Barbecue season is in full swing, but between Memorial Day and July Fourth, you might have noticed that more of your party budget went up in smoke on the grill than you would have liked. Don’t worry, you have the whole rest of the summer to get it right — and all you have to do to get it right is shop around for bargain beef that can hold its own against any of the primo cuts.
If you want to impress your guests but you don’t know what you’re doing, you might just grab whatever looks good in the meat aisle. If you do know a thing or two about which cuts come from which part of the cow, you might be inclined to buy a prestige steak with a famous name.
Either way, you’re probably spending more money than you need to. With a little research, you can slash your bill by half or more by selecting budget cuts that don’t skimp on flavor, tenderness or texture.
One of the least expensive cuts of beef that you’ll find in the meat aisle, chuck steak is often derided as the “poor man’s ribeye.” But when cooked right — a fast sear on a hot grill or cast-iron skillet is all it takes — it’s as luxurious as it is economical.
Cut from the shoulder, or chuck, it’s actually located right next to the posher and pricier ribeye. The average price of chuck steak is $5.26 per pound, according to the USDA, compared to ribeye at around $10.97.
On the other end of the cow from the shoulder or chuck is the round — the hind legs and rump — which produces some of the cheapest and leanest cuts on the entire cow. “Lean” is often a synonym for “tough,” and since the animal uses these muscles so frequently, the cuts that come from it are generally not particularly tender — but the merlot steak is an exception.
Cut from the heel of the bottom round, it looks like a flank steak but with a finer texture — it’s sometimes called a velvet steak. It gets its name from its deep red color and can be had for about the same price as chuck steak.
Moving back to the chuck, the flat iron steak is also known as the book steak or the butler steak. Whatever you call it, the flat iron is known for its impressive marbling and mouth-watering tenderness. Cut from the top blade, it’s perfect for grilling — only the vaunted filet mignon is more tender.
You can score flat iron steaks for an average of $8.24 per pound, according to the USDA. The average price for filet mignon, on the other hand, is $20.58.
Next in from the round is the sirloin, which is divided into the top butt and the bottom butt. Unlike top butt cuts that are great for grilling, bottom butt cuts like the tri-tip sirloin are perfect for roasting. Also known as the Santa Maria steak or Newport steak, the tri-tip is a boneless cut in a triangular shape that’s fairly tender and delivers extra heapings of bold beef flavor.
It’s also much cheaper than comparable cuts. Target, for example, is currently selling tri-tips for less than $10 per pound.
The Denver steak is one of the best cuts of meat on the entire cow — and since it comes from the chuck, it’s also one of the most affordable. Cut from the center of the under blade, it’s moderately marbled and tender — the trick is to grill it over high heat.
One of the greatest steaks you’ve probably never heard of, the Denver steak can be had for as little as $5 per pound.
Top Round Steak
At just $5.18 per pound, top round steak just might be the budget steak of all budget steaks. It’s a thick and versatile cut that’s great in both the broiler and the slow-cooker. You might also hear it referred to as London broil or inside round steak. It’s a cut that can be used for just about anything — beef stew, chili, carnitas or simply served sliced thin and drizzled with sauce.
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