You may be planning a romantic date night for two or hosting a barbecue to treat your friends to a special evening. If steak is on the menu, choosing the perfect cut of meat can be daunting. Knowing your beef can help you out when shopping for that special home-cooked meal. Check out these tips for finding a cut of meat that will impress your guests and let them know how special they are to you.

11. Beef Quality Grades

Beef Quality

According to Beef2Live, there are eight grades of beef quality. The quality grade of beef is based on the amount of marbling within the meat and the age of the cow. Of the eight categories, there are three you will find at the supermarket. U.S. Prime grade is a cut of beef that has the most marbling and is of the best quality. U.S. Choice grade is also of high quality, but this cut of meat has less fat marbling. U.S. Select grade is leaner than the other two categories of meat, making it tougher and less juicy.

10. Color

Steak Color

Bright red steaks look more appealing in the display case. However, meat that has turned slightly gray hasn’t necessarily gone bad. Fresh beef is usually purplish in color. According to Steak University, myoglobin in meat interacts with oxygen in the air. When this happens, the beef turns the bright red color we tend to associate with raw meat. Don’t bypass a high-quality cut of meat in favor of a cheaper cut just based on color alone. If you are wondering how to tell if meat has gone bad, give it a sniff. A rancid odor indicates spoilage, as does a tacky or sticky feeling when you touch the meat.

9. Marbling

Steak Marbled

Marbling refers to the amount of fat that is incorporated into the meat. When juicy tenderness is your goal, you will want to choose a steak that displays plenty of marbling. The fat contained in the steak provides the smooth, velvety flavor and texture that makes steak so tasty. It also infuses your steak with the melt-in-your-mouth quality that sends your taste buds soaring. The less marbling in your steak, the more likely you will struggle to chew and choke down a tough, dry forkful of tasteless beef.

8. Fragrance

Steak Fragrance

When purchasing your steaks, be sure to smell them in addition to looking at them. If your meat is fresh, it will have a clean, fresh aroma with perhaps a faint scent of iron. The meat should not give off a strong smell, whether it be sweet, acidic, or sour. If you detect any type of foul or off-putting odor, give the meat a pass.

7. Packaging

Steak In Packaging

When purchasing your cut of meat, make sure that the packaging is clean and undisturbed. Never buy meat if the package has become damaged. Torn packaging can allow in contaminants. According to the American Meat Science Association, the plastic used to wrap meat is designed to keep out liquids, moisture, and vapors from the air. The specially designed meat wrapping materials protect the meat in a variety of temperatures. This plastic film does allow oxygen to come into contact with the meat in order to react with myoglobin and keep the meat a fresh-looking pink color.

Related: Steak and 6 Other Delicious Meals to Cook in Your Cast Iron Skillet

6. Expiration Date

Use By Date

Pay attention to the “sell by” dates on your package of meat, keeping in mind when you plan to cook your purchase. According to Eat By Date, uncooked steaks will remain fresh in your refrigerator for one or two days past the printed sell-by date. Meanwhile, raw steaks can be stored in your freezer for six to eight months. Rewrap your cuts of meat before placing them in the freezer. The same plastic film that allows oxygen to come in contact with the beef to retain the pink appearance will allow air to reach your meat in the freezer.

5. Tomahawk Steak

Tomahawk Steak

According to Oscar Wilde Grills, the tomahawk steak is a “manly” cut of meat that comes from the front rib of the cow. If you are wondering how to cook up this steak, check out The Stay At Home Chef’s recipe for The Perfect Tomahawk Steak. These steaks cook up on your grill with just salt and pepper.

4. Rib-Eye Steak

Rib Eye Steak

This cut of meat also comes from the front rib of the cow. It has a chunk of fat in the middle and tends to be well-marbled. According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the rib-eye steak is delicious whether grilled, pan-broiled, or smoked. Christopher Coombs has a recipe for Butter-Basted Rib Eye Steaks you can cook up in a cast-iron skillet. Butter, fresh thyme, garlic, and rosemary are used to baste this savory entrée.

3. T-Bone Steak

T Bone Steak

The T-bone steak comes from further back on the beef. It is easily recognizable by the t-shape formed by the bone. Food Network has an easy recipe for Pan Seared T-Bone Steak that can be ready in just one hour. This recipe calls for first searing the T-bone on the stovetop before transferring it to the oven for roasting.

2. Porterhouse Steak

Porterhouse Steak

The Porterhouse steak is a cut similar to the T-bone, yet containing more of the filet mignon portion of beef in addition to a strip steak section. Butter adds extra flavor to Katie Lee’s recipe for Cast-Iron Skillet Porterhouse Steak. Katie first sears the meat on the stove before cutting it into pieces, studding it with rosemary, and broiling it in the oven.

1. Sirloin Steak

Sirloin Steak

The hip of the cow provides the cut of meat we know as sirloin steak. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board maintains you can enjoy this cut of meat grilled, pan-broiled, stir-fried, broiled, or smoked. It may not be as tender as other cuts of meat, but if you marinate it before grilling you can end up with a tasty meal. Allrecipes boasts a marinade recipe titled Best Steak Marinade in Existence. Soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce combine with spices to make this tasty marinade.

Related: Tips for Scoring the Perfect Steak for Cooking at Home


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