A Guide to Steak: From Cuts to Cooking

For meat lovers, there’s no treat quite like cutting into a juicy, tender, cooked-just-right steak. But with so many different cuts of steak available, how do you know which to buy? Can you cook every steak the same way? Let’s answer those questions and more to ensure you end up with the cut that’s right for you, cooked to juicy perfection. Most steaks come from the short loin, the tenderloin and the ribs, which contain more fat (the “marbling” you see in a steak) and are the most juicy, flavorful and tender. These cuts tend to be the most expensive, but for the ultimate steak experience, it’s worth it. Other less-expensive cuts are also delicious when prepared correctly; most need the help of a marinade or tenderizer to counteract the tougher texture of these cuts.

When choosing a steak, here’s what to look for:

  • Rich pink color and a moist, but not wet, appearance
  • Evenly cut edges
  • Firm and cold to the touch
  • Little to no liquid in pre-packaged steak; this can indicate it’s been frozen and thawed
  • Good marbling—thin lines and small flecks of fat—throughout

Cuts and Methods of Cooking

Let’s talk about specific cuts, what they offer and how they’re best prepared. Of course, budget is a consideration, too. If you’re celebrating something, or just hankering for a true steakhouse experience, you’ll probably want to splurge on one of these:

Let’s talk about specific cuts, what they offer and how they’re best prepared. Of course, budget is a consideration, too. If you’re celebrating something, or just hankering for a true steakhouse experience, you’ll probably want to splurge on one of these:

Ribeye: Ribeye steaks have a high fat content, so they stay tender and juicy even if cooked a little too long. Wonderful grilled, pan-fried or broiled, ribeyes are sold both boneless and bone-in.

Tenderloin: You might know this cut by the name filet mignon or just filet. As the name implies, this is your tender, “could cut it with a butter knife” steak. Tenderloin steaks are small so are usually thicker. For best results, sear tenderloin on both sides, then finish it in the oven.

New York Strip: Also known as top sirloin or top loin, strip steaks aren’t as tender as tenderloin or ribeye steaks, but they boast the deep beefy flavor steak lovers crave. Prepare a strip steak on the grill, broiled or pan seared.

Porterhouse: This flavorful steak with a bone down the middle is tenderloin on one side of the bone strip steak on the other. When the tenderloin portion is just half an inch wide, this cut is sold as a T-bone. Because the tenderloin section will cook faster than the strip portion, cooking this cut evenly can be tricky. On the grill, keep the tenderloin further away from the flame; in the broiler, position the pan so that it’s not directly under the heating element.

For less formal meals or when serving a larger crowd, consider one of these more economical steak cuts:

Flank Steak: Also known as London broil, this steak has little fat and lengthwise fibers. For the best flavor and tenderness, marinate flank steak before grilling or broiling. Cook quickly at high heat, then cut thin slices against the grain.

Skirt Steak: A long, thin piece of beef with fibers running across the width of the meat, skirt steak has a good “beefy” flavor. Like flank steak, they should be marinated before grilling or broiling.

Tri-tip Steak: Though much less expensive than prime cuts of steak, the tri-tip is very flavorful, well marbled and tender as long as it’s not overcooked. If you like your meat cooked medium or well done, you’ll want to marinate your tri-tip steak so it stays tender and juicy despite a longer cooking time. Tri-tip steak is perfect for the grill or pan searing.

This isn’t a complete list of every steak cut available, and it’s important to note that names can differ from region to region. Some cuts even have multiple aliases (e.g., the tri-tip might be called California, Santa Maria or triangle steak). Talk to the butcher in the meat department to clear things up or answer any questions about the different steak varieties. They are a wealth of information!

Cooking to Perfection

It seems that many people think their way of cooking a steak is the best way. If you check online, you’ll see that there is no 100% consensus. Salt before cooking or after? Let it rest after taking it off the grill or not? In general, though, most would agree that steak should be cooked quickly at high temperatures to get the kind of charred crust that’s so much a part of the great steak experience.

It seems that many people think their way of cooking a steak is the best way. If you check online, you’ll see that there is no 100% consensus. Salt before cooking or after? Let it rest after taking it off the grill or not? In general, though, most would agree that steak should be cooked quickly at high temperatures to get the kind of charred crust that’s so much a part of the great steak experience.

There’s also no hard and fast rule about how long to cook a steak: timing will depend on the cut, thickness, cooking method and your preferred doneness—from rare to well done. Some trial and error may be your best teacher, but an instant-read digital meat thermometer can help, too. A digital probe thermometer is the best tool you can buy for cooking steak. It will give you an instant read on the steaks doneness and prevent over cooking.

This is where the “finger test” comes in “handy.” Some people don’t like to pierce the meat because juices can escape. It’s a technique that only requires comparing the feel of the meat when you press on it to the feel of the fleshy area just below the thumb, as follows:

This is where the “finger test” comes in “handy.” Some people don’t like to pierce the meat because juices can escape. It’s a technique that only requires comparing the feel of the meat when you press on it to the feel of the fleshy area just below the thumb, as follows:

  • First, open your palm with fingers relaxed. With your other hand, press on the soft area between your thumb and wrist. Now press on an uncooked piece of meat. This initial test gives you a reference point.
  • For rare: Open your palm as above; now press your index finger and thumb together. With the other hand, press on the fleshy area. This is about what a rare steak feels like when pressed.
  • For medium-rare: Follow the same instructions but bring your thumb and middle finger together. A medium-rare steak will feel like the fleshy area, which is now a little firmer than it was in the rare test.
  • For medium and well done: Use the same test, using your ring finger for medium and your pinky for well done.

One thing you can count on: you’ll always find the finest and freshest steaks in the Kroger meat department. Head there soon to “steak” your claim, apply your knowledge and make a mouth-watering steak dinner tonight!

Fresh Steaks

Steak Toppings & Seasonings

Cooking Essentials