5. London Broil, also known as knuckle steak or outside round.”

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So as you may have deduced, similar to how the rib eye has a cap, known as the spinalis dorsi, so too does top sirloin have a cap; it’s just more fancily known as the Culotte. It’s much bigger and more lean than the spinalis dorsi on a rib eye, but it has similar grain structure.

Check out this cool butchery video that mentions the Culotte:

So back to how I discovered this: A chef I’m acquainted with, Andre Lima de Luca, suggested that I cut the top sirloin cap off and prepare that separately from the rest of the top sirloin, so that’s exactly what I did after confirming that what I thought he was talking about was indeed the triangle of beef that I noticed at the outset. With the fat ridge still connected, this cut is essentially the same as picanha.

Below is a shot of my cap/Culotte, after being dry-aged for over a month and trimmed of any bark. Since my 7lb hunk was already cut down significantly from it’s original size, I wasn’t left with too much.

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My first encounter with Culotte on a menu at a restaurant was at Bohemian, a secretive, dine-by-referral-only restaurant that’s nestled in the back of a high-end Japanese butcher shop called Japan Premium Beef.

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The cut there is washu, another name for the wagyu cattle from Japan, so it is considerably more tender than most normal cuts of this stuff. The flavor and texture is similar to strip loin, but a bit less grainy and more buttery. I recommend cutting this into small pieces when you actually eat it, smaller than you would for, say, a filet mignon. The larger the piece, the more chewing you will have to do. More chewing means it will feel tougher, and that’s not good.

These cuts can be very simply prepared: sear in a pan with butter, salt, pepper and herbs. Cook to medium rare to preserve tenderness, as the meat grain will tighten up the more you cook it, making the beef tough. Also cut cross-grain to maximize tenderness.

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You can see the grain here in this cut. When slicing for plating, you want to cut diagonal from top right to bottom left, against the grain.

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Here’s a nice way to serve it after slicing:

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Finishing salt flakes really make the flavors pop.

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Check out this other butchery video for more detail on slicing methods, with some suggested preparations too:

Bavette

The Bavette steak (France) is also known as flap steak (USA), vacio (Argentina) and sirloin tip (New England); it seems that different regions of the US and the world at large call it by different names. While the phrasing “flap steak” might sound revolting, I assure you that this cut is delicious when butchered and cooked properly. Anatomically close to the flank and skirt steaks, flap meat is technically found near the intersection of the bottom sirloin, short loin and flank parts of the animal, only it is more tender than both flank and skirt steaks due to being located on the inside portion of the diaphragm.

Here’s a video of it being butchered out:

It’s a slightly thicker cut than skirt or flank, which come from the plate and diaphragm areas nearby in the anatomy of the cow. The Bivette is more tender than both of them. It has less stringy, less chewy fat than skirt, as the striated muscle in Bivette cuts tend to have better quality marbling. It does have a direction or grain to the musculature, though, so cutting on the bias is the best technique.

Photo from First We Feast: http://firstwefeast.com/eat/alternative-beef-cuts-butcher-guide/

Similar in texture and taste to a hanger steak, the Bavette is best prepared with high, dry heat and served medium rare. I’ve tried this great, wallet-friendly cut at Quality Eats in Greenwich Village. Here’s a pic from that meal:

As you can see, it has a great crust on the outside with a nice pink medium rare center.

This was cooked perfectly, and I highly recommend heading down there to give it a try if you haven’t done so already.

Denver Cut

The Denver cut, or under blade steak (as opposed to the top blade or flatiron steak), is part of the chuck that is very tender and highly marbled. It’s also referred to as “zabuton” by people from space, in the future.

While not as tender as the teres major in the shoulder, this cut offers something unique in terms of texture.

Photo from First We Feast: http://firstwefeast.com/eat/alternative-beef-cuts-butcher-guide/

The intense spider web marbling is perfect for long, low heat, slow cooking techniques that allow for the fat to melt and render, which thereby tenderizes the remaining muscle flesh. On the other hand, the meat is tender enough that you can also quickly sear it with high, dry heat in a pan and slice on the bias once it hits medium rare. Perfect for sliced and plated steak dishes, or even fajitas.

I’ve tried this cut at The Pines in Brooklyn, where they sous vide the steak for many hours to render out all that flecked marbling. Once it tenderizes, they sear it hot and hard to get a good crust on the outside. Finally, they slice it up and shave some horseradish on top.

I highly recommend trying this cut of beef if you see it in the grocery store or on a restaurant menu. The good thing is that it typically costs much less than other, more common cuts that you might see.

Teres Major

The Teres Major is a seldom-used muscle located in the chuck shoulder of the animal that is said to be bested in tenderness only by the tenderloin or Filet Mignon.

It’s also known as the “shoulder tender,” “petite tender” or “bistro filet” in some circles, but it’s rare because it’s a challenge to extract as far as butchery is concerned. Luckily, these are starting to become more popular, so you can sometimes find them at steakhouses that are offering some lesser known and more budget friendly cuts.

It’s mentioned and shown in the beginning of this video here:

This shows that is even has some anatomical similarities to the filet, like a silver skin membrane.

