A guide to different cuts and how to prepare and cook them

It’s really down to the individual what a perfect steak is – some like it blue, some medium, medium-well and dear I say it, some like it well done.

Then there’s tenderness, fat content, thickness, seasoning

So, I’m not going to tell you how you like your steak but I can give you some insight into what I’ve learnt from chatting to friends in the trade, reading up on it and of course, experimenting in the kitchen and on the barbecue myself.

It’s a science…

Surprisingly, for what seems like a simple thing to cook, it’s been quite a learning curve.

But an enjoyable one at that. And it turns out… it is more of a science.

Which makes sense because you’re trying to balance the type of cut with the method of cooking, the level of heat, the correct time to season, when to add butter, understanding the maillard reaction…

So, when you’ve made the decision to treat yourself to a nice piece of (quality) steak, it’s only right that you prepare your steak with the love and attention to deserves.

Seasoning steak for reverse searing
Getting the timing of seasoning is key
But where do you start??…

What are the different cuts? What do you want in a steak? How do you prepare it? How do you season it? How do you cook it …?

Of course we already understand how important it is to know where your meat has come fromquality and animal welfare go hand-in-hand and that in turn, means flavour and tenderness.

With that in mind (and by no means is this a fully comprehensive list of all the cuts out there), here are some of my favourites.

Which cut and how do you cook it
Fillet
  • Melt in the mouth fillet steak is the leanest cut available, hardly surprising as it’s least used muscle. What it lacks in fat and marbling it makes up for in tenderness.
  • Fillet is very quick to cook (on a high heat) and makes a real treat for anyone who loves a juicy lean, utterly tender steak for dinner. 
  • Larger pieces of fillet can be used to make dishes like beef Wellington (if you’re brave enough). It’s cooked in the oven for longer.
Rib-eye steak
  • Cut from the fore rib. The beefiest tasting steak of all with an incredibly rich flavour.
  • The streaks of fat that run through the meat add plenty of flavour.
  • And the central nugget of fat should be rendered down during cooking to add to the rich flavour of the rib-eye.
  • On a high heat, a steak about 2 cms or more thick, should take two to three minutes each side plus the all important resting time of at least three minutes.
Rump
  • Comes from the bum side of a cow — the region which works hardest – so the meat’s not as tender as fillet or sirloin but the flavours still pack a bigger punch.
  • Rump is nice dry-aged for longer to tenderise and power-up those flavours
  • It’s also a good choice for kebabs or skewers (marinades hang onto it well), or take a thick piece and flash-fry then slice it thin, against the grain, and serve with a simple salsa verde.
Sirloin steak
  • The king of steaks. It has the perfect balance of fat and tenderness and lies somewhere between a rump and fillet with its texture and flavours.
  • Traditionally aged adds more depth and flavour.
  • Should be cooked in similar way to rib-eye, allowing the fat to melt into the meat i.e. flash fry or griddle.
Rump Cap (Picanha rump steak)
  • Also known as prime rump, sirloin cap, rump cap, rump fillet or rump pave.
  • It’s a succulent and tender cut from the rump that’s very popular in South America.
  • To serve as a steak, cut across the grain and keep the fat on.  And on a barbecue for a fantastic smoky flavour.
Feather blade
  • It’s also known as Butler’s Steak, Flatiron Steak or Oyster Blade Steak.
  • The Feather blade is not a well-known cut and it’s not an expensive cut which is a great bonus.
  • Believe it or not it’s the second tenderest cut of beef. Second only to fillet. It’s great, all the tenderness of fillet and all the flavour of rump.
  • It comes from the shoulder blade, has a very short grain, fine marbling, is extremely tender and juicy and packs a sweet flavour.  
  • Flash fry it rare or medium-rare to bring out the natural sweetness in a very hot pan. Then let it rest after cooking so the juices can re-absorb and you’ll get a lovely tender juicy steak. 
  • Also, it’s great braising steak or slow cooking
What to look for in a steak
Marbling
  • Marbling is the intramuscular fat that accumulates within the muscle and between the muscle fibre.
  • No fat, no flavour! The more marbling, the higher the quality of the meat. As the meat cooks and it melts away, the meat becomes more tender, moist and juicy and infuses the meat with rich flavours.

TIP marbling should be a creamy white. If it’s brown or yellow then it’s a sign of old, dry meat.

Colour
  • Deep maroon red.
  • Most people think beef should be pillar box red or rich pink, like the stuff you get in supermarket meat.
  • (That’s only because supermarkets pack their meat in inert gasses to keep it looking red for longer. As soon as you open the pack – and it’s exposed to oxygen – it’ll start to turn maroon).
Moisture
  • The cut should be moist; not wet or sticky, nor soft or mushy.
Cooking Tips
  • Before you start: Always bring your meat to room temperature before cooking.
  • Timings: Understand how long you need to cook your steak i.e. how thick is it, type of cut.
  • Salt: Salt draws out all the moisture to the surface but then the meat can reabsorb moisture back in, given the correct seasoning timings. So;
    • Salt immediately before cooking. This means the salt won’t draw out too much moisture and delay the Maillard reaction
    • OR...
    • Don’t salt less than 45 minutes prior to cooking i.e. it’s either, literally, just before it goes into the pan or season for a long time. Check out my post on reverse searing.
  • Maillard Reaction: This is the chemical reaction which occurs between amino acids and sugars due to heat.
    • It results in the browning of food and forms new aromas and flavours.
    • It’s not the same as caramelisation which is just the breakdown of sugars due to heat.
  • Butter: Add butter after the Maillard Reaction has occurred.
  • Resting: Rest your meat! For a steak 10 minutes is the minimum. Let those juices absorb back into it!
Cooking steak
No matter where you are, the same rules apply. Here’s Ma Clark on a NZ beach, cooking up a storm!

I hope you enjoy trying some new cuts and find your favourite steak.

Are there any other cuts you think we should include or any additional tips on cooking your favourite steak? Drop me line or leave a comment

References:

Freybors
PRIME: The Beef Cookbook
Steak School
Weber US