Hailing from Iowa meant growing up in a steak and corn loving family. In fact, I loved my steak so much so, that I remember asking my mother to smuggle in a juicy t-bone steak when she visited me at summer camp one year. Knowing the cuts of beef I found most flavorful came as second nature to me, but then food production practices started changing dramatically in the 1970′s giving rise to a myriad of perplexing labels that seem to confuse the consumer, more than inform them.  Perhaps more so for Personal Chef Approach™ member, Rachel Cree-Lowe who happens to be a vegetarian cooking for her meat-loving husband and children, so she asked me to shed some light on the matter.

Julie, Patty, and Johnnie Friedman

Julie, Patty, and Johnnie Friedman

The number one tip I give members is that a good butcher will be happy to answer any questions you may have, so ask! They should be knowledgeable about the various grades, cuts, how they should be cooked, and the provenance of the meat – was it reared on organic feed, grass-fed, hormone and anti-biotic free, or factory farmed?

Grade refers to the age, marbling, color, and texture of the meat and will also be a determining factor in the price. The three most common grades you’ll run across are:

  • Prime: This is the grade you will most often find in high end steak houses. It’s the most tender and flavorful beef with lots of marbling (thin ribbons of fat running through it), but also the most expensive.
  • Choice: You’re more likely to see this grade in grocery stores, because it is much more cost effective for the average consumer. It’s slightly leaner than prime, but should still have decent flavor and tenderness.
  • Select: You can find select steaks, but I’d avoid using select meat unless you intend to slow-cook it in a braise or stew to tenderize it (not an ideal method for steak).
Still enjoying a good steak with my sister Patty today

Still enjoying a good steak with my sister Patty today

“We are what we eat,” so another important factor a conscientious consumer might want to take into consideration is the provenance of the meat – how was it reared?  Know what the labeling means:

  • Grain-Fed: All cattle graze in the pasture for the first part of their lives, but grain-fed are then moved to feedlots where they’re fattened up on a concentrated mix of corn, soy, grains, and other supplements, plus hormones and antibiotics to prevent illnesses. Grain-fed cattle yield more tender (fatty) meat, and will usually cost less than organic, natural, and grass-fed, but you have to weigh the pros against all the other things they’ve ingested when choosing what’s right for you, and your family.
  • Natural: Means hormone and anti-biotic free. Much like an athlete who takes hormones to bulk up,  grain-fed cattle are given hormones to bulk them up faster for slaughter. This is done purely to increase the profit. Likewise, antibiotics are given to prevent illness – lessening the risk of having to put a sick cow down (and not be able to sell it). How many times have you heard your doctor say “you shouldn’t take antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, or you might become anti-biotic resistant when you really need them.” Do you really want to ingest them in your meat? There is absolutely no health advantage to you eating these chemicals, and there could quite possibly be health risks to you in the long term.
  • Grass-fed: Cattle graze entirely on grass as they were biologically meant to do. That means it’s better for the cow, and better for the environment. Grass is easier on their digestive system so they don’t emit as much ozone damaging methane gas, and less fuel is used in producing their feed. Unfortunately, most of us have been eating grain fed beef for so long now, it might take a little getting used to again, but your taste buds will adjust. It’s usually more expensive too, but I always consider this a “penny wise, dollar stupid” attitude when people complain about the price – health care costs are far greater!
Cuts of Beef

Cuts of Beef

Finally, understanding the difference between the cuts helps in making your selection too, and this really boils down to personal preference. If you want to serve steak you want to avoid all cuts that require a slow-cooking process to tenderize the meat. The most common cuts for steak are:

  • N.Y Strips are my favorite cut, because they are not too fatty yet have an abundance of flavor.
  • Fillet Mignon was all Tatjana would eat as a child, because it comes from the tenderloin, or most tender cut of beef. It also has very little fat, so it is a great option if you are watching your weight.
  • T-Bones & Porterhouse steaks are cut from both the striploin and tenderloin, so it’s like getting best of both worlds – part N.Y Strip and part fillet with a t-shape bone in the middle.
  • Ribeye’s are a big steak house favorite because they have a lot of fat yielding flavor.
  • Sirloin is another lower fat option, generally a more cost effective cut of meat with plenty of flavor, but can be on the tough side.
  • Flank steak is another cut that is lower in fat, flavorful and cost effective, but generally requires marinating to tenderize before grilling or broiling, and should always be cut across the grain (if you cut with the grain it will be very chewy and tough).

