The New Cuts of Steak: Big Flavor, Merciful Price, Part 2
“Carne asada” by Flickr user Daniel R. Blume via Creative Commons.
For more than two decades, the slogan of the beef industry was, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” Except that in some American households, it wasn’t.
And it it’s not hard to guess one cause of the downward drift in consumption: According to the USDA, the average price of a pound of beef nearly doubled between 2002 and 2015 ($3.32 versus $6.29). One industry spokesperson dubbed hamburger “the new steak” and steak “the new Maserati.”
Enter the Beef Checkoff program, which in collaboration with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, mobilized teams of meat scientists from the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska to come up with affordable alternatives to New York strip steaks, tenderloin, T-bones, and porterhouses.
Their efforts have resulted in some terrific new cuts of beef, such as the popular baseball steak and Vegas strip steak.
Part 1 of this story covered five new steaks you’ll want to add to your grilling repertoire. Here are six more.
Baseball Cut Top Butt Steak/Filet of Sirloin: You would be forgiven for mistaking this steak for filet mignon in its raw state. It sure looks like one. Cut from the center of the top sirloin, this thick (2-inch) medallion of meat domes when grilled, taking on a spherical baseball shape. It is flavorful as well as a good value. Because it’s fairly lean, baseball steak benefits from added fat in the form of a compound butter or a circlet of bacon. My favorite method for cooking these steaks is reverse-searing. For maximum juiciness, do not take past medium-rare.
Vegas Strip Steak: Cattle have been domesticated for over 5,000 years. So it raised eyebrows a few years ago when a meat scientist working with the University of Oklahoma applied for a U.S. patent claiming to have “discovered” a new cut of beef. Tony Mata doesn’t care if he’s controversial. He says that extricating this tender cut (usually condemned to the meat grinder for hamburger) from the fat and gristle of the beefy tasting chuck primal was not intuitive to butchers as it doesn’t follow natural muscle seams.
In any case, the Vegas strip steak, which chefs say reminds them of a New York strip, has a glitzy name and its own website. Mata is evasive about the cut’s exact location, but the Vegas strip steak is described as “a tender pad of flesh from under the shoulder blade.” It still has limited distribution, but can be ordered from Creekstone Farms in Arkansas City, Kansas. At this writing, you can purchase 8 steaks, each 12 to 14 ounces, for $59.99 plus shipping.
Flap Meat/Chuck Tail Flap/Sirloin Tip: From the bottom sirloin butt, this bistro-style cut could easily be confused for skirt steak or hanger steak. (Sometimes, it’s labeled “faux hanger steak.”) It’s a meat lover’s meat, intensely beefy. Its coarse texture embraces flavor-enhancing marinades as well as dry or wet rubs. Less expensive than flank steak and a terrific choice for Steven’s Thai Grilled Beef Salad, Mexican carne asada, or fajitas.
Flap meat takes just minutes to cook to medium-rare, so have your side dishes and/or condiments ready before you commit to grilling. For maximum tenderness, slice each steak with the grain (its fibers run crosswise) into 2-inch pieces, then slice each piece into thin strips against the grain. It’s available in many supermarkets—I have seen it for as little as $3.99 a pound—or can be special ordered from Whole Foods.
Ball Tip Steak/Knuckle Steak/Sandwich Steak: If you’re from Michigan, you might know this cut—it’s popular there—as “Sizzler Steak.” Like flap meat, ball tip steak is harvested from the bottom of the muscle-bound sirloin butt. When the fat and connective tissue is trimmed off, this 2 to 3 pound hunk o’ meat resembles a ball. The butcher can sell it as is as a roast, or he can portion it into individual steaks. Though it can technically be marketed as a sirloin steak, it’s tougher (and cheaper) than top sirloin. Consequently, some retailers mechanically tenderize this steak before selling it. You can do this at home with a meat mallet or a jaccard. (Steven calls his Best of Barbecue meat tenderizer a “turbocharger” as it gives marinades easy access to the interior of the meat.) Cut into cubes and substitute for lamb in The Real Turkish Shish Kebab, originally from The Barbecue! Bible. Incidentally, the yogurt in the marinade is a natural tenderizer.
Ranch Steak: The beef industry dubbed this steak from the chuck the “ranch cut” to make it easy for consumers to ask for it by name. But like many of the lesser-known steaks, it has aliases, including boneless shoulder center steak and arm steak. Designated one of 29 lean steaks by the USDA (meaning less than 10 grams of total fat per 3.5 ounce serving), it’s marketed as a good choice for anyone who has a cardiologist on speed dial. Portion sizes are usually bigger than that, though—6 to 8 ounces.
Flavorwise, it’s often compared to top sirloin. I personally like to soak these steaks in a Korean-inspired marinade (the kind you’d use for bulgogi), sear them over a hot fire, then thinly slice on a sharp diagonal and wrap in Bibb lettuce leaves with sliced garlic cloves and jalapeños, scallions, and fiery gochujang—Korean chili paste. But if your cardiologist didn’t put the kibosh on your drinking, break out the bourbon and try Steven’s Drunken Steak.
Tri-Tip Steak/Newport Steak: “Tri-tip? That’s old news,” you say. Well, yes and no. Like sriracha, it’s hard to remember when tri-tip wasn’t a thing, especially if you’re from Santa Maria, California. My own supermarket east of the Mississippi has been carrying tri-tip for a couple of years now. But it was just recently that they began selling tri-tip steaks. (In New York, they’re sometimes labeled Newport steaks, the name given to them by the former owner of a hole-in-the-wall Greenwich Village butcher shop, Florence Prime Meat Market. He thought the steak resembled the reddish-orange “swoosh” in the Newport cigarette logo.) Tri-tip steaks can be bought individually, making them great for smaller appetites and/or households. Buy the ones with the most marbling; they’ll be juicier and more flavorful when grilled. Dust liberally with your favorite rub, cook to medium-rare, slice against the grain, and serve, if desired, with traditional Santa Maria sides: pinquito or pink beans; garlic bread; fresh salsa; and a green salad.