3 BANGS FOR YOUR BUCK:
TOP ROUND aka London Broil
Taste: Very lean with mild flavor; dense and slightly chewy.
Good to know: Inexpensive with no fat to trim off, so more meat for your money; even shape makes it easy to slice thin. Marinating will tenderize the meat.
Serve it: Best served rare to medium (overcooking will turn this cut into leather). Must be carved very thin, against the grain. Great cold for sandwiches.
SKIRT STEAK aka fajita steak
Taste: Juicy and flavorful.
Good to know: Quick-cooking and versatile. Firm, accordion-like grain soaks up dry rubs and marinades.
Serve it: Best served rare to medium-rare. Anything more toughens the meat.
STRIP LOIN aka strip steak; New York strip steak; shell steak
Taste: A beef-lover's steak -- you can really taste the steer.
Good to know: A trophy cut -- tenderness, succulence and a satisfying chew. Low maintenance: cooks evenly, ideal for a variety of cooking methods (grilling, broiling and pan-roasting).
Serve it: Rare or medium-rare: This cut turns mealy when overcooked.
RIB EYE aka Delmonico Steak
Taste: Naturally tender cut cooks up juicy, with a rich flavor of caramelized meat.
Good to know: Can be sold bone-in for rib lovers and for a more dramatic presentation. Lots of marbling makes it self-basting. These steaks are pricey, so look for ones with a large "eye" and less surrounding fat.
Serve it: Rare to medium-rare.
FILET MIGNON aka tenderloin steak
Taste: Its mild flavor and tenderness make it the perfect canvas for a starring sauce.
Good to know: Expensive, but unlike other cuts, it doesn't need to be trimmed and doesn't shrink much during cooking. Avoid acidic marinades -- they'll deteriorate the fine grain and make the meat mealy. Lean and tender enough to be eaten cold.
Serve it: Best eaten rare to medium. Skip the steak knife -- it cuts like butter!
Taste: Combines two contrasting cuts in one sitting -- part of the delicate tenderloin and robust, juicy strip.
Good to know: Nothing says "steakhouse" like a T-bone. Great for steak lovers who eat with their eyes first. The bone adds flavor and seals in juices. Perfect for carnivores who feel the meat's just a vehicle for getting to gnaw on the bone.
Serve it: Best served rare to medium-rare.
BONE UP ON YOUR BEEF
Aged Beef: It's not about how old the cow is. Aging is a process that allows the natural enzymes in the meat to tenderize the tissue and develop the flavor. Dry-aging is an expensive investment for both you and the butcher -- with delicious results. "Wet-aging" in vacuum-sealed plastic is a cheaper alternative available in many grocery stores.
Marbling: The streaks of fat within the muscle make for flavorful, juicy, tender meat. As a general rule, the more well-marbled, the better the steak.
Prime, Choice and Select: Ranks in a USDA quality grading system based, in part, on marbling. While all beef is USDA-inspected for wholesomeness, grading for quality is voluntary and the USDA charges for the service. Budget cuts labeled prime or choice often make for a better steak experience than a rib eye or strip steak labeled select.
100% Grass-Fed: Cattle that has grazed only on grass. It's leaner, lower in calories, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants than grain-fed beef; it's also more likely to be free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
USDA Organic: Cows that are raised on organically grown feed but not necessarily on grass. They can't be treated with synthetic hormones or antibiotics.
Certified Angus Beef: A brand, not a breed, created by the American Angus Association