Published March 1, 2003. From Cook's Illustrated.
Can you buy a better steak through the mail?
To connoisseurs, steaks are the stars of the beef world, and strip steaks are the divas. Long and lean, with a heartier chew and a lot more flavor, strip steaks put their more popular brethren, filets mignons, to shame. Beef is a tricky business, however, and too often you can find your steak more dud than stud. To guarantee quality, more and more people are looking beyond the confines of their local supermarket butcher case and buying their steaks through mail-order sources. These outlets promise all-star beef with a price tag to match. But do the mail-order steaks really outshine the ones you can get around the corner?
We gathered seven widely available mail-order strip steaks and two from local supermarkets. Among the group was a Wagyu steak from Australia. Wagyu steak comes from cattle raised according to the specifications dictated in Kobe, Japan, for its Kobe beef. Considered the foie gras of beef, Kobe steak is extremely well-marbled, tender, and rich. Wagyu is the more generic name for the same type of beef, although it is not raised in Japan. Though few of us could afford the hefty price tag for Wagyu beef, we wanted to see if the beef was indeed worth the cost.
After pan-searing three dozen steaks (four of each type for perhaps the largest tasting turnout in America's Test Kitchen), we found that money can buy you happiness, if happiness for you is the best steak you ever ate.
"Wow," wrote one happy taster of our first-place steak. "This is unlike any strip that I've had." Others deemed the winner "tender like a filet" and "very rich and meaty." The overwhelming richness, however, which one taster likened to "foie gras-infused beef," was not everyone's cup of tea. A minority of tasters agreed with the one who wrote, "This doesn't taste like beef at all."
Three steaks shared the spot for second place, being praised for their “robust,” beefy flavor and “nice texture.” One of the country’s most popular mail-order steak purveyors took the last two spots in our tasting. Tasters detected "off flavors" and described the steaks as "grainy tasting” and “dry.”
The good news is that you don't have to spend a small fortune (or pay for shipping) to get a great steak. One of our store-bought offerings tied for second place and was a comparative bargain. For true steak greatness, however, we recommend splurging on our first-place steak… at least once.