It’s similar in size and shape to a pork tenderloin and eats similar in texture to beef tenderloin, but with the bold flavor of a hanger steak. They vary from 8-12oz. Here’s a shot of the cut from Charlie Palmer Steak in midtown.

You can also find one at Pig Bleecker, called The 155 Steak.

Picanha

CHECK OUT: MY BUTCHER SHOP

I’m a steak connoisseur. I consider myself a meat master. But I have a confession to make: I don’t eat much picanha.

I really first came to know of picanha through some back-and-forth with a chef I met at Meatopia and later began to follow on Instagram. Chef Andre Lima De Luca has one of the most meat-centric and absolutely breathtaking feeds on all of Instagram. Seriously… Check it out HERE. I’ll be using some of his photos throughout this post as well, just to give you a “flavor” of how great the feed actually is. In fact, the main photo you see at the header of this article is one of his shots.

Okay so you may be asking: What kind of self-described “Carnivore Connoisseur” can go about his days in ignorance of this cut of meat, only having eaten it sporadically? Well, my response is threefold. Number one, it’s not very common in these parts, so that’s the biggest reason. Second, I don’t travel all that much to the southern hemisphere of the Americas, like Brazil, where it is much more commonly prepared. Last, I’m unaware of places in the area to get it myself to cook it, nor do I know of too many restaurants that serve it. I guess all three of those reasons are really all the same reason: lack of ample availability.

The cut itself, as you will learn below, is commonly butchered in a different manner here in the states. As such, you will need to get to a good butcher or specialty shop (perhaps Brazilian or Latin American) where they know how to slice and dice it just right.

Anyway, picanha has been coming up a lot lately in the meat world of NYC, both in food conversation and in photos of those that I follow and give a shit about. I have a feeling it will soon be here in a big way.

So let me tell you a little bit about this steak, about which I actually don’t know very much, as I have only ever tasted it a few times in its “picanha” format…

ANATOMY

In the U.S., picanha is referred to as the rump cover, rump cap or coulotte. Others call it the top sirloin cap, as it is connected to a large cap of fat that sits on top of the meat. Here, the fat is almost always removed prior to cooking, and butchers usually split this up into cuts like the rump, the round and the loin. To see my discussion of that cut (basically picanha without the ridge of fat), click HERE.

However, in South America, particularly in Brazil, where picanha is a most prized cut of beef, the fat is left on while cooking, in order to lock in juiciness and impart additional flavor into the meat.

Here’s a look at a Brazilian beef chart, which shows the anatomy of the steak cut at #8 (top right, just above the asshole, by the tail).

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As you can see from the US beef chart, things are vastly less nuanced in that area. In fact it is pretty fucking different all over the place.

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TEXTURE AND FLAVOR

The texture and flavor is similar to that of your ordinary sirloin here in the US, only with more intense flavors from the rendering of fat during the cooking processes outlined below.

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PREPARATIONS

What I’ve seen most commonly done is that the meat is left in a large roast-sized slab, seared on the outside and then cooked low and slow over open flame with the fat side up, so that the fat melts down into the flesh of the sirloin. Here is a shot of two hunks with the fat side down:

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After it comes up to rare, it is split out into slices. Then it kisses the grill for just a bit longer on it’s side to get to medium rare.

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But let’s take some advice from Chef Andre Lima De Luca on how to best prepare this delicious hunk of flesh, directly from him:

“One friend was asking me about the best way to grill picanha. In my opinion there is not THE best way, but some. My favorite, the way that i’ve been doing for years, is sealing the whole piece , and slicing it in strips before grill it again until medium or medium rare. This shot was taken before the final grilling.”

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Here it is on the cutting board, after final grilling. Some is ready for serving (left), and some is still post-hunk first-sliced (right).

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And another close up of the final product:

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That’s some pretty amazing looking beef!

As it turns out, my favorite piece of meat at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian churrascaria joint here in NYC, is picanha “top sirloin.” Here’s a shot of it from my last visit there:

Give it a shot. I guarantee you will enjoy.

Meat 201

Meat 201 is an advanced examination of the four major cuts of beef that you’re likely to see at a steakhouse. The four major cuts are Filet Mignon, Strip Steak, Porterhouse and Rib Eye. For more general information about these cuts, and for information about other cuts of beef, please see my MEAT 101 and MEAT 102 posts.

1. Porterhouse

Etymology: There is some difference of opinion on the origin of the word “Porterhouse,” with several restaurants and cities claiming to have created the name. For example, Martin Morrison served large T-bones in his Pearl Street (Manhattan) “Porter House” around 1814. This history was popular in the late 1800’s, but some say a Cambridge, Massachusetts proprietor by the name of Zachariah B. Porter added his name to the steak. Still, others argue that the Porterhouse name stems from various 19th Century U.S. hotels or restaurants called Porter House, such as the Porter House Hotel in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Anatomy: The Porterhouse is a cut of steak from the short loin portion of the animal that contains both strip loin and tenderloin meats. See the highlighted portion in the diagram below:

It is cut from a lumbar vertebra that is sawed in half through the vertebral column.

The downward prong of the “T” is a transverse process of the vertebra, and the flesh that surrounds it (spinal muscles) makes up the meat of the Porterhouse.

