Seasonal Buys at the Meat Market
You may have noticed during the summer months that roasts,
stew meat and short ribs were priced at a more reasonable price than in the
seasons just past. By the same token you'll notice, now that we're firmly in
winter's grips, steak prices have dropped by 50% or more. Why? Because meat,
especially beef cuts are seasonal purchases. The cuts we crave at present
(roasts, stew meats, and short ribs) are in higher demand with cold weather.
Steaks, which are primarily served grilled are no longer 'in season'. Luckily,
in the South, we can grill nearly year round. We take full advantage of steak
being bargain priced.
During the summer months the average cost of rib eye and t-bone steaks were
$10.99/pound. Now we see these prices reduced to as low as $3.99/pound. Take
advantage of these price cuts and stock your freezer for summer grilling. Most
beef cuts may be frozen for up to 12 months without a loss of flavor.
I think $3.99 is a great price for steak but, except for rare occasions, I
continue to stick a bit closer to my personal budget limit. In the past few
months it's become apparent I'll have to raise my limit from $2/pound to
$2.75/pound. I don't like having to make the jump but if I don't we'll have to
eat far more chicken than I can stand. So up the budget goes.
Now if I want steak at the prices I've budgeted for meat, I've got to look
beyond premium cuts. I have options, but am often confused by names. What is
chuck steak for instance, or skirt steak? Both are in the grocer's meat case but
I'm not familiar enough with these less expensive cuts to be sure I'm getting
good value for my money.
And then there's properly cooking each cut of meat, so we get maximum flavor,
tenderness, and that good value stays a good value. Most steak cuts are best if
cooked just to medium. The meat will continue to cook a little beyond that once
removed from the heat source, but some pinkness is necessary. None of these less
expensive cuts are truly tasty if cooked well done. They dry out and become
This is what my research this week has taught me:
Blade steak is the most tender of the inexpensive cuts. It has great flavor, but
does have a tough connective tissue down the middle which may be removed. Grill
or broil, it's the fast cooking that is necessary to keep this cut tender.
Chuck steaks are cut from the shoulder and include the above mentioned blade
steaks. They have good texture and flavor but can be fibrous. Braise, broil or
roast and marinate to tenderize. To braise, sear meat well on both sides, then
add a small amount of liquid to the pan and cover well. Lower heat to simmer and
cook until tender.
The Chuck steaks include:
Blade, chuck, Arm, 7-Bone, Mock Tender, Chuck Eye or Beauty, Shoulder, and Under
The Round sections are from the hind leg and are less tender than loin. Good
texture and flavor come from these cuts. The Round section includes: Top Round,
Rump, Bottom Round, Round Tip, Eye of Round, and Cube.
Top Round is the most tender portion of the round, though not as tender as
loin/sirloin cuts. The meat is very flavorful. May marinate or use dry spice
rubs for added flavor.
Bottom Round is more chewy, and is somewhat improved in tenderness by
Round Tip is often sold as Sirloin Tip, but is NOT sirloin! Flavor and chewiness
are similar to that of the Bottom Round. Slice thinly for excellent stir fry
meats. My local butcher also recommends this cut for cubed steak. He says to ask
the butcher to slice and cube three times for maximum tenderness.
Rump or Cube is the chewy part of the round. Cubing partially dices the steak to
cut fibrous connective tissues, considerably tenderizing the cut.
Eye of Round is great as a roast, but makes very tough steaks. Braise these for
best eating flavor and texture.
Skirt steaks are cut from the diaphragm or chest area. It is fattier than flank
steak and so more tender. It has a richer beef flavor than the round or sirloin
cuts. It may also be marked as 'Fajita Steak' in your meat market. Rolled and
stuffed, or cooked flat, this cut is best cooked by broiling quickly. Marinate
Flank steak is cut from just below the loin/sirloin. This is a lean, flat,
boneless steak with good flavor and tough texture. Cook quickly and be sure to
let it cook no further than medium rare! Slice thin across grain. Does well for
marinating, pan frying or broiling. Warning: if you do not cut across the grain
or insist on cooking until well done, you'll spend a lot of time trying to eat
this cut. It becomes considerably tougher.
Sirloin vary considerably. Cut from the rump portion of the beef. Sirloin may be
a bit tougher than other loin cuts. Cuts from this portion are: Pin Bone
Sirloin, Flat Bone, Round Bone, Wedge Bone. Boneless cuts are sometimes called
Rump or Butt Steak. Best cuts are known as Top Sirloin steaks. Generally other
sirloin steaks are leaner and therefore less tender. Best cooked by cooking
quickly by grilling or broiling.
Boneless Top sirloin is best flavored of the cuts, but chewy. This is a risky
purchase if you're wanting a guaranteed tenderness.
Top Sirloin Cap steaks are smaller, and may also be called Culotte steak. Pan
fry or grill. Marinating does help tenderize.
Sirloin Tri-Tip is cut from the bottom portion and is leaner than the top
sirloin but has good flavor. It must be at least 3/4" thick and cooked to only
medium done or the steak will dry out.
Minute steak is a very thin cut of steak. Your butcher may mark it as Breakfast
steak. It is boneless and cut from the sirloin or eye of round section.
Below is a handy visual chart for identifying the various cuts:
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