Ranch steak is a type of beef cut that comes from the shoulder area of the cow, specifically the chuck primal cut. It’s also known as a “boneless chuck shoulder center-cut steak.” This cut of beef tends to be lean and moderately tough due to the heavy muscular work the shoulder does. It is flavorful and can benefit from slow-cooking methods like braising to tenderize it. However, it can also be grilled or broiled if it’s marinated first to help soften its texture.
Over the next few paragraphs, we will explore everything you need to know about this cut, from its characteristics and cooking recommendations to its place within the wider context of beef cuts.
What is ranch steak?
Ranch steak, also known as a boneless chuck shoulder center cut steak, is a unique piece of beef that offers a distinct flavor profile. It originates from the shoulder area of the cow, specifically the chuck primal cut. This cut is relatively small, typically weighing between 10 to 12 ounces per serving.
The ranch steak is characterized by its lean composition. It tends not to have a high degree of marbling, which refers to the distribution of fat within the muscle. This lack of marbling, combined with the presence of some connective tissue due to the heavy work the shoulder muscle does, results in a texture that can be moderately tough.
Despite its toughness, this cut is known for its rich, beefy flavor. Given its texture and low-fat content, the ranch steak benefits significantly from the addition of marinades or slow-cooking techniques such as braising, which can help to tenderize the meat and break down the connective tissues.
What does ranch steak taste like?
Ranch steak is known for its robust, full-bodied beefy flavor. Despite its lack of marbling, which often enhances the taste of other steak cuts, the ranch steak’s flavor profile is rich and distinct. This flavor comes from the shoulder area of the cow where the ranch steak is cut, an area that gets a lot of exercises. Muscles that are used more frequently by the animal tend to develop a stronger flavor.
However, this exercise also results in the development of connective tissue, making the meat tougher. The relative lack of fat means the steak doesn’t have the melt-in-your-mouth quality of highly marbled cuts, but it does allow the pure beef flavor to shine through. Therefore, while the ranch steak might not be as tender as other cuts, its taste is notably hearty and satisfying.
By using appropriate cooking methods and steak marinades, the toughness can be mitigated to a large extent, allowing the flavor to take center stage. So, even with less marbling and more connective tissue, the ranch steak delivers a taste experience that can be a pleasant surprise for those who appreciate the true essence of beef.
How to cook ranch steak
Grilling or broiling ranch steak can work well, especially if the meat has been marinated beforehand. Marinades not only add flavor but also help to tenderize the meat, making it less tough. When grilling or broiling, it’s important to avoid overcooking as this can toughen the steak. Cook it to medium-rare or medium at most and let it rest for a few minutes after cooking to allow the juices to redistribute.
Braising, however, is often considered the best method for cooking ranch steak. Braising involves slow-cooking the meat in a small amount of liquid over low heat for a long time. This process helps to break down the connective tissues in the steak, resulting in a tender and flavorful piece of meat.
Lastly, sous-vide, a method where the steak is vacuum-sealed and cooked in a water bath at a precise temperature, can also yield excellent results. The slow, gentle cooking process can tenderize the ranch steak without the risk of overcooking.
How does ranch steak compare to other similar cuts?
Cuts like flank steak, skirt steak, and hanger steak are often compared to ranch steak as they are relatively lean and come from muscular parts of the cow that do more work.
Flank and skirt steaks, like ranch steak, are lean cuts known for their rich, beefy flavor. However, these cuts are usually thinner and can be a bit tougher. They also benefit significantly from marinating and fast, high-heat cooking methods, just like ranch steak. The hanger steak, while more tender, is similar in its strong flavor profile and moderate price point.
In terms of price, ranch steak is often more affordable than cuts like ribeye or filet mignon, but it delivers a flavor that can stand up to these more expensive cuts. It’s important to note, though, that these higher-end cuts are generally more tender and have more marbling, which contributes to their higher price point.
How to pick ranch steak
- Look at the grading of the beef. In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades beef into three main categories: USDA Prime, USDA Choice, and USDA Select. USDA Prime has the highest amount of marbling and is the most tender and flavorful, followed by USDA Choice and then USDA Select which is the leanest with less marbling. While ranch steak is a lean cut by nature, selecting a higher grade can still enhance its flavor and tenderness.
- Consider the diet of the cow. Beef can be categorized as grass-fed or grain-fed, referring to what the cow was fed during its life. Grass-fed beef, as the name implies, comes from cows that have been fed a diet primarily of grass. It tends to be leaner and may have a different flavor profile, often described as more “gamey” or “earthy” compared to grain-fed beef. Grain-fed beef, on the other hand, comes from cows that have been fed a diet that includes grains, which can lead to more marbling and a generally richer, buttery flavor.
- Pay attention to the color and appearance of the steak. It should be a bright, cherry-red color, and it should look moist but not wet. Avoid any steak that is turning brown or has a slimy appearance, as this could indicate that it’s not fresh.
If you want to learn more about how to pick a good quality steak, click on this link.
How to store ranch steak
If you plan to use the ranch steak within a few days of purchasing it, you can store it in the refrigerator. It should be kept at a temperature below 40°F (4°C) to prevent the growth of bacteria. The steak should be kept in its original packaging until you’re ready to use it. If the packaging is damaged, you can rewrap the steak in foil or plastic wrap to protect it.
If you want to store the steak for a longer period, it can be frozen. Freezing beef does not reduce its quality but can keep it safe indefinitely. However, for the best taste and texture, the USDA suggests using frozen steaks within 6 to 12 months. To freeze a ranch steak, wrap it tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place it in a freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.
When you’re ready to cook the steak, if it is frozen, it should be thawed in the refrigerator and not at room temperature to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. The USDA recommends planning ahead, as a large frozen steak can take 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator.
How should ranch steak be served?
Ranch steak can be served in a variety of ways, depending on your preference. It can be sliced thin and served over salad, chopped into cubes for stews or soups, or served as a steak with a side of vegetables and potatoes.
How do I tenderize ranch steak?
There are a few ways to tenderize ranch steak. Marinating it in a mixture that contains an acidic ingredient (like vinegar or citrus juice) can help break down tough muscle fibers. Physically tenderizing the meat with a meat mallet can also help. Slow-cooking methods, like braising, can also tenderize the meat.
Is ranch steak the same as chuck steak?
While both cuts come from the shoulder area of the cow, they are not the same. Chuck steak is cut from the upper shoulder and neck area, while ranch steak is cut from the shoulder clod, a specific part of the shoulder muscle.
Is ranch steak a good choice for grilling?
Ranch steak can be grilled, but it’s important to tenderize it or marinate it first to ensure it doesn’t become tough. Due to its lean nature, ranch steak should be watched closely while grilling to avoid overcooking.
Can I use ranch steak in a stew?
Absolutely! Ranch steak is a good choice for stews. Its robust flavor holds up well to the long cooking times typically used in stew recipes, and the slow cooking helps to tenderize the meat.
Where can I buy ranch steak?
Ranch steak is commonly available at most supermarkets, butchers, and meat markets. It can also be purchased online from various meat delivery services. If you don’t see it, ask your butcher – they may be able to cut it for you.