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Essentially, it is a large T-bone steak from the rear of the animal that has two different types of meat (tenderloin and strip loin), one on either side of the “T.” In the picture below, the strip loin or Strip Steak is on the right, and the tenderloin or Filet Mignon is on the left.

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The small semicircle at the top of the ‘T’ is half of the vertebral foramen, which is the name of the hole that passes through each vertebra for housing and protecting the spinal cord. They run the whole way up the back, all the way up to the brain of the animal.

The anatomy of a Porterhouse differs from that of a T-bone only in that the Porterhouse contains a larger portion of tenderloin than its T-bone counterpart.

This is primarily due to the fact that Porterhouse steaks are cut from further in the rear of the animal, from lumbar vertebrae, where the tenderloin is much thicker. Experts differ, however, on how large the tenderloin must be to differentiate a Porterhouse from a T-bone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications state that the tenderloin of a Porterhouse must be at least 1.25 inches thick at its widest, while that of a T-bone must be at least 0.5 inches.

Here is a shot of a short loin with multiple vertebrae still intact and not portioned out into individual Porterhouses and T-bones.

You can see on the left there is a good sized, thick portion of tenderloin. That thins down as you move the the right, and seems to disappear by time your eyes reach the far end of the cut.

Just to drive home the anatomy a little more, here is a great excerpt and image from Russ Cooks:

“Up close and personal, this is where the T-bone fits.

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photo credit: http://www.russcooks.com/images/t-bone-illustration.png

The black line across the top of the two T-bones pictured here is the outside (top of the back) of the steer. You can see the T-bone in the schematic illustration higher up on this page as the topmost part labelled Rib. Above the ribs, what you touch if you pat the steer’s back, is the New York strip. Beneath the ribs is the tenderloin from which a filet mignon is often cut. T-bone steaks cut closer to the shoulder are known as Porterhouse while those cut closer to the loin are just T-bones.”

Preparation: Most times, T-bones and Porterhouses are either grilled, seared in a pan, broiled or blasted with high heat in specialty steak ovens made for charring the outside of the meat without over-cooking the inside. Butter is essential, and heavy seasoning is important as well. Herbs and garlic help boost the flavor too.

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Flavor: Since this cut contains both the Filet Mignon and the Strip Steak, I refer you to the flavor sections for those cuts below, with a notation that the bone being left in often adds a more robust flavor while helping to retain tenderness and juiciness. These are very popular items at steakhouses because they can be cut large enough to feed anywhere from two to four people. Additionally, with two different types of meat in one steak, one can vary the flavors that one experiences with each bite.

2. Filet Mignon

Etymology: Filet, in culinary terminology, means boneless. Mignon, in French, means dainty or small. As such, this is a steak ideally suited for chicks: small/dainty, and with no bone.

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Occasionally on a steakhouse menu you will see a “bone-in filet.” Given what I just mentioned above, that phraseology is completely self-defeating and confusing, as it simultaneously means both “bone-in” and “boneless.” However, it seems this sort of language is becoming commonplace. If it were up to me, I would prefer “bone-in tenderloin” to be listed on menus instead. There is no wording conflict with that phrasing, and it is an accurate description of what is being presented. In other words: all Filet Mignon is tenderloin, but not all tenderloin is Filet Mignon.

Anatomy: Traditionally, a Filet Mignon was cut from the anterior end of the tenderloin. In the beef chart image below, you can see a portion of the tenderloin section highlighted in red.

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That is where Filet Mignon was typically located, though most butchers label all steaks cut from the tenderloin as Filet Mignon (this allows for larger portions). The tenderloins run along both sides of the spine. They taper from thick, in the posterior of the animal, to thin in the front.

In their unbutchered form, they contain what’s called the “silver skin” still attached to the flesh. This is a thick connective tissue that is pretty much inedible. When butchering the full tenderloin, you will want to slice that off (it is NOT tender).

While this next photo is a repeat shot of a lamb vertebra Barnsley chop (the mutton chop from Keen’s), the anatomy is exactly the same for beef. This will illustrate exactly where the filet comes from. Essentially this is a double porterhouse, with a filet and a strip on each side. In addition to understanding the Filet Mignon, this image is useful in demonstrating the anatomy of the Strip and Porterhouse cuts as well, since they all come from the same place – the vertebrae of the animal:

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Preparation: Preparations of this cut vary greatly. You may see this cut sliced thin and pounded flat, served raw for carpaccio. You may also see it finely chopped for tartare. A simple pan sear with butter and herbs, however, is probably the most common preparation.

Yet another style is Chateaubriand, which is a large section of the thick portion of the tenderloin that is roasted boneless, then sliced and served with a reduction sauce.

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There is also Beef Wellington, which is a portion of tenderloin that has been coated with pate and then wrapped in puff pastry dough prior to cooking.

Flavor: Widely considered the most tender and least fatty cut of beef on the animal, the flavor should be uniform from one end to the other, with very tender and soft texture the whole way through. There is hardly any fat content in the standard cut of Filet Mignon. Some chefs will wrap the filet in caul fat (a lacy, fatty, web-like membrane that surrounds the stomach of an animal) before cooking. The webbing melts away during cooking and imparts a fat flavor into the meat. But it is more common to use things like butter, or to wrap a filet in bacon to add the fat flavor into the meat.

