If you're from outside of Santa Maria, California, you may not have heard of tri-tip, the large, tender, triangular muscle cut from the bottom sirloin of a steer. If you're from Santa Maria, on the other hand, you can bet your bowl of pinquito beans that you've had more than your share of the cut.
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I first knew flank steak by its local New England name of sirloin tip. Go to any old school dive or tavern with a menu, and you're bound to run into them, cut into cubes, stuck on a skewer, and grilled over an open coal fire, just like they do at Santarpio's over in East Boston. When grilled right, they're tender, juicy, take on marinades extremely well, and have a robust beefy flavor that a lot of other cuts-for-kebabs lack. That and they're cheap.
The Koreans and the Argentineans know something that we don't: Short rib is the best cut of meat for grilling.
Flanken-style short ribs are ribs cut cross-wise against the bone so that you end up with a few cross-sections of bone in each piece. Ask your butcher for this cut.
English cut short ribs are short ribs that are cut with one long piece of bone in each one, about 2 1/2-inches wide and 6 inches long. Look for ribs with plenty of meat and a good amount of marbling.
Of all the inexpensive cuts on the cow, the skirt is probably the greatest dollar-to-flavor value out there. Riddled with plenty of buttery, beefy fat with a deep, rich flavor and a tender, juicy texture, it's a tough cut not to like.
A great way to cook one of the best inexpensive steaks.
Hanger is like that indie band that hasn't quite hit top-40 mainstream status yet, but is big enough that everybody and their mother's heard about it. Most have even given it a try. It has the full, beefy flavor and richness of more expensive cuts of meat like ribeye or strip, without the hefty price tag.
These are the butcher's cuts. These are the cuts that chefs love to use because not only are they inexpensive, but they've got character. Here is a brief overview of my five favorite inexpensive steaks: the hanger, the tri-tip, the short-rib, the skirt, and the flap meat.