I go meatless about half of the week. It's partly because of environmental reasons and also due to how damn expensive it's become. I know that premium, grass-fed, organic, sustainable, hand-fed, hand-massaged beef is expensive. And I don't mind paying for it. The problem is, all those formerly cheap braising cuts are now fashionable and costly. So what am I supposed to do?
A few years ago, a fellow cook introduced me to a bavette steak. It looked like a steak. It tasted like a steak. But it did not cost nearly as much as most steaks. I remember handing him $8 for the cut.
Though I still enjoy my pricey bone-in rib eyes, I often look for offbeat cuts like bavette. These off-cuts may need a little more TLC than, say, a New York strip, but the results are just as delicious.
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It can be difficult to find these cuts at your local supermarket or butcher. You'll need to look for a butcher shop that breaks down whole cows to ensure that you'll have access to the new alternative cuts below. We asked one our favorite butchers, Jake Dickson of Dickson's Farmstand Meats in New York, to educate us about off-cuts. Let's dig in.
① Top Blade
This cut sits just on top of the cow's shoulder blade where the two muscles are separated by a thick line of gristle. Butchers usually butterfly this cut, turning it into thin, rectangular cuts known as flat iron steaks. It's an extremely tender cut—the second most tender after the tenderloin—and has a very buttery flavor. Its uniform shape makes it perfect for grilling or searing.
"Another way to cook top blade is to turn it into chicken steak or charcoal steak, where the meat is cut through the gristle and made into steaks. This isn't very popular, since you are forced to eat around the gristle," says Dickson.
A third way is to leave the fat cap on one side and leave the line of gristle on. It then gets cut into cubes that can be used for beef bourguignon. However, Dickson thinks this is a waste due to how naturally tender and flavorful the steak can be.
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② Shoulder Tender, aka Petite Tender, aka Teres Major
Taken from the cow's shoulder blade, the shoulder tender takes on a "pleasant spongy texture" when cooked, says Dickson. You can use it as a substitute in hanger steak recipes, like this one with chimichurri sauce. Just like a filet mignon, it's best seared in the pan for a couple of minutes on both sides before being finished in the oven. Unlike filet mignon, a shoulder tender won't bankrupt you. Due to its leanness, it's best to cook mostly over indirect heat.
③ Denver Steaks, aka Boneless Chuck Short Rib, aka Zabuton
Cut from the shoulder (known as the chuck), Denver steaks are tender and have great flavor. Occasionally, butchers will label it boneless chuck short rib, but don't be confused: This cut is not a deboned short rib and doesn't need to be braised. The cut is a butcher's favorite. When there's a lot of marbling, butchers may refer to it by its Japanese name, zabuton, which means "cushion" in Japanese. We suggest trying it in Vietnamese beef stew.
④ Oyster Steak, aka Spider Steak
Yes, it looks an oyster. This cut is taken from the backbone of the animal, just above the rump. Rarely seen, it's a cut most butchers don't consider worthy of being packaged and marketed. Its other name, spider steak, is in reference to its radiating lines. The steak has a good amount of fat but is pretty tender. Just don't dare to overcook this one as things can get chewy quickly.
Dinner... #BeenThereDoneThat! But this is the first time I ever worked with a piece of meat!! #OysterSteak!! Thank you @chefchaya & @jerusalemglatt for guiding me through the process! Oh and lets not ignore the rest of the plate... Tapenade baked potato, avocado salad with hearts of palm, pickles & roasted lemons!! #WasOutOfThisWorld!!!
⑤ Inside Skirt Steak, aka Entraña
You'll see a variety of names for this cut. It's also called an Argentine steak due to its popularity in the country. The inside skirt steak is very similar to the outside skirt steak (the one more commonly seen in butcher shops). The difference is the latter comes from the flank (aka underbelly). Inside skirt steak is narrower, thinner and doesn't really have much fat on it but can be treated like a regular skirt steak, meaning you should marinate this bad boy. Just make sure to slice it a little thinner once the meat has been cooked. Inside skirt steak would be perfect in this fully loaded taco salad.
#Bavette cafe de Paris - first #dinnerformrspigflyin back from Japan. Extremely hot pan sear the outside of a lush inner skirt steak, CDP butter on top, into a hot grill for a minute. Good to be back to my own stove. #cafedeparis #insideskirtsteak #pigflyincooks #pigflyinmadefromscratch #instafood #sydneyeats
⑥ Tri-Tip Sirloin Steak
The triangular-shaped muscle from the bottom sirloin has been popular on the West Coast (particularly Central California) for years. Now it's showing up more on the East Coast, where it's usually marketed as Newport steak. The name is said to come from the Florence Meat Market in New York's Greenwich Village. Due to its shape, "it's difficult to cut it into even, consistenly-sized steaks," says Dickson. It's best when cooked toward medium, so that the meat's connective tissue can properly break down. It absorbs marinade well and is ideal for skewering.
⑦ Sirloin Flap, aka Bavette, aka Batio
Due to the way this cut is grained, it will never be fork tender. It's important with all steaks but crucial with this cut due to its heavy grain to slice across the grain. Substitute the meat for any recipe that calls for skirt steak. It's thicker than a skirt, so it can take a little more sear and char on the grill.
This cut comes from the top sirloin section and can be cut into a roast or a steak. "The meat itself is not super fatty, but due to its fat cap, the meat won't dry out when cooked," says Dickson. When tied into a roast, the culotte tapers and gets thinner, making it great for entertaining guests who like their meat medium rare to medium well.
The Merlot cut is from the side of the heel and is really the only tender muscle in the shank. It's probably the leanest muscle on the entire animal. It has a deep reddish color (hence the name), and huge beefy flavor. If you overcook it, it will develop a irony or livery taste. "Don't buy this cut if you don't like your steak bloody," says Dickson.
This article was originally published on 9/23/15, and was updated with additional photography by Delia Mooney on 8/23/16.