The price at the pump is NOT the only inflation we are feeling! Grocery stores are getting more expensive, and beef is no exception.
One of the main reasons why beef is so expensive, is because people reach for the most expensive cuts. That only takes up ten percent of the entire animal! And at the risk of sounding obvious, the cow is a pretty large animal. There is PLENTY to go around!
There are a lot of lesser-known, cheaper cuts of the cow that rival the taste, flavor, and tenderness of your more well-known and expensive cuts.
This does NOT mean every part of the cow is good to eat!
For the value minded beef cooks out there, it is good to know what cuts of beef are terrible and which ones are awesome! So let me arm you with the knowledge YOU need to pick out some delicious beef that won't break the bank around the butcher counter.
Eye of Round- Worst (sort of)
The Good: This cut is lean and is cheap. Because of its uniform shape, it cooks very evenly. It also has a lack of bones, so that makes it pretty convenient to eat. Honestly, that's about all the good I can say about this cut.
The eye of round comes from the cow's hind leg or the round. The cuts that come from this leg usually have a beefy flavor to them, but the eye of round does not. It is quite bland. What also makes it the WORST is that this muscle gets used so often that it is often tough.
The eye of round is the toughest cut in the whole round section. You could slow cook it to make it more tender, but it is still bland. You could also cook it medium-rare. Last pit master, I heard, did that was still chewing to this day.
Overall, it is just a bad cut of meat to use as a steak. One benefit, I suppose, is that this cut can make some great beef jerky.
Petite Sirloin- Still Pretty Bad
The petite sirloin comes from the sirloin primal. It comes from the rear part of the cow behind the loin section, but in front of the round section. Many desirable cuts come from the sirloin primal, but this is NOT one of them.
It is a pretty cheap cut, but you may find it is not worth the value. This cut comes from the bottom of the sirloin primal and near the leg. If you haven't already guessed it, that means it is tough and lean.
This cut runs on the smaller side, generally measuring at around 6 to 8 ounces. It has a strong beefy flavor and is good for marinating, but unless you braise it, it's going to be a little bit chewy. When you're choosing a steak, you generally want something that can be grilled or seared quickly, and petite sirloin isn't great for that, though it is certainly edible when grilled.
Tri-Tip- Now We Are Getting Somewhere
Tri-tip comes from the bottom of the sirloin primal, close to the petite sirloin. However, it is a MUCH better cut than its neighbor. Some describe it as the least expensive, best taste of beef you can buy. I would tend to agree.
The name tri-tip comes from its triangular shape. Before it gained popularity, it was mostly used for ground beef. The best way to cook this beefy and delicious cut is reverse sear. This hybrid form of cooking is where you slowly bring the protein up to temp by cooking low and slow. Once desired temp is reached, you remove it and let it sit for about ten minutes. Then you throw it over the fast and furious flames to get a nice sear. Again, letting it rest. Check out my video, below, about this method AND this steak!
Tri-tip is usually served medium-rare and smoked. It has such a great flavor cooked that way.
The downside of this cut of steak is that it can be finicky. The grain runs in two separate directions and cutting it can be cumbersome. If you don't cut AGAINST the grain, and change direction where the grain changes, it can become tough and chewy; even when cooked to perfection.
Denver Steak- Great Value AND Taste
The Denver steak is a very specific cut of the chuck. Since it comes from the shoulder, it is affordable; and it looks and tastes like the more expensive cuts of steak. Although most of the chuck is relatively chewy because the muscles in a cow's shoulder support a lot of weight, the muscle that sits directly under the shoulder blade (the Denver steak) gets much less exercise than its neighbors . The Denver steak is shockingly tender.
The marbling on this cut is what gives it some amazing texture and flavor. Many of the value cuts of steak are quite lean and lack marbling. Due to the marbling of the Denver cut, if you close your eyes, you could convince yourself it is a strip steak.
The biggest issue with this steak is that it is little known and hard to find. You may have to find a specialty butcher or even resort to online purchasing for this cut.
Pichana- Second Best
This is another tricky cut of beef. It is hard to find, but if you do, snag it because you are in for a treat! This is one of the most popular cuts of steak served in Brazilian steak houses. Pichana comes from the rump part of the cow, near the sirloin.
In American grocery stores this cut may be labeled "rump cap" or "sirloin cap". However, to get your hands on this one, you may have to talk to the butcher personally. Most of the muscles from the hindquarters of the cow carry a lot of weight and can be tough, but the rump cap isn't a hard working muscle. That makes It quite tender.
Picanha is pretty cheap, but it's wonderfully beefy, tender, and juicy. The meat itself is usually relatively lean, but it's crowned with a thick fat cap that melts as the meat cooks, lubricating everything with delicious beef fat.
Flat Iron- Cheap Cut King
Would it surprise you that the second most tender cut of the cow is a relatively affordable chunk of chuck? The flat iron steak rivals the tenderloin in texture and it comes from the top blade region of the chuck primal.
This cut wasn't cut into steaks very much, until more recently. The reason is because it has a tough piece of sinew running through the center. But it was born from innovations developed by the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. They found a way to remove the sinew from the muscle. And we are SO thankful they did!
Since the flat iron comes from the chuck, it won't break the bank. The flat iron combines the bold, beefy flavor of chuck with the soft mouthfeel of more expensive cuts. A good flat iron is so tender that you should be able to cut it with a fork.
If you are on the hunt, after reading this article, for the flat iron; check the names "oyster blade" steak or "butler steak".