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According to our favorite butcher and the author of The Everyday Meat Guide, Ray Venezia, a big factor in determining what a piece of steak will taste like is where the meat comes from on the cow. This affects how much the muscles are worked and how much fat there is.
Based on this knowledge, Ray is suggesting four alternative cuts to buy from the chuck, or the front of the animal, that taste great but are much less expensive than pricier cuts from the rib, loin and round.
The chuck section of the cow has the most marbling, Ray points out. As you move toward the back of the cow, you get less and less. So the first cut, such as in a first cut rib roast, is actually from toward the back of the animal — the leaner section.
Expensive Cut #1: Rib-Eye Steak
Alternative: Chuck Eye
The chuck eye is the piece at the end of the chuck that is going right into the rib section, according to Ray. It has the same flavor profile as the rib, but at a much lower price. You can buy the entire boneless chuck eye roast and cut it into steaks, the butcher says.
Expensive Cut #2: Boneless Short Ribs
Alternative: Beef Country-Style Ribs
Boneless short ribs also come from the chuck, so still using the chuck eye, Ray slices it like a steak, but thicker. Then, he cuts right down the middle for light, flavorful beef, country-style spareribs.
"Slow cook just like you would your short ribs, save money and have a great flavor," he says.
Expensive Cut #3: Flank Steak
Alternative: Sierra Steak
The flank steak comes from the loin, while sierra steak is a similar-sized cut that comes from the chuck. It mimics the flank in cooking in that you also want to use a tenderizing marinade. Marinate for 24 to 28 hours so it really penetrates, then grill it just like you would a flank steak and — very importantly — after it's cooked, cut against the grain, Ray says.
Expensive Cut #4: Skirt Steak
Alternative: Boneless Beef Flanken
Skirt steak has become so popular that it's now a very expensive cut, according to Ray. So in this case, the boneless short rib is cheaper — about half the price, he says.
"When you take the boneless short rib piece of meat and you slice it the long way across, they call that flanken," the butcher explains.
Again, you want to marinate for 24 to 48 hours to help its tenderness. Slice it thin — you can even put it on a stick, Ray says — throw it right on the grill real quick and you'll get that great flavor.
Plus, because "short ribs have a heaviness to them in that meat, you can use a thinner piece and it goes a long way," he adds.