3. Strip Steak

Etymology: According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, this steak is marketed under various names, including Ambassador Steak, Club Steak, Hotel-Style Steak, Veiny Steak, Kansas City Steak and New York Strip Steak. Delmonico’s offered Strip as a signature dish way back in the early 1800’s. Due to the cut’s association with NYC, the New York Strip Steak name was born.

Anatomy: The Strip is cut from the other side of the tenderloin, across the vertebra on the T-bone or Porterhouse.

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Also known as strip loin, the Strip Steak is cut from the short loin part of the animal, from a muscle that does little work, like the Filet Mignon. It is generally more tender than the similarly situated but more posterior-located sirloin section of the animal. While it is essentially the same kind of meat as sirloin, the muscles in the rear do a bit more work than the short loin, so can be a bit more tough.

Preparation: For me, the Strip is best at medium rare, to preserve the tenderness and reduce any mealy or grainy textures that can develop from overcooking. It is always best to get a really great quality cut for this chop, something prime+, as all the intra-muscular fat, or marbling, will become soft and the muscle will tenderize all over.  You will often see it marinated or rubbed with spices, to impart additional flavors, but grilling and broiling in the traditional style is fantastic as well, especially with butter and herbs.  It can be served bone-in or boneless. Leaving the bone in will impart more flavor and help with the cooking process, since the bone conveys heat into the center of the meat while locking in juices.  At home, marinade this puppy in something like soy sauce and garlic, and slap it on the BBQ for a few minutes on each side and you will have the perfect home-cooked steak.

Flavor: This cut contains fat in levels that are somewhat in between the tenderloin (virtually none) and the Rib Eye (plenty of good, melty fat). Like the tenderloin, there is little variation throughout the cut, so the flavors and textures are more uniform for the Strip Steak, unlike the Rib Eye which has varying textures and flavors from one end of the cut to the other. The texture of a Strip can sometimes be a little bit grainy or mealy, and a bit more tight than a Filet Mignon or a Rib Eye – especially if it’s cooked too much.

4. Rib Eye

I’ve saved the best for last. The Rib Eye is the most ultimate of steaks, period. It is an awesome cut of beef.

Etymology: The etymology on this is pretty self-explanatory. The “rib” part of the name is because this cut of meat is connected to a rib bone. The “eye” part of the name is a reference to the circular, more centrally located portion of the cut that is more uniform than the outer portions of the cut. You will likely see the Rib Eye steak, or rib chop, called by many names.

For example, the Cowboy Rib Eye is a bone-in version of the cut:

There’s also the Tomahawk Rib Eye, which is so named for its resemblance to a Tomahawk-style hatchet. When butchered, a long “handle” of rib is cut clean to expose the bone (it is “Frenched,” as they say), and the steak meat is left at the end of the handle to form the hatchet blade:

Here’s a shot of my buddy; he’s about to get clobbered with a Tomahawk Rib Eye by Chef Josh Capon at Bowery Meat Company:

There’s also the Delmonico cut, otherwise known as a Scotch Filet. Applying what you’ve learned here, you can probably guess that this cut is boneless (filet means “boneless” in French). Delmonico’s claims this cut as their own because they named a house special boneless cut Rib Eye steak after their restaurant, way back in the early 1800’s when they first opened.

Anatomy: The rib section of beef spans from ribs six through twelve, and, obviously, hails from the rib section of the animal.

Rib Eye steaks are mainly composed of the Longissimus dorsi muscle (the “eye” portion of the steak) and the Spinalis dorsi muscle.

The more anterior your cut, the more Spinalis you’ll find in the steak. The Spinalis is the coveted cap of meat that wraps around the fatter end of the steak and usually has much more marbling than the rest of the Longissimus eye, or interior of the steak. That “fat cap” is also sometimes butchered away from the remaining eye.

photo credit: http://www.acookblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/IMG_7574.jpg

Highly skilled butchers know how to remove it from its position across an entire standing rib roast section of ribs, so as to keep it all together as one giant cut. But then that ruins the rib chop, in my opinion, since you’re taking away the best part. Some steakhouses have taken to tying several Spinalis cuts together in a spiral formation to create an all-fat-cap steak. Bowery Meat Company has one such cut, which they call the Bowery Steak:

STK also offers one on special from time to time:

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The Spinalis has a more intense marbling, and, thus, much more flavor and tenderness. If you are so bold, the next time you order a Rib Eye at a steakhouse, ask for an anterior “chuck side” cut that has more of this fantastic Spinalis muscle.

Preparation: There are a ton of ways to prepare a rib steak. The most comon forms are searing in a pan, grilling, or broiling. Another common method of preparing this kind of meat is roasting. A “standing rib roast” is a section of Rib Eye steaks that has not yet been portioned into individual steaks.

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When this rack of ribs is roasted slow and low to a pink medium rare, the end product is called Prime Rib.

It then gets sliced out into portions for individual consumption. This is a mammoth cut that we got from Burger & Barrel:

I know what you’re wondering, and the answer is Yes: Prime Rib and Rib Eye steak are the same exact thing. They are just prepared differently, using different cooking methods.

