How to cook a perfect steak

Our experts explain how to buy the best cuts of beef, and offer tips on seasoning, marinating and grilling to suit every taste.

By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

Grilling vs. marinating steaks
This story was originally titled "Great Steaks" in the July 2008 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

When it comes to beef, steaks are a big-ticket item. To get the most for your money, get to know your butcher – ask questions about where the beef comes from, how it was raised and how long it was aged. Getting friendly with your butcher will pay off deliciously at dinner.

Know your steaks
Two types of steaks are perfect for summer barbecues: Grilling steaks and marinating steaks. While marinating steaks are cut from flank and short plate sections, prime grilling steaks are cut from rib, sirloin and loin sections. The loin section can be cut two ways: removing the tenderloin and strip loin separately; or cutting steaks that contain portions of both the tenderloin and strip loin (T-bone and porterhouse). Tender grilling steaks can be cooked with minimal preparation. Less tender marinating steaks benefit from standing in an acidic-based mixture for four to 24 hours to tenderize them. Marinating steaks should be grilled only to medium-rare or medium: anything beyond medium tends to produce toughness.

Grilling steaks
Tenderloin: Medallions or filets are cut from the loin section and are the leanest, most tender steaks. Sometimes they are wrapped in bacon to add flavour and keep them juicy while grilling. Be careful not to overcook them: they will become dry and tasteless.

Strip loin
: Strip loin grilling steaks and medallions are cut from the loin section. Though not as tender as tenderloin, they are much more flavourful (in fact, many gourmands consider them the tastiest cut). These often appear on restaurants menus as New York strip steak or entrecote.

T-bone: This easily identifiable steak with the T-shaped bone is cut from the centre of the short loin (tender section of muscle between rib and sirloin). It has tenderloin on one side of the bone and strip loin on the other. Because the meat is cooked on the bone, both sides are very flavourful.

Porterhouse: Though similar looking to T-bones, porterhouse steaks are cut from the large end of the short loin to yield a larger piece of tenderloin. So if priced the same, you get more tenderloin for your money with a porterhouse steak than a T-bone. Porterhouse steak takes careful cooking because the two sides cook slightly differently. Sear it over high heat then finish it at moderate heat.

Top sirloin
: Top sirloin is a large steak (usually 2 to 3 inches/5 to 8 cm thick) and makes an attractive presentation when grilled whole and sliced to serve four or more. Because it is cut from a muscle close to the hindquarters, it is a little tougher than rib and loin cuts, but it is very flavourful.

Rib eye
: Cut from the short loin, next to the rib end, this tender steak has a fine-textured centre portion known as a "rib eye," which should be delicately marbled. (The whole steak without the bone is sometimes called a Delmonico steak.) This cut is many butchers' favourite because they know that this fatty steak cut close to the bone will be the most flavourful.

Marinating steaks
: Steaks cut from the underside flank section are relatively coarse but contain enough fat to maintain a little tenderness. These lean, somewhat tough but flavourful cuts benefit from the tenderizing effects of a marinade. They are best when grilled to medium-rare and thinly sliced across the grain.

Page 1 of 2 -- On page 2, learn what quality indicators to look for when buying steaks, PLUS a cooking-times guide to take the guesswork out of grilling.

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