Steak tips can come from two areas of the cow. One kind comes from tender, expensive cuts in the middle of the cow, such as the tenderloin. These tips are a superior cut but not what we consider to be a true steak tip, which should be a more pedestrian cut that is magically transformed into a desirable dish through marinating and cooking. If the steak tips at your market cost $8 to $10 per pound, the meat likely comes from the tenderloin.
True steak tips come from various muscles in the sirloin and round and cost about $5 per pound. After tasting 50 pounds of cheap steak tips, tasters had a clear favorite: a single muscle that butchers call flap meat and that is typically labeled “sirloin tips.” A whole piece of flap meat weighs about 2 1/2 pounds. One piece can range in thickness from 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 inches and may be sold as cubes, strips, or small steaks. It has a rich, deep beefy flavor and a distinctive longitudinal grain.
We found that it’s best to buy flap meat in steak form rather than cubes or strips, which are often cut from nearby muscles in the hip and butt that are neither as tasty nor as tender. Because meat labeling is so haphazard, you must visually identify this cut; buying it in steak form makes this easy.