Cheaper cuts of rib steaks are actually the most common type of beef found in Philly Cheesesteaks as well. The meat is cut super thin and then cooked on a flat top with cheese, onions and other toppings, then shoved into long sandwich bread (incase you’re an asshole who has no fucking clue was a cheesesteak is).

Side Bar: is a Philly Cheesesteak better than a Cheeseburger? I think so… Man… Now I’m hungry for both…

Flavor: This steak has a high fat content, and that makes it very important to have a quality cut of beef, or an aged cut of beef. In high quality and aged cuts, this fat will render out or melt away much easier during the cooking process. This will impart a tremendous amount of flavor into the steak, and it will leave the remaining flesh with a very tender and soft texture. Don’t be afraid of the fat. Fat is not the same as gristle. Fat is good. Fat is your friend. Any good butcher will get the gristle off and leave the good fat behind. And when that good fat is REALLY good, it’s like having a delicious beef jelly with each bite of steak.

As discussed above, the Rib Eye is really like having two steaks in one (The small Spinalis or fat cap, and the larger Longissimus eye). The Spinalis is soft, tender, has lots of fat flavor and sometimes develops a crisp during cooking. The eye is more dense, but still well marbled so that it retains intense flavor. The eye is more uniform than the Spinalis. So: two steaks in one, kind of like the Porterhouse. Plus, there’s a nice, meaty beef spare rib to gnaw on at the end, if you order a bone-in chop.

Since there is generally more fat and marbling in this cut across its entirety, you will get better flavors than with the tenderloin or Strip, in my opinion. Clearly, high fat content is not for everyone. If you want to avoid fats in your diet, then go with the tenderloin. I actually really enjoy the flavor of fat. Fat, now, is sometimes referred to as the sixth flavor sensation. There were always four: (1) savory, (2) sweet, (3) bitter and (4) sour. “Umami” claims to be the fifth, and is meant to encompass the earthy, funky, fermented flavor sensations that you experience with mushrooms, truffles, aged beef and blue cheese. I just dislike the word “umami,” so I use “earthy” instead. The sixth is “fat,” apparently, as decreed by various food people who get paid to sit around and do these things. I’m not sure how it works, but I seem to be able to recognize a distinct sensation on my tastebuds, along with a buttery flavor and slippery feel, whenever I eat shit like pork bone ramen or a Rib Eye steak. Maybe there’s something to it?

Anyway, I hope this was an informative and educational post for you meat minions out there. Knowing this shit, I think, is very important.

Beef Charts

Ever wonder what other products are made from beef?

Interactive Beef Infographic from Gourmet Society

From BLT Prime
From BLT Prime
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From http://holykaw.alltop.com/cuts-of-beef-infographic
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From https://imgur.com/GLkAgUi
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From http://www.businessinsider.com/beef-cuts-chart-2014-10
Kosher beef diagram
Kosher beef diagram

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Meat 102: Cuts, Anatomy & Preparation

CHECK OUT: MY BUTCHER SHOP

For those new to the world of steak, or for morons who are just not well-versed in steak lingo, this section should serve as a jumping-off point for all there is to know.  The sections that follow trace the grades and quality, the origins, anatomy and cuts, the cooking styles, and the flavors of meat.  Stop drooling and read on… ONWARD TO THE STEAK!

There are several common cuts of steak on a typical steakhouse menu.  If a steakhouse doesn’t have some of the main choices, then it needs new management, or perhaps it is not a real steakhouse.  These essential cuts are described and pictured below:

The Ribeye:
In most circles this is the true steak eaters steak; this is the real flavor of meat.  A man’s steak, possibly only rivaled by the porterhouse in testosteronic manliness.  As a connoisseur of meat eatery I will almost always go to the rib chop to really test the mettle of a steakhouse to its very bones.  It is cut from the rib of the animal, and has a circular shaped chunk of meat encased in a thin layer of gristle just off the bone.  In the center of the circle of carnivorous delight, there is ideally some good quality, melt-away marbled fat dispersed throughout.  Don’t be alarmed at this.  Good preparation of quality ribeye steaks will render the fat into a liquid – meaning the fat melt into the meat and add flavor to it.  My favorite part of the cut, however, is the outer ridge, outside the gristle and away from the bone.  This section is often several times more tender and juicy than the center of the chop, and it absorbs flavor like a sponge, so savor every bite.  Some restaurants will call the ribeye a “tomahawk steak” if the entire rib bone is left on and french cut by the butcher, since it then looks like a small hatchet.  It is common for butchers to cut the bone down a bit, however, for packaging purposes.  In its unbutchered form, it is a tear-drop shaped slab of beef containing several steaks along each rib.  French cutting exposes the bone neatly, trims away the excess and portions the ribs out into individual steaks.  The ideal way to eat a good ribeye is simply grilled or broiled with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  A favorite for home cooking is to treat it beforehand with some olive oil and garlic if the quality is not prime (standard grocery store cuts), and then cook on a high-heat gas grill or BBQ for a few minutes on each side.  Sizes and portions range from anywhere between 14oz to 36oz, most often hovering around the 20oz mark in restaurants.  Often times it is seen served boneless, bone-in but with a shortened bone, or roasted whole and sliced as “prime rib” with some juices.

