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The book


Learning the basics of good steak

By Jeffrey Carl

Why Steak?

Ahh, steak. No food better represents the idea of heart-attack-inducing decadence and uniquely American joie de vivre than a large slab of prime red meat, rare to the point that it’s practically still mooing. But what to order, and where?

USDA Classifications

Cows – let’s take a moment here and feel bad for the cows … okay, we’re done – are divided by classifications. Even though you won’t run into these classifications at a fine restaurant, it’s worth reviewing what they are. The US Department of Agriculture defines beef (other than being meat from a cow) in several ways:

Cuts of Beef

Unfortunately for your ventricles, the determining factor in how beef tastes is largely how much fat there is in it. On the positive side, if you’re able to afford really good beef, then you probably have a decent health plan.

Lowest on the cow “totem pole” are ground meats. Hamburger – which my grandparents still call “hamburg steak” – is made of ground beef coming from the tougher parts of a cow that aren’t generally used for solo eating. “Salisbury steak” is hamburger formed into steak-like patties, its name a euphemism devised because of the anti-German feelings in America during World War I. Hot dogs are made from what is oh-so-appetizingly known as “emulsified forcemeat,” which is “a meat-fat-water mixture that has been puréed to within an inch of its life - cut so fast by spinning blades that the water and fat and protein create a uniformly smooth texture.” (Note that there are gourmet hot dogs made out of the nicer parts of cows … cheap hot dogs are made from exactly the kind of horrifying things you think they are.) Asking what part of the cow “beef jerky” comes from is like asking what part of Hollywood porn comes from.

Before we get to actual “steak,” we need to review the other pieces of the cow that are sometimes also called “steak” but are sometimes best left for industrial solvents or Taco Bell.

Okay, so now we come to the real “steak” cuts. These include:

How To Get It Cooked

The secret here is that the more beef is cooked, the less flavor it has. i.e., the more cooked it is, the less one cut of beef will taste any different from another. And, really, what’s a few malformed prions (see “mad cow disease” below) between friends? So if you’re ordering butt steak, go ahead and get it “well done.” Otherwise, you should look at the other options:

Read more in our guide to steak here!

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