Steak Buying Tips for the Home Cook

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With summer right around the corner that more means steaks on the grill. Do you know how to choose the best steak?

Get Chummy with your Butcher

Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher for help. Even if you buy your steak at the grocery store, the butchers behind the meat counter are there to help you. You’d be surprised how eager they are to offer advice, from how to cook a certain cut of meat to what’s a good buy this week. Not only will they recommend the right steak for a certain meal or recipe, but they can help show you a good steak from a bad one. These are the people who know what you don’t so don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help.

Color

There are lots of options when it comes to buying steak, from grass-fed beef to grain-fed and finished on corn. What the cow eats makes a big difference in the color of the meat. Grass-fed beef is usually darker red than a well-marbled grain-fed steak. Here’s an experiment. Go to your higher-end grocery store and look at the two steaks side by side or ask your butcher to show you them. You’ll notice a difference.

Besides what the cow was fed, the meat color changes depending on when it was cut. When first cut and packaged, meat has a bright, red appearance. That’s because when meat is first cut and exposed to oxygen, the myoglobin in the meat turns it a bright red color.

Remember we said to get chummy with your butcher? Here’s why. When unwrapped beef oxidizes it turns from bright red to a more brownish-red. When it turns brownish red, at the end of the day, the butcher can’t sell it even though it tastes just as good as the steaks sold in the morning. At the end of the day, the butcher will use the unsold steaks for ground beef, or sell it to their favorite customers at a big discount.

Smell

If you open pre-packaged steaks and smell a sour or ammonia odor, it’s not fresh. Fresh steaks don’t smell stale or “off.” If you’ve bought a pre-packaged steak and it smells unusual, take it back and get a refund. You don’t want to be eating bad meat. If you buy your steak from a butcher at the meat counter, you’re at an advantage because you can ask to look at the meat before the butcher wraps it and get in a quick sniff. Any good butcher would be able to tell that the meat was bad by the color, touch and smell, and wouldn’t sell them to his/her customers, especially their favorite ones.

Touch

Touch is a little harder to test. You can’t open up the packages and sneak a feel, and your butcher won’t let you man-handle their steaks no matter how chummy you are. But if you get home and the steaks feel sticky, they’re probably past their prime and should be returned.

The Truth about Marbling

Most experts agree that marbling (or intramuscular fat) is a sign of a steak with good flavor and tenderness. Marbling is described as “the dispersion of fat within the lean,” and the sign of good marbling is small flecks of fat spread across finely textured lean meat. A steak with this type of marbling will make a juicy, tender steak when cooked.

There is a lot more to this buying a great steak, besides sight, smell, and touch. But if you keep these three senses in mind when buying a steak, it will impact the most important sense of all – taste.

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