Beef - it's what's for dinner. Too bad you've likely been limiting your dining options to overpriced cuts of steak. To prove it, we recruited chefs and butchers, the guys and gals who know beef best, and had them pit some of the most popular pieces of meat against lesser known (and cheaper) gems. We even laid out some average prices so you'll know exactly what your wallet is getting into. So say goodbye to the Rib Eye and how you doin' to the Denver Cut.
(While the cost of individual cuts will vary wildly, these price ranges are typical of most butchers... provided your butcher is not in Dubai.)
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Merlot Vs. Tenderloin
Weirdly enough, a "Merlot" cut isn't the dusty relic left on your parent's liquor shelf that you first snuck a swig from in high school. No, as Josh Jones, chef at Salt and Time in Austin explains, "the merlot cut is out of the shin. It's called 'Merlot' for its velvet texture." It's easy to compare to the Tenderloin because it's equally, duh, tender.
$12/lb vs. $25-35/lb
Chef Jones also recommends Back Iron aka the Las Vegas Strip
"It's a good New York Strip replacement. It's lightly marbled with a bit of a fat cap."
"It's $3 per pound cheaper than brisket. We can break that Texas BBQ mold of brisket and offer something similar that's always cheaper."
Flap Vs. Flank Steak
Also known as the "Bavette Steak", the Flap rests right underneath the Flank. James Peisker, butcher at Porter Road Butcher in Nashville says of this unknown meat treat, "It's twice as thick, twice as flavorful, and usually two-thirds the price of Flank". He recommends trying fajitas ala Flap or a simple quick sear with chimichurri
$4-5/lb vs. $7-8/lb
Peisker also recommends Chuck Eye Roast
"Everyone wants Prime Rib for the holidays, but that's not actually traditional. I like the Chuck Eye Roast because it's more flavorful. There's more chew, yes, but just don't overcook it."
"Classic stews call for Tenderloin, but I prefer the Sirloin Cap. As a muscle, it does more work which makes it more flavorful. It's still tender, but tough enough to break down as it cooks."
Chuck Eye Steak Vs. Ribeye
"It's often called 'the poor man's Ribeye'", says Michael Signorelli, head butcher at Underground Butcher in Madison -- but don't let that throw you off. As Signorelli notes, treat this cut no different than a Ribeye, "baste the sh*t out of it with butter", and you should be good to go. There are only eight of these cuts per steer, so if your butcher is carrying the stuff, buy it.
$7/lb vs $17/lb
Signorelli also recommends The Underblade
"This is the cut literally attached to the blade bone and is often confused with the Denver Cut. The technical name is 'Subscaularis'. Cook it like a flank, but you don't need to tenderize it."
The Denver Cut
"An amazing grilling steak. It's got about the same fat content as a short rib, but it's more tender. Grill it medium to best help render the fat."
Tri-Tip vs. New York Strip
Missy Corey, Chef de Cuisine at Publican Quality Meats in Chicago, says "everybody always goes for a Ribeye or New York Strip. People are disconnected from the idea that meat comes from a whole animal and there are many, many other edible muscle groups." She notes that the Tri-Tip is a top grilling cut, which makes sense why it's so big in Cali where outdoor cooking is easy all-year round and 90% of people apparently sleep on the beach. But she's got you cold-weather states covered...
$3-7/lb vs $14-22/lb
Chef Corey also recommends Beef Cheek
"It's the ultimate braising cut. It's extremely seasonal for fall and winter."
"It's a great deli meat, sliced or grilled."