We get it – meat can be intimidating. What’s the difference between a porterhouse and a T-bone when they both come from the same part of the cow? Is it called a New York strip or a Kansas City strip? An oyster blade steak sounds fancy (I have no idea what it is), but should I order it?
Luckily, we are here to help. Read on to enlighten yourself and find the answers to all your common steak questions – you’ll never feel lost again with these handy nuggets of knowledge.
Photo credit: looloo iNSIGHTS
What is marbling?
This is undoubtedly a term you have come across in the midst of steak talk. Marbling is the definitive factor in establishing the quality of the meat. It refers to the white streaks and flecks of fat within the lean sections of meat, not the fat that surrounds the meat that can be trimmed off. Also called intramuscular fat, marbling is what adds flavour to meat, and in most cases, the more marbling, the better the quality. Marbling fat melts at a lower temperature than other fats, resulting in more tender and delicious meat.
Photo credit: Steaks and Game
Photo credit: looloo iNSIGHTS
Photo credit: American Society of Animal Science
Grading systems vary from country to country
Most countries that are major players in meat production grade their cuts of meat in different methods. Marbling mainly showcases steaks imported directly from Japan, Australia and the USA, and the grading systems of these countries vary vastly. The USA uses a basic grading system based on the quality of the meat (in order of value and quality: US Prime, US Choice, US Select and US Standard – for, well, the standard stuff you can purchase just about anywhere), whilst Japan and Australia employ much more detailed systems.
In Japan, not only is the meat quality rated (from A1 to A5, with A5 being the most premium), but the marbling receives its own grading scale (from 1 to 12, with 12 being the crème de la crème). The Australian grading system ranges from M1 to M9.
In Japan and Korea, the traceability of produce is of such importance that farmers possess and provide detailed information on their cattle to enable others to confidently track meat from farm to fork, especially when it comes to premium Wagyu cattle.
Photo credit: Kuroge Wagyu
What is Wagyu beef?
You’ve surely heard this term thrown about countless times, but what exactly is Wagyu beef? Wagyu, which means “Japanese cow” in that same language (ooh, spoiler), refers to several different breeds of cattle that are highly prized owing to their superior level of marbling. As such, Wagyu is known for its top-notch quality and is priced accordingly. Kobe (another name you’ve almost definitely heard of) and Sanda, amongst a few others, belong to the family of Wagyu beef and are named after the specific locations of their cattle farms.
So if Wagyu refers to Japanese beef, how come there’s Australian and American Wagyu? Several decades ago, Japan exported their Wagyu cattle to other countries, and these farms and cattle producers began breeding their own Wagyu cattle, mixing it with native breeds such as Angus and resulting in American Wagyu cattle (better known as American Kobe beef) and Australian Wagyu. Some argue that these offshoots are not as good as the real Japanese stuff, due to the interbreeding.
Grain-fed vs grass-fed cattle
The food eaten by the food we eat (does that make sense?) plays a huge role in its development. Though there is no correct answer as to which type of cattle is superior to another, there are differences marked by these two dietary requirements; grain-fed cattle produce more marbling, giving a buttery and rich flavour, while grass-fed cattle result in leaner, more strongly flavoured meat. Why? Well, because it’s difficult getting cows fat on a diet of grass!
The benefits of different cuts
Of course, different cuts of meat suit different tastes. We’ve found that most people in Hong Kong prefer a more tender approach to their steaks, while Europeans seem to enjoy leaner meats.
Short rib: taken from the chuck portion of the cattle, the short rib is very tender and a bit fattier than the striploin and the round. It’s not strong in flavour and is not considered the most premium cut, but it is prized for its texture and tenderness.
Rib-eye: rib-eye, taken from the rib area of the cattle, can be served with or without the bone, but when served with the bone, it’s known as cowboy steak. True to its name and connotations (cowboys and Texas, where everything bigger is better), this is a huge cut of meat that is normally prepared as a sharing dish. Go for this option when attempting to satisfy everyone in your group.
Porterhouse and T-bone: same, same but different. These two cuts are very similar in structure in that they both surround the bone, but the portion of each cut varies. Both cuts are taken from the juicy striploin, but the porterhouse carries a bigger portion of tenderloin and the T-bone carries a smaller portion. Easy, right? So your choice between porterhouse and T-bone really only depends on how you prefer your striploin-to-tenderloin ratio.
Chateaubriand: generally one of the highest-rated premium cuts, the chateaubriand refers to the middle section of the tenderloin, taken from the rump of the cattle. Usually a lean section of the cow, due to the muscle that builds up from its movements and exercise, it’s rare to see marbling in the tenderloin, but the chateaubriand is an exception to this rule, being well marbled, tender and buttery courtesy of its encasing within the tenderloin itself.
Top sirloin: taken from the rump of the cattle, the top sirloin is a lean cut with a good amount of marbling. Considered a premium cut of meat, some people refer to a thick top sirloin steak as a chateaubriand, although others reserve this term for a much more specific cut of tenderloin (see above).
With this guide, gone should be the days of walking into a steakhouse and slowly dissecting the menu only to find that you don’t know all that much about different cuts of meat, so you opt for the one thing you know everyone else raves about (because you’re too shy to ask your server for their recommendation). Ain’t nobody gonna impress their date if they don’t know their steak!
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