Very few food items can compare to the steak – that unmistakable sight and smell, that luscious taste, all that fatty, umami goodness. The list of foods that inspire such thoughts of luxury and decadence is short, and you’ll certainly find steak on top of that list.
However, steak is not just a slab of meat that has been seasoned and cooked. Aficionados will beg to differ.
What exactly makes a steak, well, a steak?
Restaurant-quality steak that commands admiration is incomparable to the ones you can readily buy at the supermarket. One key difference between cuts of beef available in the grocery store and from those found in a steakhouse menu is the breed of cow from which the beef is sourced.
No conversation about steak will be complete without bringing up Angus, Wagyu, and Kobe beef.
Angus beef traces its origins to Scotland where these cows were esteemed for their ability to withstand winters. Unlike your regular cows, Angus cows produce meat that has an incredible amount of marbling that translates into incomparable tenderness and juiciness.
Both Wagyu and Kobe cows originate in Japan. In fact, Kobe is actually a type of Wagyu strain raised only in the prefecture of Hyogo, so it would be hard to find these cows in other parts of the globe.
Wagyu is notable for its marbling, often exceeding the standards for prime grade meat. However, typical Wagyu beef marbling often pales in comparison to the superior Kobe beef. It’s no wonder that Kobe beef has a steeper price tag.
Steaks are graded depending on their quality: prime, choice, select, and standard. Along with the cattle breed, the grade can spell the difference between an ordinary cut of meat and a little taste of heaven.
Prime steaks rank on top of the grade due to their high amount of fat deposits. This translates to unparalleled marbling, deep flavor, and juiciness.
Choice steaks are a step below prime steaks. These are similar to prime steaks but often come with a few imperfections or come from older cattle.
In select steaks, you can still see a high amount of marbling, but just not enough to get a prime or choice rating. Additionally, the meat is less flavorful and less juicy due to the lower marbling.
Standard steaks are the ones you can readily find in groceries and have little to no marbling.
Many correlate the freshness of produce with its quality; but not with steaks. You see, when a cow is slaughtered, it undergoes changes which can make the meat tougher to chew if cooked immediately.
This is why the best steakhouses in the world insist on aging their meat before prepping it to be served. Aging simply means letting the meat “rest” before cooking.
Beef is aged in two ways: dry and wet.
In dry aging, meats are hung in a room with a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level of 70 percent. The aging process can last anywhere between seven to 60 days.
In wet aging, cuts of meats are vacuum-sealed before being placed in boxes for up to 30 days. Within this timeframe, the enzymes found in the beef tenderize and draw out more flavor from the steak.
Beef is available in different cuts, ranging from the chuck to the shank. But in steaks, there are four cuts that matter: ribeye, strip, tenderloin, and T-bone.
- The tenderloin, also known as the Chateaubriand or filet mignon, is unparalleled when it comes to tenderness, texture, and juiciness.
- The strip steak combines marbling with great flavor but can be a little tougher to chew.
- The ribeye is immensely popular due to its tenderness and flavor.
- The T-bone or Porterhouse is a cut that combines parts of the strip and tenderloin, including the bone. For many aficionados, the T-bone is the quintessential steak.
When you order steak, your server will ask you how you would like it done. Doneness refers to how the steak is cooked.
In terms of doneness, rare is often the lowest that you can go. Rare steaks are cooked until the inside part reaches a temperature of 130 degrees. Outside, the meat will have some charring, and inside, the meat will have some pinkness and high amount of redness. This translates to excellent flavor, tenderness and juiciness.
Many foodies recommend ordering a medium done steak where the internal temperature of the meat reaches 150 degrees. Like a rare steak, a medium steak packs in a ton of flavor and juiciness.
A well-done steak is cooked until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. Cut into the steak, and you will notice the absence of pinkness. Plus, the meat becomes devoid of any flavor, tenderness, and juiciness. Another downside is that the meat can be tough to chew. This is why most steak lovers recommend avoiding ordering steak done this way.
Try something new
The great thing about steaks is the variety of options available to you. Try a different breed, cut, grade, or even doneness the next time around. Veer away from your usual order and experience something new.
Chiara Bisignani is the F&B Marketing Executive at Saadiyat Beach Club. She oversees website maintenance, PR requests, marketing initiatives and all general guests’ enquiries for the company’s destinations of KOI Restaurant & Lounge, Boa Steakhouse and Caramel Restaurant and Lounge in Abu Dhabi.