I feel beef got an undeserved bad rap when the government decided fat was bad for us.  Beef is a great source of protein and iron. Making informed choices will help you decide what is right for you. Personally, I have cut back on the amount of beef I eat, because I like to observe at least one animal free day a week, but there are times when nothing else can hit the spot like a juicy steak grilled to perfection. I’m sure I’ll be enjoying one with mom for Mother’s Day this year. Don’t forget that Personal Chef Approach™ Gift Certificates make a great Mother’s Day gift (that you’ll most likely get to enjoy too), and they’re available to fit any budget.

Roasted Garlic & Chili Rubbed Porterhouse Steak

Roasted Garlic & Chili Rub

This versatile rub is an outstanding on any kind of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp. I sometimes find garlic already roasted at the store, which does save time, but it is very simple to do – just check out my note below. Any extra can be saved and used up to 5 days covered and refrigerated, but in my household it goes quickly.

Servings: 8
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

Roasted Garlic & Chili Rub

  • 1 whole head garlic roasted and squeezed out of its paper like exterior
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Directions

Roasted Garlic & Chili Rub

  1. Squeeze roasted garlic out of it’s skins into a small bowl. Add chili powder, brown sugar, oregano and salt. Slowly add the olive oil, mixing into a paste consistency.

Serving Suggestions

Serve the rubbed and grilled beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or fish with chipotle cauliflower mash or mashed potatoes, Tex Mex zucchini hash, or simple grilled vegetables.

Heat To Eat

I like to rub my meat, poultry or seafood and store until I am ready to grill and eat; but you could also heat already cooked meats in the microwave on 50% power to heat without cooking further, for 3-5 minutes, turning midway to distribute heat evenly.

Notes

To roast the garlic: Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut a 4-inch square piece of foil and place on a sheet pan. Peel the papery outer layer of a head of garlic off, leaving the skins on. Cut 1/2-inch off of the top of the head of garlic. Place the larger piece of garlic on the square of foil on a sheet pan (save the rest for another use). Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top coating well. Wrap the foil loosely around the head of garlic and roast in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and squishy when you squeeze it. Store any excess garlic in an airtight container coating the garlic in olive oil for up to one week.

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  • May 3, 2013
    10:38 am

    I always buy organic grass fed filet mignon (my favourite cut) now and i can taste the difference… it is so much better. It tastes clean to me. I’m not a huge meat eater, but when i do indulge i always want it to be organic grass fed.

    Reply
  • May 3, 2013
    1:33 pm

    Stellar! A million times Thank You! I love the butcher I go to but I want to go in educated and now I can do it. They are fantastic and recommending things and explaining but this is crystal clear and LOVE the chart.

    I can’t thank you enough… you have the intelligence to take a complicated (to me) topic and explaining it so I understand. This is fantastic!

    Reply
  • May 4, 2013
    2:08 am

    I love the Cuts of Beef chart. It is so handy to have.
    There is nothing like a good juicy steak indeed!
    Thanks for the information. :-)

    Reply
  • May 5, 2013
    5:49 am

    Thank you for the chart! I have to admit that I’m not very knowledgeable about the cuts and that made me nervous when I was out shopping. I’ll be printing this off and putting it in my binder of notes. Red meat doesn’t usually appeal to me too much, but I’m thinking a nice roast would cook up nicely and be sliced up to be the protein in a lot of meals. And, as for the roasted garlic, love it too much. I’m roasting a pan of carrots with cloves of garlic sprinkled through and will make this into a dip/spread a little later. Also doing up a batch of hummus to have in the fridge for snacking this week. So, I guess I’m using the PCA method to get my snacks ready for the week. Then I’ll be less likely to go for the naughty treats. Have a bit of kale in the fridge that might get made into chips later as well. Since it’s grocery week, I can rationalize using up all the bits of veg to make way for a fresh batch on Thursday. My grocery guy is such a nice man carrying the bags into the kitchen and putting them on the counter and then taking the kitty litter to the closet where I store it. Gosh, I feel so spoiled and I’m loving it! I just need to start eating more red meat to get my iron count up a bit. So, I’ll have to see what I can put together nutritionally since I can’t take iron supplements.

    Reply

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