A cow is a big animal; massive, even. But sadly for hungry humans like you and me, the beast yields just one juicy hanger steak. And that kind of scarcity, coupled with serious demand for these cuts, translates to more bank-breaking trips to the butcher shop.
So what are you going to do? Not eat meat? Yeah, right. But while spending less is always a good thing, it’s tough to know exactly what to go with when confronted with this wild world of bovine tastiness.
For tips on the best tasting, least expensive cuts, we turned to Brooklyn’s Fleishers Craft Butchery and talked to Bryan Mayer, director of butchery education, and Sophie Grant, marketing director. We also checked in with Ben Turley, co-owner of the hugely successful Meat Hook, a full-service, whole-animal butcher shop that also calls the 718 home. With a ridiculous amount of hands-on experience between them, rest assured that all four of these carnivorous pros know their meat inside and out. Because beef, it’s what’s for dinner.
London broil/top round & beef neck
What it is: “When you're talking about the hind portion, there's so many great roasts,” Grant explains. “There's also the top round roast, or you could do a beef neck, which is getting more and more popular. These are really great as opposed to a rib roast or a boneless New York strip roast.”
How to cook it: “Yeah, your grandmother roasted it into fucking oblivion,” says Turley, referring to the London broil, an age-old way of preparing a top round. “But by tenderizing or using a simple marinade, it's an excellent cut. The best part is it's usually pretty big, so steak salad or sandwich leftovers are guaranteed.”
What it is: “Famous in other places, the bavette, or sirloin flap, has the same look as a skirt steak,” says Turley. “But it's thicker, cheaper, and usually more tender.”
How to cook it: “It's great as a stand-alone cut, or you can use it whenever you would normally use a skirt steak. Save a few bucks by buying this cut and you'll have enough to pick up a six-pack on the way home.”
What it is: “There's still sort of that ick factor,” Mayer concedes. “I realize it's kind of a hard sell, but if you go back a little bit, a Denver or a ranch steak [cut from the chuck] was a hard sell before butcher shops like ours started pushing them. The more that we can get people comfortable with stuff like tongue, people will cook with them. A good beef tongue would certainly cost you less than a rib-eye or a strip steak, and they're delicious.”
How to cook it: “It's super-simple in terms of cooking,” says Mayer. “I like to braise it before I peel it -- I know there's some recipes that call for skinning the tongue before you cook it, but I think that's like a torture test. It never works out quite the way you plan, your knives are never that sharp. So, braising it, then cooking it down until it shreds. It's perfect for tacos. You can do just about anything with it, even cure it and smoke it.”
Flat iron steak
What it is: “It's long and flat, like a skirt, but it doesn't have the same muscle structure,” says Turley. “It's one long, smooth piece, and there's no connective tissue between muscle groups. So it's exceptionally tender, and has a much better flavor than, say, a tenderloin. It's also almost always half the price of those fancy name-brand cuts. ”
How to cook it: “Just salt it and pan-sear it -- it doesn't need anything fancy, and it's great at rare, medium-rare, or even medium, making it an ideal cut for beginners.”
What it is: “The shoulder is holding the animal up -- it's doing all the work, and basically, if the muscle's getting a lot of exercise and there's a lot of blood pumping through it, that's adding flavor,” says Mayer. “And a chuck is going to have way more fat than a tenderloin, which also contributes to the flavor. I’ve always preferred the cuts that I call the bookends -- the shoulder and the leg of the animal.”
How to cook it: “If you’re looking for a great steak, I’d suggest anything off the shoulder, and listen, I'll take a chuck steak over a tenderloin any day,” says Mayer. So sear it like you would any steak.
What it is: “These names are interchangeable, but the product is the same,” says Turley. “It's the eye of the rib-eye once it reaches into the shoulder. It maintains a lot of the tenderness you would expect, but it gains so much more from moving into the hardy musculature of the shoulder."
How to cook it: “This is my favorite cut most of the time -- it just needs salt and pepper, nothing else. Cook to medium-rare and you'll swear off rib-eye unless your in-laws are coming to town.”
What it is: “If you're eyeing a hanger steak because you know you like that flavor, go with beef heart,” suggests Mayer. “When people tell me, ‘Oh, I don't like offal,’ I just say, ‘That's OK, it's just a muscle, don't worry about it.’"
How to cook it: “People seem to forget about that, but the heart's got so many great flavors. There's fat on it -- it’s just an awesome muscle. There's a dish I love to make called anticuchos. An old Caribbean friend and former student of mine showed it to me and it’s basically just grilled, seared beef heart. It's absolutely delicious."
“For ground beef, we always advocate for grinding the heart,” says Grant “That's another way to make it slightly more interesting for people without going over budget. You're creating what is a very sustainable dish because you're taking things from all parts of the animal, so it benefits everyone. Also, it tastes amazing.”
What it is: “I’m a huge fan of shank meat,” Grant tells me. “The meat off of the leg, that's going to be some of the most flavorful on the entire animal.”
“The easiest thing to cook is something that takes a long time, like a beef shank,” Turley agrees. “But it’s also usually the cheapest. I personally love shanks or brisket above short ribs. You just cook off all sides of the meat in a pot, toss in some beef stock, tomatoes, and aromatics, and throw the whole thing in the oven before you go to bed. You'll wake up, and dinner's already ready.”
How to cook it: “It's the toughest and has the most sinew in it, of course, so you either need to braise it to break those sinews down or you need to grind it,” says Mayer. “But there's so much added flavor that it’s definitely worth the effort.”
“Roasting a full beef shank is really fun because it has all that marrow in the bone, which just melts beautifully when you cook it,” says Grant.
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