You’re Buying Steak All Wrong. Here’s How to Really Do It.

updated Jun 3, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

There are so many options when shopping for steak that the whole process might be a bit overwhelming. Do you want bone-in or boneless? What grade of beef do you want? What does each cut cost, and what are you willing to spend since steaks are a premium cut? That’s a lot to wade through even before you get to the cooking. Once you’ve decided what kind of steak to buy, here’s a little tip to remember when you’re actually about to pick up the steaks and put them in your cart.

Pick Your Steak’s Cut First

Steaks are expensive because they come from the prime areas of the cow that are the most tender — areas which are small relative to the whole animal. The six most popular cuts of steak (tenderloin, porterhouse, ribeye, New York, flank, and skirt) each have their own unique characteristics and price points, so pick what you like to eat best, or read more about them here as a starting point.

Why Steak Thickness Matters Most

But once you decide on a cut of steak, what should you look for in packaged steaks or what’s on display in the case? Don’t just look at the weight on the package and pick based on that — look at how thick the steaks are instead. Think about what makes a crave-worthy steak tasty: It has a deeply browned crust full of savory beefy flavors that give way to juicy, rosy meat inside. This kind of crust takes high heat and time to develop. Thin steaks cook way too quickly, making it hard to develop that good crust before the centers are overcooked. Look for fairly thick steaks (around 1 inch) instead, which will add some precious minutes to the cooking time so your crust has plenty of time to develop.

Go for Even Steak Thicknesses

But even after you’ve found nice thick steaks, keep this in mind if you’re buying more than one: each steak should be the same thickness. Avoid packages where one steak inside seems scrawnier than the others. Cooking meats that are the same thickness mean that they all cook at the same rate and you don’t have to worry about something being ready and overcooking before the rest.

The thickest cuts of steak tend to be New Yorks, porterhouses, and ribeyes. Tenderloins, the leanest steaks of all, are usually sold fairly thick, but you can always ask the butcher to cut them for you if you don’t like what’s already on display. Flank and skirt steaks are naturally thinner, so just focus on an even thickness for these instead. Armed with this knowledge, you can more confidently shop for Father’s Day, date night, or just a weeknight steak dinner treat and come home with the perfect steaks.