Pictured: Spice-Rubbed Grilled Rib Steaks with Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad from CHOW
Not all beef steaks are created equal. Some are lean, some are rich with fat; some are fine and tender, others are coarse and robust. What ties them all together is that they can be cooked quickly using direct heat, although even then, there’s a wide range of possibilities. It could be said that a steak is only as good as the amount of attention put into preparing it the right way.
So if you head to the market to pick up some beef, it’s simply not enough to reach into the case and pick the first piece you see. You’ve got to know the scene, and be savvy to the different cuts that are available. To that end, here are nine cuts you should know, and your best bets for cooking them.
1. Miso-Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Yuzu Kosho
Also known as a top blade steak, flat irons, as their name implies, are a uniformly thick, rectangular cut taken from the shoulder. Cook them too long or over too low heat, and they can be hard to chew. But put them over a high flame for a quick sear on the grill, and you’ll wind up with a beefy, tender delight. They also take well to marinades, such as this rich, citrusy miso and yuzu kosho soak. Get the recipe here.
2. Ginger-Marinated Hanger Steak
Thin, long, and ropy, hanger steaks come from a part of a cow’s belly that literally hangs low, hence the name. You’ll also want to cook these fast and high, either on the grill or in a skillet, and can marinate them for extra flavor. Get the recipe here.
3. Balsamic Marinated Stuffed Flank Steak
Flank steaks, from the hard-working abdominal area, need high heat and a thin slice to stay tender. By butterflying them, you cut them across the grain, solving the need to slice in one fell swoop. The resultant curtain of meat is perfect for stuffing and rolling up, so grab a good marinade and start packing! Get the recipe here.
4. Beef with Broccoli "Takeout" Noodles
Skirt steak, a long cut from the diaphragm, has big beefy flavor and a very loose grain (even looser than the flank) that sucks marinades right up. But it can be on the tough side, so you’ll need to slice it thin or otherwise risk gnawing your way through it. These factors combined make it ideal for stir-fries, including takeout classics like beef and broccoli. Get our Beef with Broccoli “Takeout” Noodles recipe here.
5. Steakhouse Kebabs
The sirloin is the name for the general lower back area of a steer. There are a few different cuts that come from here, although most steak that’s sold as “sirloin steak” is taken from the bottom area, which is a bit on the tough side and moderately flavored. They’re fine as whole steaks, but perhaps better cut into smaller pieces and marinated for use in kebabs and such. This recipe has a simple, no-frills mustard and Worcestershire base, for when something classic for the grill beckons. Get the recipe here.
6. Filet Mignon with Port-Wine Reduction
Fillets (steaks from the tenderloin) are prized for being meltingly tender. They also are low in fat, which means that they are mild in flavor and cook super fast. Being on the thick side, this can result in an exterior that cooks well-done while the inside remains close to raw. Best to give them a brief sear and let them finish in the oven. Their fine texture means they’re not particularly suited for marinades, but you can always add a bold sauce, like this port reduction. Get the recipe here.
7. Broiled Steak with Rice Salad
Strip steaks, cut from the short loin, are a great candidate for broiling, although they can certainly be grilled or pan-fried, too. With a good, but not over-the-top, amount of fat and a tight texture, they’re easy to cook and easy to eat. This recipe lets you stick them in the oven while you boil up a pot of rice and chop together some veggies. Get the recipe here.
8. Grilled Texas T-Bone Steaks with Charred Onion Rings
T-bone steaks are a two-fer: cut from the front end of the steer’s back, you get a piece of fillet and a piece of strip surrounding a vertebrae that separates them (porterhouses are similar, but cut from farther back). That bone can protrude and get in the way of things, making T-bones a little awkward to sear in the pan. It’s better to put them on the grill and let the flames lick the surface instead. Get the recipe here.
9. Bone-In Rib Eye with Rosemary, Garlic, and Thyme
Taken from the ribs, these muscles see little action in the animal, meaning they’re quite tender and full of flavorful, well-marbled fat. Many consider this to be the ultimate steak cut. They need little more than a few basic seasonings and a good sear in the pan—a fist of herbs, some garlic, dashes of salt and pepper, and a knob of butter do the job just fine. Get the recipe here.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.