11/27/2011 09:42 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Identify & Cook Steak Cuts

The Splendid Table®'s How To Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Dear Lynne,

Why was my steak tough? The cut I bought was named "eye round." It looked just like an uncut tenderloin, but was far less expensive. After cutting it into one-inch thick rounds I cooked it very fast in a hot pan. Something wasn't right.

Cassell in Bloomsburg


Dear Cassell,

You aren't the first person to be deceived by the nasty little eye round and you won't be the last. Eye round is one of the few unredeemable cuts of meat; think tough and tasteless. Save money, but eat well with chuck steak, the cut of big flavors and some tenderness.

Several cuts of chuck steak (which is the shoulder of the animal) work. The one with a long flat bone often comes from right next to the prime rib. If you look closely you'll see it has a piece of gloriously tender rib eye. Cut that out (freeze the rest for stew or burgers) and you will feast. One-and-a-half-inch thick steaks give you more leeway to cook them just right.

One technique to remember is steaks are more tender when cooked low and slow. Brown them over high, then for maximum juiciness, get the heat down to medium low and cook slowly, turning often. Medium rare usually takes about 5 minutes a side. Test by pressing the steak. Very soft is raw, slightly firmer is bloody rare, lots of give with a little bounce back is rare to medium rare, a bit firmer is medium rare, firm is medium, bouncing back is medium well and beyond that the meat isn't worth eating.

Two last tips. Always let meat rest 10 minutes before cutting it. The juices settle, the meat tenderizes and finishes cooking. With chuck steak's chewier quality, slice the steak thinly and on an angle, which makes it more tender when you eat it.