Selecting the Perfect Steak

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Steak – It’s all About the Beef
What Makes a Perfect Steak?

Such a simple question but such a complex answer. As some of you already know, I cringe at the thought of ordering a steak in a restaurant because 98% of the time they will serve me a slightly edible piece of shoe leather. Even on a trip out west to Calgary at one of the most recommended steak houses, I was disappointed with the steak. There just seems to be no compromise for good steak and a reasonable value.

If you ever were to visit my place and, if steak is on the menu, you would understand what I am talking about. This is likely my signature dish and my true love, so we are going to be a little serious about this one. Anybody can make a good steak at home — as long as it starts with good quality beef.

When starting your search for a perfect steak, your first consideration should be what breed of cow you are looking for and how it was raised.

Beef is just as varied as wine, beer or spirits. There is a king of beef, but it is out of reach for most of us. I would love to refer you to Kobe beef, but considering the up to $300/lb price tag, it makes its way to very few grills. I have cooked this for competition, and it is a life experience, though not one any of us can expect to enjoy with any regularity.

Kobe is a little village in Japan where the beef is massaged daily and fed the best of grains, a few beers, with no exercise at all, while music is played in the background. Can life get any better? In other words, the perfect life (for a time).

But a much more realistic option is taking the wagyu breed and crossing it with angus beef which results in some serious steak for about $60 a pound. This is the foie gras of beef.  It is a cut above, in fact, that many competition teams are spending the extra money on getting this breed of beef for brisket.

Don’t let this Wagyu craze intimidate you; there are many more reasonable choices that will make for excellent, grill-worthy, steak. For many, angus beef rules, and its balance of price and quality stands alone. But this is where a butcher differs from the mega box stores.  My advice is to get to know your butcher. He will find some very exciting cuts with impressive marbling. And, by the way, if you are buying your steak very lean, switch over to chicken. Sorry, but marbling in beef means flavour. Marbling is so important that it is actually scored as “BEEF MARBLE SCORE” — or BMS — from 3-12. We’ll get into BMS in a follow-up article, but just remember that fat IS flavour.

Rating Beef

CANADA — USA

prime — prime
AAA — choice
AA — select
A — standard
AAA/choice is the way to go, but if you can get your hands on prime, that’s even better. Unfortunately most prime cuts are reserved for the top steaks houses, making it difficult to find. That is simply why their beef seems better — because it is!

Also important is the cut of the beef. The common thought is the furthest from the hoof, tail and horns is the better meat.

In no particular order, our top picks are:

Tenderloin,
Strip Loin,
Rib eye
Sirloin

Aging Beef

Aged meat is the next step in excellent steak, and the longer aged the better. Your typical supermarket beef is wet aged in a cryovac bag for 7-14 days. There is no moisture lost and the product keeps it value.

However, that is not so in the case with dry aging. Moisture is driven out and flavours are concentrated, meaning the meat naturally tenderizes.

If your butcher is boasting dry-aged beef it should be 14-28 days. There are some real beef artisans that are breaking 60 and 70 days and even into the 100+. The best starting point for any aged beef is a discussion with your local butcher and experimenting with different cuts, grades and aged processes. Take the time to find something that you enjoy and fits your budget without giving up the full flavour and enjoyment of a great steak.

To recap: a good breed of cattle, strong marbling, dry aging and a serious cut will enhance your experience.

Next up: how to cook your perfectly picked cut of beef.

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