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The Filet Mignon:
The Filet Mignon, meaning cute or dainty filet, is essentially a tube of “tenderloin” meat that runs along the spine of a steer.  There isn’t much of it per animal, so it is coveted by meat enthusiasts, and therefore often expensive.  It is possibly the most lean, tender part of the animal, so it makes for a great steak.  This is the meat of aristocrats.  Carnivore connoisseurs will argue tirelessly over which is the most flavorful cut – the ribeye or the filet.  My personal opinion is that the ribeye offers the most flavor, but the filet consistently offers the best quality cut of beef.  Cooking a filet at home can present a challenge in avoiding uneven distribution of color, since, to get a large enough portion size, the meat often has to be cut thick.  The outside can be overdone and the inside underdone.  Masterful meat mongers and manipulators know how to get the job done, however, so have no fear.  Sizes range from 6-8oz petit filets (sometimes served alongside lobster for a “surf & turf” meal) to 10oz-12oz standard filets.  The term filet actually means boneless, but there is a trend lately to leave a portion of a nearby bone attached to the filet to impart a more rich flavor to the meat.  Hence the self-defeating, paradoxical “Bone-in Filet” verbiage you may see on a menu.  Common modes of preparation are roasted with a sauce (sometimes whole, banquet style after the tough “silver skin” is removed, as done with chateau briand), grilled, or broiled.  More recently masterful chefs have surmounted the problem of uneven cooking and temperature distribution by using the sous vide cooking method.  Raw preparations include tartar (finely chopped) and carpaccio (thinly sliced and pounded/tenderized), usually served chilled and drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with fresh herbs and garnished with micro greens and shaved hard cheese (such as parmigiano).  The raw preparations are my favorite, and often times show up as an appetizer on steakhouse menus.  Nothing better than getting ready to eat a grilled steak by… eating some raw steak!

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The Strip Steak:
The strip steak is most often called the NY Strip, and often times called the Kansas City strip.  But screw that city.  New York is king.  It may also be seen as a “shell steak” but that term is often associated with lower quality cuts  The strip is cut from the short loin, from a muscle that does little work, like the filet.  It contains fat in levels that are somewhat in between the tenderloin (virtually none) and the ribeye (plenty of good, melty fat), and has flavors and textures that are more uniform throughout, unlike the ribeye which has varying textures.  For me, the Strip is best at medium or medium rare, to preserve the tenderness, and at a really great quality, something prime+.  Generally I will try the strip at a steakhouse only after I have tried the ribeye.  You will often see it marinated or rubbed with spices, to impart additional flavors, but grilling and broiling in the traditional style is fantastic as well.  It can be served bone in or boneless.  Leaving the bone in will impart more flavor and help with the cooking process, since the bone conveys heat into the center of the meat while locking in juices.  At home, marinade this puppy in something like soy sauce and garlic, and slap it on the BBQ for a few minutes on each side and you will have the perfect home-cooked steak.

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The Porterhouse:
Quite simply, the porterhouse is two steaks in one, a strip on one side, and a filet on the other, separated by a bone – the vertibrae.  This is why you will often see it served “for two” – meaning two people – because they can be quite large (anywhere from 24oz to 48oz for a single portion, to more for multiple people).  But screw that – eat it all yourself and be a man.  Sharing is for assholes and pussies anyway.  The porterhouse for two is often served on a steaming hot plate right out of the broiler, pre-sliced while it is still on the rare side, and then allowed to cook the rest of the way on the hot plate as you shove slice after delicious slice into your mouth and down your esophagus after dipping your meat in its own juices and masticating.

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Want more info on those four cuts of beef? Check out Meat 201.

Below are some other cuts less commonly seen on steakhouse menus, though some are becoming more popular lately.  If a steakhouse doesn’t have all these items, they don’t need to close up shop.  However, I feel that every chop house should have at least the four main cuts above and perhaps Something from below: one or two preparations maybe, just to have some other options.

The T-bone:
After a certain stretch of vertibrae, the size of the tenderloin part of the Porterhouse gets smaller, and the strip side gets a little tougher, so the cuts are no longer considered top quality porterhouse, but, instead, standard T-bone steaks.  They are often cut thin and flash fried or grilled.  You don’t see them on steakhouse menus often, since they are not top quality, but they still have a lot of flavor and can be creatively prepared.

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The Flank:
The flank is cut from the abdominal muscles. It is broad, long and flat with heavy striations or grain in the meat. As such it is much tougher than the other beef cuts, and therefore moist cooking methods such as braising are often used.  It can also be quickly seared in a hot pan and eaten on the rare side to maintain tenderness. Flank steak is best when it has a bright red color. Because it comes from a well-exercised part of the animal, it is best prepared and eaten when cut across the bias or grain in the meat. Most stir-fried beef dishes and fajitas are prepared with this cut of beef (cut into small pieces and tenderized heavily). Other preparations include marinating or service with a chimichurri sauce.

