Taste. Flavour. Marbling. Umami. These are terms often found in any foodie’s vernacular but for the rest of us there’s just one question: How do you pick the tastiest cut of meat to begin with?
It’s a simple question but one that often gets overlooked in pursuit of how to cook a steak – and that’s a lesson that’s been done to death. So today we’re taking it back to the basics before meat even meets fire with the help of celebrity butcher Anthony Puharich.
Choosing Premium Cuts Of Meat
If you’ve ever considered going premium for a special occasion then you need to know the good stuff. And by good we mean the best.
Puharich says that if you can afford to drop $100/kg then you can expect an incredible piece of meat.
“It’s simply a next-level eating experience for that kind of money – a lot of bang for your dollar.”
Starting with the traditional cuts that most people are familiar with, these go-to cuts are rated in terms of their tenderness, flavour, texture and overall eating experience.
- Scotch fillet
- Rib eye
Puharich says that at this price point, you should be getting a dry-aged steak in the cuts mentioned.
“Dry ageing is an age-old method of preparing meat. It’s the ultimate way to enjoy a piece of meat because you’re using temperature and humidity control in a room over time to improve and concentrate the eating quality and natural flavours of the meat.”
At this higher price point you’ll want to be getting the aforementioned cuts with the addition of it being dry-aged.
Cheaper Cuts Of Meat That Will Blow You Away
A special occasion is one thing but you don’t have to spend $100/kg to find an amazing piece of meat.
“The awesome thing that’s being pushed nowadays are incredible secondary cuts,” explains Puharich.
“Things like flank steak, inside skirt, rump cap, flat iron. These so-called ‘secondary cuts’ are mislabelled in my opinion.”
“In a bang-for-buck point of view, they’re just as enjoy to eat as other steaks people are familiar with.”
You can expect to pay no more than $30-$50/kg for these cuts of meat and they will “blow your mind”.
How To Prepare Cheaper Cuts Of Meat
“For these cuts, it’s all about high and fast heat,” explains Puharich.
“High heat, fast grilling because they’re thinner cuts of meat. So the best way to cook it is crank up the BBQ to hot, quick sear it for a minute or two on each side max.”
The same also applies for these cuts:
- Flat iron
- Inside skirt
- Flank steak
Puharich gives special mention to the rump cap and calls this cut the “poor man’s equivalent of sirloin”.
“Sirloin or strip loin can be expensive at $50, $60, $70 or $80 a kilo, whereas the rump cap almost looks exactly the same as a sirloin after you cut and trim it – but it’s half the price and just as good in my opinion.”
Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed Steak
The two fundamental differences are based on texture and flavour.
- Grass-fed meat presents a deeper and beefier flavour profile that’s more earthy
- Grain-fed meat is more subtle and sweeter because of the types of grains they feed them
“In terms of provenance, grain-fed meat is slightly more expensive than grass-fed meat,” says Puharich.
“That’s the general rule, but there’s also really good quality grass-fed meat from farmers like O’Connor and Cape Grim – it can now get as pricey as grain-fed meat.”
The argument over which type of feed provides a tastier cut of meat is therefore down to preference these days.
“From a texture point of view, grain-fed meat will be softer and juicier whereas grass-fed meat will be more resilient and a bit firmer in texture.”
Choosing Cuts Based On Flavour
Ever wonder why beef ribs always taste so damn good? Here’s your answer. It’s a proven theory that there’s more flavour closer to the bone.
“Anything cooked on the bone, the meat has more flavour,” says Puharich.
“Cooking on the bone is always something I encourage to get to that next level flavour into your steak.”
That’s not to say that boneless parts of a cattle are tasteless. Different parts of the animal have different flavours and textures.
- The front and back of the cow pertain to the animal’s working muscles, so these cuts of meat tend to have more texture, density and connective tissue. As a result they usually have a bit more flavour and are a bit more resilient in terms of their texture
- The middle cuts from the animal aren’t usually doing any work because they sit in the middle of the carcass. Cuts from thissection are a bit softer but tend to have a bit less flavour profile to them
How Much Meat You Should Buy
So you’ve decided to cook steak for one (or two if you’re a lucky man) but you have no idea how much meat to buy.
Puharich only has one rule to this situation: “Eat less, eat better quality.”
It seems like a counterintuitive thing to say from someone who runs a butchery business, but according to Puharich you shouldn’t be gorging yourself on 300g, 400g or 500g of meat in one sitting.
“That’s overkill and too much. For a really good piece of meat, you shouldn’t need more than 200g. That is more than enough.”
“You feel good about eating a piece of meat when you’re eating that amount. You’ll feel satisfied. A healthy and long life requires balance.”
How To Spot & Avoid Bad Meats
Buying meat is like buying insurance. Sometimes you have to shop around and know a dud deal when you see one. And how do you pick the good cuts of meat from the bad? Easy.
“If a piece of meat looks good, it’ll taste good,” says Puharich.
Key things to look for in the butcher window:
- Beautiful bright vibrant cherry colour in the meat – you don’t want anything too dark
- Nice specs of marbling on the beef – deposits of intro-muscular fat is a good sign that the animal has been well-raised, well-fed and will eat really well
- Look for nice creamy white external fat linings – you don’t want this part to be too yellow
Freezing Meat & Use-By Dates
Freezing unused meat is common amongst any household but there are right and wrong ways to do it.
Whilst Puharich isn’t a fan of freezing meat, he understands that for some people the need to stock up isn’t a choice.
- If you are going to do it, the best way to do it is by putting it into small packets – don’t put five steaks together in one bag
- Wrap them individually, freeze them quickly. The big secret with freezing meat is the way you thaw it out
- The best way to thaw out meat is slowly. Leave it in the chiller part of your fridge for 24 – 36 hours
- Do NOT leave it out in room temperature to thaw – it’s about controlling bacteria
- Do NOT run it under running water to thaw
- Do NOT use your microwave to thaw meat as this will ruin it entirely
Anthony Puharich is the man behind Victor Churchill, the prominent supplier of the world’s most coveted meat to Australia. He learnt his craft from his father, a fourth generation butcher, and has since penned his own meat bible aptly named Meat.