Let me begin this beef manifesto by stating the obvious: I love steak.
When you love something, you can either hide it or share it. I’m going to share it as much as I can.
For the last week, I’ve been cutting and slinging meat like dope at work for 9 hours a day. Each night, I’d come home from work, and in spite of my exhausted stupor, I’d light a chimney of charcoal and cook a steak. Yes, every night. I’ve been eating like Ron Swanson. Don’t worry, you health conscious hippies, I had salad on the side.
Believe it or not, I actually had a reason for my questionable nightly diet.
I wanted to find the best of the best in respect to affordable steak, and actually compare them, not just to their wallet friendly companions, but to real, honest to god, premium steaks. The verdict: “premium” is 65% reputation and 35% actual consumer value. Name a premium steak, and I’ll name one that when cut by someone who knows what they’re doing is at least 99% as good, and in some cases superior, for a fraction of the cost. For my “tests” I used the default grade of beef from my place of work- USDA Choice.
What we have in the below photos is a Denver steak. Never heard of it? Well that’s because it’s a fairly new cut. Previously, it had been cut as part of one of the most popular pot style roasts in the US. The roast in question has a reputation for being tougher than a gunny sack full of nails unless it’s cooked for a long period of time. The portion of that roast that is now being cut into Denver steaks is most definitely not tough, not even a little. It’s a hair below a New York strip or a Ribeye in tenderness. Additionally, it has a huge advantage over the former: there’s not one single part of it that you wouldn’t want to chew. While I will occasionally indulge in a 30 day dry age NY, I find the membranous parameter fat to be unsettling at best in the chew-ability department.
Remember, this isn’t just a plugging session for the Denver cut, I’m on an animal protein fueled mission.
Now you have to be wondering how much did this steak obsessed week cost me? Well, consider the fact that I bought enough steak to share with my family in some instances.
I spent a grand total of $43 before my employee discount.
That’s 11 steaks in total. I still have four steaks left (two short rib steaks and two Denver steaks).
To wrap up this beef pow-wow we’re having, I’ll close with a list of steaks I’ve tested and their premium equivalent, in no particular order:
1. The Denver steak. This one is most comparable to the New York Strip. It has a higher amount of marbling on average compared to the NY, and it’s tenderness is far more consistent throughout.
2. The Chuck Eye. This guy is a little more well known than the rest. He’s actually a ribeye, in technical terms, who’s been separated from his kin upon the splitting between the chuck and loin portions of the steer. If you get a tough chuck eye, it’s likely due to a meat cutter getting carried away cutting them from the chuck. An inch too far is the transition of tender steak to meat leather. I stick with the first two inches of the chuck, no more, no less. Obviously, it’s most comparable to a Ribeye.
3. The Flat Iron steak. Upsides: great flavor, insanely tender. Downsides: nearly impossible to find in a pinch (like most on this list), and an absolute nightmare for the uninitiated to cut. The flat iron is only second in tenderness to Filet Mignon, and it’s significantly more flavorful. It’s also only available at whatever natural thickness it has, because of the shape of the muscle it’s cut from.
4. The Short Rib steak. I could have just called it “short ribs”, but in its basic form with the bones attached, it’s more of a rack than a steak. A competent meat cutter can remove the meat from the bone in a snap, creating something classifiable as steak. There’s not a premium counterpart to a short rib steak, but I will say this: it’s freakin’ delicious. The average marbling in short ribs are off the charts and the tenderness is quite serviceable, right on par with the Denver cut in the latter respect.
5. The Picanha Steak. This one sort of bridges the gap between a Top Sirloin and a New York, but it’s marginally more tender than both. Also incredible in a whole roast form, it’s simply known as Picanha in Argentina and Brazil. Picanha quite literally translates Tri-Tip, but it’s miles ahead in almost every respect compared to the California type of tri-tip (I sell it as Argentine Style Tri-Tip, more simple to pronounce for Americans). Brazilians and Argentines are meat cutting legends, even if this cut was the only thing they could take credit for. I’m not quite sure which of the two pioneered the cut.
Now if you’ve made it this far, find one of these cuts or a meat cutter who’s willing to try his hand at cutting one for you, and enjoy some dirt cheap yet delicious beef.
Thanks to guest contributor Christopher Ward for this article.