The Skirt:
Skirt steak is not vagina.  It is a long, flat, striated cut loved for its bold flavor. The outside skirt steak is the trimmed, boneless portion of the diaphragm muscle. This is covered in a tough membrane that should be removed before cooking. The inside skirt steak is a boneless portion of the flank trimmed free of fat and membranes. Skirt steak is also used for making fajitas, stir-fry dishes, and Bolognese Sauce. To minimize their toughness, skirt steaks are either grilled or pan-seared very quickly with high heat or cooked very slowly on low heat, typically braised, like the Flank. Similarly, because of their strong graining, skirt steak is sliced across the grain for maximum tenderness. To aid in tenderness and flavor, they are also often marinated. The skirt steak is sometimes called Roumanian steak. It is commonly grilled or barbecued whole, sometimes served with a chimichurri sauce.

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Located near the flank and the skirt is also the Bavette cut.

The Hanger:
Sometimes known as “butcher’s steak” because butchers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale, the hanger is derived from the diaphragm. Hanger steak resembles flank steak in texture and flavor. It is a vaguely V-shaped pair of muscles with a long, inedible membrane down the middle. The hanger steak is best marinated and cooked quickly over high heat (grilled or broiled) and served rare or medium-rare, to avoid toughness. Anatomically, the hanger steak is said to “hang” from the diaphragm of the steer. The diaphragm is one muscle, commonly cut into two separate cuts of meat: the “hanger steak” traditionally considered more flavorful, and the outer skirt steak composed of tougher muscle within the diaphragm. Occasionally seen on menus as a “bistro steak”, hanger steak is generally marinated, grilled and served with chimichurri sauce.  it can also be used for tacos or fajitas with a squeeze of lime juice, guacamole, and salsa.

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The Shank:
The shank is the upper leg. Due to the constant use of this muscle by the animal it tends to be tough, so is best when cooked for a long time in moist heat, such as a braise. As it is very lean, it is widely used to prepare very low-fat ground beef.  Beef shank is a common ingredient in soups and stock.

The Sirloin:
Sirloin is a steak cut from the rear back portion of the animal, continuing off the short loin from which T-bone, porterhouse, and club steaks are cut. The sirloin is actually divided into several types of steak. The top sirloin is the most prized of these. The bottom sirloin is less tender, much larger, and is typically what is offered when one just buys sirloin steaks instead of steaks specifically marked top sirloin. When the fat cap is left on this cut, it is called picanha in many south american countries.

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The Flatiron:
Flatiron steak is from the shoulder and is usually 8oz to 12oz. They usually have a significant amount of marbling and can be very tender. It has become popular at upscale restaurants to serve flatirons from Wagyu beef, as a way for chefs to offer more affordable and profitable dishes featuring Wagyu or Kobe beef. It is also commonly referred to as a top blade steak, or an oyster blade steak (sometimes cut across the grain instead of along the seam of connective tissue that runs through the middle).

Photo credit @thefullerone on Instagram.
Photo credit @thefullerone on Instagram.

Directly beneath this cut is where you will find your Teres Major, or shoulder tender steak. You can also find the Denver Cut within the chuck shoulder as well.

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Beef Short Ribs:
Beef short ribs are chunks of meat from along the ribs that are highly marbled with fat.  Improper cooking can lead to tough texture.  Often you will see “braised beef rib” on a menu.  This is basically cooked in liquid, slow and low, until the thicker fat melts away, leaving you with extremely tender and soft, flavor infused meat.  Some grocery stores, and asian markets in particular, have short ribs that are cut thin (a quarter to a half inch thick), sometimes with two or three cross sections of rib bones embedded within.  The best way to prepare these thin cuts is to soak them in a marinade and then grill on high heat for a minute or two on each side.

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Spare Ribs:
Spare ribs are the most inexpensive cut ribs. They are a long cut from the lower portion of the animal, specifically the belly and breastbone, behind the shoulder. There is a covering of meat on top of the bones as well as between them.

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Brisket:
Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest. These muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing/moving cattle. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize the connective tissue. Slow and moist cooking methods are most common, utilizing spice rubs or marinades, then cooking slowly over indirect heat from charcoal or wood. This is a form of smoking the meat. Additional basting of the meat is often done during the cooking process. This normally tough cut of meat becomes extremely tender brisket, despite the fact that the cut is usually cooked well beyond what would normally be considered “well done”. The fat cap often left attached to the brisket helps to keep the meat from over-drying during the prolonged cooking necessary to break down the connective tissue in the meat. Water is necessary for the process. The finished meat is a variety of barbecue. Other methods of preparation usually include braising or boiling for long periods of time, such as pot roast or corned beef, and sometimes spicing for making pastrami.

Chuck:
The typical chuck steak is a rectangular cut, about 1″ thick and containing parts of the shoulder bones. This cut is usually grilled, broiled or cooked with liquid as a pot roast. The bone-in chuck steak or roast is one of the more economical cuts of beef. It is particularly popular for use as ground beef, due to its richness of flavor and balance of meat and fat. The average meat market cuts thick and thin chuck steaks from the neck and shoulder, but some markets also cut it from the center of the cross-rib portion. Short ribs are cut from the lip of the roll. The chuck contains a lot of connective tissue which partially melts during cooking. Meat from the chuck is usually used for stewing, slow cooking, braising, or pot roasting.

The Chopped Steak:
Essentially a large hamburger; it is chopped meat or ground beef.

Meat 101: Basic Terminology

Marbling: Refers to the quality and look of the intra-muscular fat that is, ideally, evenly dispersed within the meat.

