Ribeye, porterhouse, eye fillet, T-bone, scotch fillet, cattlemans cutlet, fillet mignon, New York strip, cot de beouf, tomahawk, sirloin, chateaubriand, tenderloin. So many steaks to choose from, or so it seems. In actual fact, all of these steaks are cut from the same three muscles and are either interchangeable names or simply portioned slightly differently. Add rump to the list and we really only use four cuts of beef (out of more than 30 total subprimals) for steaks. No wonder the price of steak is going through the roof and it's becoming harder and harder to find good quality and value!
The droughts, floods, increased export demand, a mouse plague and a global pandemic have all hurt the domestic meat industry, steadily driving prices up and pushing more and more of Australias top quality beef to export. Fortunately, the good stuff is still available if you know where to find it (Canberra we have you covered), but price wise it's becoming a luxury. We could easily turn to the lower grade beef that's available en masse, but let's be real - it's garbage and it can be a pretty dicey choice ethically when there is no grading or information available regarding the farming and production practices.
Another option is to find some alternatives to the scotch fillet, sirloin, eye fillet and all their variations; they're out there and they make high quality, ethically and sustainably produced beef great value again. Considering that a high grade alternative steak will cook up a dream and be miles better than a disappointingly dry and chewy lower grade classic cut steak (that we are all too familiar with), it makes this a much simpler proposition and easier decision.
Unfortunately, there are far too many alternative steaks available to explore them all in detail (but it's well worth trying flat iron steak, Denver steak, Sierra steak, chuck eye steak and Y-bone steak if you find them, just be certain that they are taken from high-grade cattle). Anyway, let's have a look at some of the leading alternative cuts:
- Rump cap (also called top sirloin, pichana, or rump tender). There is absolutely no logical explanation as to why this cut is still largely unheard of, it's truly fantastic! Take note, this is not the standard rump steak we are all familiar with from the club or the pub, this is something else entirely - something special and something probably even better than sirloin. Rump cap is an oddly shaped, relatively thin muscle taken from just below the sirloin and next to the rump (where classic rump steaks and rostbiffs come from), it has a rich fat cap on top and elegant, uniform marbling without any intramuscular sinew. It has a rich, deep beef flavour and a soft but sturdy texture that resembles but consistently outperforms sirloin. Grilled as steaks or roasted whole, rump cap is sensational.
- Hanger steak (also called hanging tender, fillet onglet and butchers steak). Nicknamed butchers steak because butchers would save this cut for themselves knowing it has a sensational balance between soft, juicy texture and delicious, rich flavour. This steak is cut from inside the ribs where it sits (or hangs) on its own, it is a long, thin muscle that almost resembles a little tenderloin with an unusual diagonal grain. When it's from high quality beef this steak is pretty special - look out for anything with a marble score of 4 or more, any premium grass fed cattle and renowned eating quality breeds such as Black Angus and Wagyu.
- Tri Tip. Cut from close to the rump in the hind quarter, tri tip is an impressively versatile (perfect for stews, stir fries and even pulled beef) triangular cut of tender, lean beef. As a steak, tri tip is thick and has long sturdy muscle fibres therefore it is best suited to a longer, slower grill (reverse sear works a treat) with an extended rest and then carved against the grain to serve.
- Flank/bavette and both inside and outside skirt. This is a collection of similarly unusual cuts - all are long, thin, lean and flat with sturdy muscle fibres that are best grilled whole and then carved against the grain to serve. While each of these cuts have a varying intensity of flavour, they all benefit from a 12-24 hour marinade, a hot direct to flame grill and an extended rest for an impressive full-flavour steak.
- Merlot. The merlot steak is pretty unique - a cut taken from deep in the hind quarter that is a deep crimson red with long muscle fibres and is almost perfectly lean. It has a full-rich flavour from the hardworking hindquarter muscles, yet it is soft and tender (when cooked very rare or even blue). The merlot steak is best when allowed to warm to room temperature and then lightly cooked on a medium heat to avoid the fibres seizing, quickly rested and carved against the grain.
We are fortunate to live in Australia - one of the top three beef producers in the world and we probably all remember the outstanding quality meat we used to consistently get from our supermarkets and butchers. Sadly, we are being priced out of our own industries best produce and are increasingly being sold the garbage which, if the past two years (or two decades for that matter) are anything to go by would seem to be getting worse rather than better. Finding, trying and incorporating alternative cuts into our regular repertoire is a great way to get back to enjoying outstanding quality meat and rediscovering value.