Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trimming your own Steaks

Both my husband and I worked for years as managers and owners in the restaurant industry.  Aside from the long hours and servers having meltdowns, you tend to learn a lot about food and how to handle it.  One of the best skills we ever picked up was in cutting our own steaks! 

There are several advantages to cutting your own steaks.  First is price.  On a similar quality and weight steak, you should save around 2 to 3 dollars PER STEAK by cutting your own.  Second is quality- when you buy a whole ribeye for example, you will know what grade your steaks are, the fat content, etc.  Third of course is being able to control the fat content and size of your steaks.  Want a huge steak for the big game- no problem, just cut it!

We are going to start with Ribeyes because we consider them the easiest from which to hand-cut great steaks.  Later, we will go through filets (beef tenderloin) as well.

The first thing to do is select your ribeye .  Typically, we purchase whole ribeyes (aka loin) from wholesale clubs like Sam's or Costco.  Grocery stores sometimes carry them also, but we have not found them to be of the same quality, even though they may be the same grade (choice, for example).  When buying a ribeye, remember- the bigger the loin, the bigger the cow, this sometimes can mean tougher.  We like to stay in the 14-16 pound range for loins.  Only buy Choice or better, period.  One trick we do is hold it buy both ends and shake it- the more  "give" it has in the middle  of the loin the less external fat it will have.  We like to select one that is kind of in the middle in terms of this give- too much and the loin is too lean (which also shows up in the marbling of the beef- thus determining its grade), too little give and we are probably going to be trimming a lot of excess fat away (thus reducing our yield).  I won't bore you with actual yield determination- basically, we like to hit 83-84% yield on our ribeyes- the amount of actual weight of steaks compared to raw weight of the loin.  Anything above 70% would mean you were saving money over buying steaks at the butcher shop.

a 6" boning knife, 12" scimiitar, 12" slicer
So we have selected our ribeye- what tools do we need?  First, a large cutting board with a non-slip liner (very important!).  If you don't have a rubber mat designed for this simply dampen a kitchen towel and place it under the cutting board.  Pretty easy.  Next, knives- we use a 6" utility knife and a meat "scimitar".  This is not a common knife- mainly used in commercial kitchens and butcher shops.  If you don't have one, use a long slicer-10 to 12".  For cutting one ribeye it will work fine, if you were doing 20 loins a day it would fatigue your arm quickly though!  Just make sure anything you use is super sharp.

 Next, cut open the cryovac and drain the ribeye.  You can pat it dry with paper towels if you want, though we usually skip that step.  First, there is a fatty covering going from the fat-cap around the curve of the loin.  We usually trim this down being very careful not to cut into the meat.  If you want to skip this, at least run you fingers across this- sometimes there are bone chips embedded here- you will definitely want to remove them.  Then, examine your ribeye looking at both sides.  One side will have a line of fat running through it.  Steaks from this side will be more tender, but also more fatty.  The terminolgy we always used for steaks from this side was a "delmonico" steak.  As we cut from our right to our left, we arrange this side to our left- this is just a preferance thing and not a necessity. Using a modified sawing motion-i.e. "saw" as little as possible- cut your first steak.  The first one or two steaks you cut from this side of the loin are far more similar to a strip steak or sirloin in texture than the rest of the ribeye.  After cutting a steak, we trim off the fat from the tail, shaping the steak into the classic ribeye shape.

After cutting through about half the loin, you will notice the fat line turn into a "C".  At this point we trim off the "tail" (the fat at the bottom of the loin).  The rest of the steaks have a higher fat content and are thus more tender.  We have always called this cut the "delmonico" steak. 

A couple of other notes:  don't worry about being exact on your cuts- utlize the differences in sizes for different people in your family when you are packing the steaks for the freezer.  If you have an ounce scale, this will help you get your steaks more even.

The great thing about cutting your own steaks is controlling the size and the quality.  We will typically cut a 15lb ribeye into about 18 steaks.  We then pack steaks into ziploc freezer bags, label and date and freeze.  You can use a vacuum packer if you have one, but if you will eat them in the next 4 months or so it is not necessary.  Enjoy!
"Delmonico's" above, classic ribeyes below

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