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The Best Inexpensive Steaks

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2005

We taste-tested 12 inexpensive steaks to find which were pan-worthy.

We taste-tested 12 inexpensive steaks (all priced around $6.99 per pound or less). We've listed the steaks by the name used in the Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (a national system for standardizing terminology for retail cuts of meat), but because supermarkets still often use regional or other names, we've listed the likely alternatives you'll find, too. The "hard-to-find cuts" listed below are usually sold only at butchers' shops; all other cuts can be found in most supermarkets.

GOOD CUT FOR PAN-SEARING:

Boneless Shell Sirloin Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Top butt, butt steak, top sirloin butt, top sirloin steak, center-cut roast)

Shopping Tips: One of the two main muscles from the hip. Can be quite large. Look for a 1-pound piece of uniform, 1 1/4-inch thickness.

Tasters' Comments: "Tremendous beef flavor" coupled with "very tender" texture make this steak a winner. "Just like butter."

Flap Meat Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Top sirloin tips, beef sirloin tips, sirloin tip steak, sirloin flap meat for tips)

Shopping Tips: Varies widely in size. Ask for a 1-pound steak of even thickness. Avoid small strips of meat or large steaks that taper drastically at one end.

Tasters' Comments: "Great beefy flavor" is the main selling point. Praised as "tender and fun to chew" and "never mushy."

CUT BETTER FOR GRILLING:

Flank Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Jiffy steak, London broil)

Shopping Tips: This wide, thin steak doesn't fit easily in a pan but works great on the grill.

Tasters' Comments: "Pleasant," "mild" flavor, with "just enough chew."

Skirt Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Philadelphia steak, fajitas meat)

Shopping Tips: This thin steak can measure more than a foot long, making it better suited for grilling than pan-searing.

Tasters' Comments: Tasters gushed with praise such as "wonderful" and "beefy heaven." The meat is "rich and fatty."

DISAPPOINTING CUT:

Top Blade Steak, Boneless (ALTERNATE NAMES: Blade steak, book steak, butler steak, lifter steak, petit steak, flat-iron steak, boneless top chuck steak)

Tasters' Comments: "Tender and juicy" but undependable. Often tastes "like liver." But "when it's good, it's really good." Watch out for vein that runs through center of steak.

Shoulder Steak, Boneless (ALTERNATE NAMES: Chuck for swissing, boneless clod steak, London broil, boneless shoulder cutlet)

Tasters' Comments: "Strong taste veers toward liver," but texture has "decent bite."

Top Round Steak (ALTERNATE NAME: Inside round cut)

Tasters' Comments: "Nice basic beef flavor," but texture is "like bubblegum."

Bottom Round Steak

Tasters' Comments: Overall assessment: "gummy, with flat flavor."

Eye Round Steak

Tasters' Comments: "Not much meat flavor"; also described as "tough" and "like sawdust."

Tip Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Sirloin tip steak, round tip steak, knuckle steak) Tasters' Comments: "Spongy," "shallow" beef flavor. "Tough as shoe leather."

HARD-TO-FIND CUT/BUTCHER'S SPECIAL:

Hanger Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Hanging tenderloin, butcher's steak)

Shopping Tips: Usually a restaurant cut, but your butcher may be able to procure this thick steak that "hangs" between the last rib and the loin.

Tasters' Comments: "Bold, brash beef flavor," with a texture that's "moderately tender" and "a little chewy."

Flat Iron Steak (ALTERNATE NAME: Blade steak)

Shopping Tips: This restaurant cut comes from the same muscle as the top blade steak, but the muscle is cut in such a way that the vein is removed at the same time.

Tasters' Comments: "Great beef flavor" and "awesome combination of tender and chewy." Like blade steak, can be livery on occasion.