A great grilled steak begins with a great steak. But how can you tell a great steak from a regular steak? When you go to the butcher whether it’s the corner meat market, supermarket or online store you find what can appear to be an unending selection of steaks. There are a few things to look for when buying a steak. First there is the grade. The grade refers to the quality of the meat based on marbling and age. The cut is the second thing to consider. Different cuts have different qualities. Finding the right cut and prepping the steak to grill is probably the most important part of an excellent steak.
Grading is typically performed by a third party organization or by a government agency like the USDA in the United States. The age of the animal and the marbling of the meat determine the grade of the meat. Beef are graded whole so you will find some variance in grades of an individual cut. In the United States grades are prime, choice and select with prime being at the top and select being the bottom. Actually, the lowest rated meats are not for general retail distribution and become things like meat by-products.
Prime grade beef makes up about 2% of all the beef produced in the United States and typically ends up exported or sold to fine restaurants. What you will normally find on the shelves at the store is choice and select. Since prime is difficult to find your best option is to purchase a choice cut. I suggest you try it because you will notice a difference. Since choice is superior to select you can buy a less desirable cut to compensate for the higher price.
One thing to remember about grading is that these designations are designed to by friendly to the multi-billion dollar Beef Industry. There is a considerable amount of thought into brand names and marketing that shows up on that label on the meat you so carefully read.
Marbling is an important factor in steak selection. To visually determine the marbling of a steak take a good look at the texture of the meat. If the meat is free of all fat then the cut has no or little marbling. Though this is leaner and often more tender, it is not as flavorful. Small streaks of fat through the meat will produce a more flavorful steak. When selecting a steak always take a look at the marbling. Remember, generally the more marbling the less tender but the more flavorful. This creates something of a balancing act to find the steak that is both tender and tasty.
Marbling should be thin streaks of fat. Thick lines of fat mean the steak contains a lot of connective tissue that will make it tough. What to look for in a good steak is the color. The meat should be bright red and the fat a creamy white and evenly distributed through the meat.