Although taste is a matter of individual preference, the juiciness and tenderness are imperative to the enjoyment of your steak. A great steak starts with finding a good beef cut. Each segment of the beef lifecycle is important as it determines the quality of steak and the way it gets from pasture to plate. It is important to know the quality of steak you are taking home if you want to have the best dining experience whether you are looking for a tender cut for a holiday roast or a lean cut for a family dinner. This article looks at several ways to rate the quality of your steak.
- A quality grade is determined by the composite evaluation of factors that affect the tenderness, flavor, and juiciness of steak. USDA Prime is considered the highest quality of beef because it contains a lot of marbling. It is followed by USDA Choice and Select which have less marbling than Prime. Marbling refers to the visible unsaturated fat between the muscle fiber bundles. Marbled fat appears white at chiller temperatures and becomes less obvious once the unsaturated fats start to melt when exposed to heat or room temperature. The presence of marbling has a positive effect on the quality of steak in terms of juiciness, tenderness, and flavor. The less muscle fiber and collagen make the meat easier to chew leading to a greater flavor release.
- The age of the cattle contributes a great deal to the palatability and quality of steak. Younger cuts often have the highest price tag because they produce better steak quality than older cuts. Animals are divided into categories based on their age. It is considered young if it ranges between 18 months and 3 years and mature from 3 to 4 years. Cattle that go beyond 4 years are classified in the economy category. There is a large difference in the quality of meat derived from cattle as it significantly depends on the age, breeding, feeding, and management during their lifecycle.
- Cuts of Steak
- Steak cuts can be divided into three sections that include the sirloin, short loin, and the rib. The rib contains the least tender cuts of the three, which are the rib-eye steak, rib roast, and back ribs. The top sirloin and sirloin steak are derived from the sirloin section. Other common cuts of steak such as the porterhouse, tenderloin, T-bone, and top loin steak are all derived from the short loin. Tenderloin is the most tender cut of beef but is not as juicier as the rib-eye steak. The section where different cuts of steak are extracted determines its palatability when it comes to its tenderness and flavor.
- Dry Aging
- Aging is the amount of time allowed for beef to tenderize after slaughter. Beef cuts can be aged between 5 to 35 days depending on the method of preservation and how long you intend to age it. Dry aging refers to meat that is aged before eating, unlike fresh steak, which is usually prepared when it is red and full of moisture. Dry aging is a skill practiced by high-end steakhouses making it difficult to try it out at home. However, they prevent the meat from going bad by storing it in strict conditions that have a controlled level of moisture and bacteria. Dry aging draws out all the moisture from steak making it beefier and more flavorful. The longer the time allowed for dry aging, the more tender and flavorful the beef cut will be.
- Cooking Method
- The quality of steak can also be rated based on its method of preparation or doneness as it influences the resulting flavor, juiciness, and tenderness of the steak. Some of the common examples of steak doneness include rare, medium-rare, medium, and well-done steak. A rare steak is only cooked for one minute on both sides making it cooked on the outside but raw on the inside. Medium rare is firm, soft, pink, and juicy on the inside. If you are not a fan of bloody steaks, then medium done steak might be the best for you as it is slightly juicy on the inside but firm on the outside. A well-done steak is an obvious choice for people who like their food cooked through and through.
Having an idea of how to rate the quality of your steak allows you to choose the best beef cuts that translate to a better dining experience. Although you can purchase the best grade or beef cut from the market, the overall taste and flavor will depend on the method of preparation. You can always trim off excess fat or eat lean unprocessed meat if you want to reduce your intake of saturated fats.