Steak in Cow Town or, Steaks 101 by Chris BecickaAs hard as we’ve tried to get rid of the label, it sticks. It should. We should be proud of it; shout it from the tops of the Bartle Hall pylons. Cow Town. Kansas City is the home of steaks, renowned for steaks, celebrated for steaks. At least by us. Cow Town. And so, we know everything there is to know about steaks, right?
Not so fast. Some of us may be steak snobs, but most of us, if questioned, would inevitably display a lack, yes, a veritable lack of knowledge. We aim to remedy this situation with a few, just a few, basics that everyone should know. Let’s get to the meat of the matter now.
The first is what cut of steak you want – and why. This should be easy. Understand that you’re eating muscle and the less work those muscles do, the more tender the steak. Please picture a cow right now. At the top of the cow, right behind its ribs, is the loin (or backstrap) area – hence the name tenderloin (or filet mignon). This part doesn’t have much connective tissue, doesn’t do much (if any) work and consequently is the most tender. Its tenderness and the comparatively small size of the loin together guarantee it is the most expensive cut of the cow, ounce for ounce. It is also where most steakhouse cuts come from. (See the Cut box.)
The loin is subdivided into the short loin as well as sirloin. The short loin provides the aforementioned tenderloin, T-bone, strip, porterhouse (just a T-bone with a larger loin half) and hangar – and others not seen so often in steakhouses. Another tender cut of beef is from the rib area, right next to the loin. The backbone and ribs supply the filet of rib, cowboy steak (a bone-in rib eye), and the rib eye steak. The 7th to 12th of the posterior six ribs provide prime rib.
With basic anatomy and nomenclature out of the way, there are three things left. One is temperature (see Baby box), next grading (see When box), and finally, aging. Temperature is easy and some restaurants now have it written down for you. Keep in mind the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a temperature of at least 145°F in order to prevent foodborne illness – a temperature I regard as flavor killing as well.
Finally, a quick look at aging. Wet aging means the beef has been stored in vacuum packaging and refrigerated to weaken proteins which makes the beef more tender. Dry aging means hanging ribs and loins in humidity controlled coolers. The subsequent evaporation concentrates remaining proteins. Most of the tenderizing effect occurs in the first ten days. Premium steakhouses typically dry age for 21 to 28 days or wet age up to 45 days for maximum effect on flavor and tenderness and all waiters can tell you why their process is the best.
Now that you know a bit more of what is entailed in a really great, high quality steak, how does all this translate at some superb steak restaurants in town? Take a look at our chart (and go to Steak 101 by Chris Becicka for the full version) and then try each restaurant, one at a time. These steaks are worth the price! And you’ll be soooo happy you live in Cow Town!