While most diners understand the differences among rare, medium-rare, medium and well-done, fewer are familiar with the myriad of steak cuts and other terms on the average steakhouse menu. Here are some handy tips for reading a steakhouse menu, and thus getting a great steak.
1. Fat is a good thing. While most consumers have been programmed to think of fat as a bad thing, it is what adds flavor to a steak—or most any cut of meat. Marbling is a term used to describe the fat that is interwoven throughout the meat. The more extensive the marbling, the more flavorful the meat.
2. Prime vs. choice. These are U.S. Department of Agriculture designations. The USDA rates beef on a variety of criteria, such as marbling, color, texture and age. Prime is a superior grade to choice, but neither have much meaning if not accompanied by the USDA seal. Without the seal, they are simply marketing words, such as "light" or "organic."
3. Understand a bit more about kobe. Kobe is a specialized type of beef, named for a small town in Japan. Beef designated as Kobe Beef much adhere to special cattle farming practices and techniques, much as French wine of a specific region must follow certain rules. The result is beef that is well-marbled, very tender, and has a distinct flavor.
4. Learn the steak names. Steak names can also be confusing. If you enjoy dining at steak restaurants, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with a few common steak names.
- Filet (or filet mignon). This smaller cut (mignon means "small" in French) comes from the tenderloin portion of the steer and is one of the most tender and leanest cuts of steak.
- Ribeye steak. Sometimes called a cowboy steak, this is one of the most flavorful steaks available, due to its elaborate marbling pattern.
- Strip steak. A strip steak, also referred to as a New York strip or Kansas City strip (depending on where you live), comes from the short loin of the steer and is a good, versatile steak. Strip steaks are frequently used in such preparations as steak diane or steak au poivre.
- Porterhouse steak or T-bone steak. This larger steak includes both a filet and a strip steak, separated by a large (t-shaped) bone.
Steakhouse menus can have a lot of options, and the choices can be overwhelming. Become comfortable with these mentioned terms to better understand what you are ordered at a steakhouse.