Choice: High quality, widely available beef (top 54% quality).

Prime: Highest in quality and marbling, limited supply (top 3% quality).

Certified Angus Beef (CAB): A program founded by breeders in an effort to certify that Angus cattle have consistent, high-quality beef with superior taste. The terms Angus Beef or Black Angus are loosely and commonly misused or confused with CAB in the food service industry. CAB cannot be legally used by an establishment that is not licensed to do so.

Wagyu: A term used to describe 4 Japanese breeds of cattle that are genetically predisposed to intense marbling of fat. For more info on this delicious shit, see THIS POST. There’s also two grading scales WITHIN the world of Wagyu. First is a letter and number pairing: A, B, or C and 1-5 within each grade, with A5 being the most marbled and C1 being the least. Then there is the BMS (Beef Marbling Standard) scale of 1-12. The best quality you can get in the US is A5 BMS 11. When it’s on a menu, it’s pretty fucking expensive, and usually sold by the ounce.

Kobe: Basically, this is beef from drunk, fat, happy Japanese cows, or so the myth goes. Under japanese law, Kobe beef is a very specific product from a specific place, from one breed of cattle, with very strict rules. It is said that the cattle are hand-fed using high-energy feed, including beer and beer mash, to ensure tenderness and high fat content. The cattle are also hand-massaged to reduce stress. I guess its only fair to pamper them if we are going to slice them up and grill them! NOTE that REAL Kobe beef is NOT available in the USA, so if you see it on a menu, understand that it is a knock off (though probably still very good) from a place other than Japan. For more info on this delicious shit, see THIS POST.

Grass-Fed: Cattle that have been raised exclusively on forage.

Grain-Fed: Cattle raised primarily on forage, but “finished” in a feedlot with grains to fatten them. Also known as “Grain-Finished.”

Certified Organic: Beef that’s labeled as such comes from animals whose production must meet a set of USDA standards. These animals are not allowed to receive any antibiotics or growth promotants, and can only be fed organic grass or grain. Certain vitamins, minerals and vaccines are allowed to keep the livestock healthy. Organically raised cattle may be finished in feeding operations but they must have access to pasture and be fed only organic feedstuffs.

Antibiotic-Free: It is a law that producers must wait a certain amount of time after administering an antibiotic before an animal can be slaughtered for consumption, to ensure that no traces of the antibiotic remains within the beef. These “withdrawl times” are strictly monitored and vary from 0-60 days based on the substance being administered. That means you can be confident that there are no antibiotics in the flesh of the meat you buy at stores or restaurants. Despite that safety assurance, U.S. consumer concern about using antibiotics in animal feed has led to a niche market of products with specialty labels. “Never ever” means that the animal was never given an antibiotic, for example, throughout its entire lifetime. Other labels tout the fact that the animal was not given any antibiotics in the last 60 days of it’s life, or from various points of its life cycle onward.

Dry Aged: After the animal is slaughtered and cleaned, cuts will be placed in a cooler. The beef must be stored near freezing temperatures. Also, only the higher grades of meat can be dry aged, as the process requires meat with a large, evenly distributed fat content. For these reasons one seldom sees dry-aged beef outside of steak restaurants and upscale butcher shops. The key effect of dry aging is the concentration of flavor. The process changes beef by two means. First, moisture is evaporated from the muscle. This creates a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste. Second, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which leads to more tenderness. The process of dry-aging usually also promotes growth of certain fungal mold species on the external surface of the meat. This doesn’t cause spoilage, but actually forms an external “crust” on the meat’s surface, which is trimmed off when the meat is prepared for cooking. These fungal species complement the natural enzymes in the beef by helping to tenderize, enhance and increase the flavor of the meat. Dry aging of beef is rare in super-markets in the United States today, due to the significant loss of weight in the aging process. Dry-aging can take 15–28 days, sometimes purposely done for longer periods of time, and will see up to a third or more of the weight lost as evaporated moisture.

Wet Aged: Wet-aged beef is beef that has typically been aged in a vacuum-sealed bag to retain its moisture. This is the dominant mode of aging beef in the United States today. Wet-aging is popular because it takes less time (typically only a few days) and none of the weight is lost in the process.

Broiled: Heat source from above, preferably an open flame.

Grilled: Heat source from below, preferably a flame heating a metal grill.

Seared: Cooked on a hot flat usually metal surface, like in a pan.

Sous Vide: Cooked in a sealed bag that is submerged in a temperature controlled bath of hot water.

Confit: Cooked slowly at low temperatures while submerged in liquified fat or oil.

Braised: Cooked slowly at low temperatures in a reducing liquid such as wine or broth.

Roasted/Rotisserie: Cooked slowly in surrounding heat, such as in an oven or over a pit, often rotated on a spit to ensure even contact with the heat source on all sides of the meat throughout the cooking process.

Fried: Cooked in hot oil or fat/lard.

Well Done: Grey throughout.

Medium Well: Slightly pink center, thick grey edges.

Medium: Pink center, grey edges.

Medium Rare: Pink throughout with slightly red center, seared edges.

Rare: Red center, pink edges with a sear on the outside.

Black & Blue: Nearly raw.