Top blade steak, also known as flat iron steak, is a popular and flavorful cut of beef that comes from the shoulder area of the cow, specifically the chuck primal. It is situated along the top blade bone of the shoulder blade, which is why it is called “top blade.” This cut is known for its tenderness, as it is the second most tender cut after the tenderloin. Top-blade steak is versatile, making it suitable for various cooking methods such as grilling, broiling, or pan-searing. It is an affordable option for those who enjoy a tender and well-marbled steak with a rich, beefy flavor. To prevent toughness, it is crucial to remove the connective tissue that runs through the middle of the steak, which can be done by a butcher or at home with a sharp knife.
In this blog post, I will explain the characteristics of top-blade steak, discuss its versatility in various cooking methods, and provide a few tips for preparing and cooking this extremely tender and delicious piece of meat.
What is top-blade steak?
Top blade steak, commonly referred to as flat iron steak, is a flavorful and tender cut of beef that originates from the chuck primal of the cow, specifically the shoulder area. Located along the top blade bone of the shoulder blade, this cut has become increasingly popular for its combination of tenderness, marbling, and affordability.
The meat is characterized by its tenderness, ranking as the second most tender cut after the tenderloin. The well-marbled nature of top blade steak contributes to its rich, beefy flavor that is highly sought after by steak enthusiasts. When properly prepared, this cut offers a satisfying eating experience with a desirable balance of texture and taste.
In addition to being known as flat iron steak, the top-blade steak may also be referred to as butler’s steak in the United Kingdom or oyster blade steak in Australia and New Zealand. No matter the name, this cut has gained recognition for its excellent qualities and versatility in various culinary applications.
What does top-blade steak taste like?
Top blade steak, or flat iron steak, is known for its rich, beefy flavor and tenderness, which sets it apart from other cuts of beef. The taste of the steak is greatly influenced by its marbling, which refers to the distribution of fat within the meat. The presence of fat enhances the flavor profile of the steak, making it juicier and more succulent when cooked.
The tenderness of top-blade steak is attributed to its specific location on the cow, as it is cut from a part of the chuck primal that does not experience heavy muscle movement. This results in a more tender texture compared to other cuts from the same area. However, it is essential to remove the connective tissue that runs through the middle of the steak, as this can cause the meat to be tough and chewy if left intact.
When cooked properly, top-blade steak offers a balanced and satisfying taste experience. Its rich flavor and tenderness make it an appealing option for a wide range of culinary applications, including grilling, broiling, and pan-searing. The steak’s taste and texture can be further enhanced by using appropriate cooking techniques, seasoning, and marinating, allowing you to create a truly mouthwatering dish.
Different types of blade steaks
Blade steaks, derived from the chuck primal of the cow, come in different varieties, each offering unique characteristics and flavors. They are often more affordable compared to premium cuts like ribeye or filet mignon, making them a popular choice for everyday meals. Here are some of the most common types of blade steaks:
- Top Blade Steak (Flat Iron Steak): As previously discussed, top blade steak is known for its tenderness and rich, beefy flavor. Cut from the upper part of the shoulder blade, it is the second most tender cut after the tenderloin. It can be grilled, broiled, or pan-seared, making it a versatile option for various dishes.
- Under Blade Steak: This cut comes from the underside of the shoulder blade, directly beneath the top blade steak. It is less tender than the flat iron steak but still offers a robust beefy flavor. Under-blade steak is best suited for slow-cooking methods like braising or stewing, which help to tenderize the meat and enhance its natural flavors.
- Blade Roast: A blade roast is a larger cut that includes the entire shoulder blade section. It can be divided into smaller steaks or cooked as a whole roast. The meat is less tender than top-blade steak but has a deep, beefy flavor that is well-suited for slow-cooking methods, such as pot roasting, braising, or slow roasting in the oven.
- Blade Chuck Steak: This cut is taken from the larger chuck primal, which includes the shoulder blade area. It consists of several different muscles and connective tissues, which can make the meat somewhat tough. However, blade chuck steak is flavorful and can be tenderized through marinating or slow-cooking techniques like braising.
How to cook top-blade steak
Cooking top-blade steak can be achieved through various methods, each chosen for their ability to enhance the natural tenderness and flavor of the meat. Here are some of the best methods for cooking top-blade steak:
Grilling is an excellent method for cooking top-blade steak due to its high heat and quick cooking time. This method helps to sear the outside of the steak, locking in the natural juices and enhancing the beefy flavor. To grill top blade steak, preheat the grill to medium-high heat, season the steak with salt and pepper or your choice of marinade, and cook for 4-6 minutes per side, depending on the desired level of doneness.
Broiling is another high-heat method that works well for cooking top-blade steak. The intense heat from the broiler quickly sears the steak’s exterior while the interior remains tender and juicy. To broil, preheat the broiler and place the seasoned steak on a broiler pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes per side, adjusting the distance from the heat source as needed to achieve the preferred doneness.
Pan-searing is a popular method for cooking top-blade steak because it allows for precise temperature control and even cooking. To pan-sear, preheat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, add a small amount of oil, and then place the seasoned steak in the pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes per side until a brown crust forms on the exterior and the desired level of doneness is reached.
Sous vide cooking involves sealing the steak in a plastic bag and immersing it in a temperature-controlled water bath. This method is ideal for top-blade steak as it ensures consistent, even cooking, resulting in a tender and juicy texture. Cook the steak at a precise temperature (130°F-140°F/54°C-60°C) for 1-2 hours, then sear the surface quickly in a hot pan for added flavor and color.
How does top-blade steak compare to other similar cuts?
When comparing top-blade steak to other similarly priced cuts or those with similar texture and flavor, it’s essential to consider these cuts below:
- Flank Steak: Flank steak is another affordable cut of beef known for its robust flavor. It is leaner than top-blade steak, with a more pronounced grain, which makes it slightly less tender. Flank steak is best cooked quickly over high heat and sliced thinly against the grain to minimize toughness. While it lacks the tenderness of top-blade steak, it is still a popular choice for dishes like fajitas and stir-fries.
- Skirt Steak: Skirt steak is a flavorful and affordable cut that comes from the diaphragm muscles of the cow. It has a more pronounced grain and can be tougher than top-blade steak. However, when marinated and cooked quickly over high heat, it becomes tender and delicious. Skirt steak is often used for dishes like fajitas and tacos, making it a popular choice for Mexican cuisine.
- Hanger Steak: Hanger steak, also known as butcher’s steak, is a lesser-known cut with a similar price point to top-blade steak. It has a rich, beefy flavor and a relatively tender texture, although it is not quite as tender as the top-blade steak. Hanger steak is best cooked quickly over high heat and benefits from marinating to enhance tenderness and flavor.
- Sirloin Steak: Sirloin steak is a moderately priced cut that comes from the rear of the cow, offering a good balance of flavor and tenderness. While not as tender as top-blade steak, it still provides a satisfying texture and is well-suited for grilling, broiling, and pan-searing. Sirloin steak is a versatile option for various dishes, from steak salads to kebabs.
- Chuck Eye Steak: Chuck eye steak is often referred to as the “poor man’s ribeye” due to its similar flavor profile and marbling but more affordable price. It is cut from the chuck primal near the ribeye section and offers a good balance of tenderness and flavor. While not as tender as top-blade steak, chuck eye steak is still an enjoyable option when cooked correctly, such as through grilling or pan-searing.
How to choose a quality top-blade steak
Selecting a high-quality top-blade steak, whether at a butcher shop, online, or in a supermarket, is essential for a satisfying dining experience. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing the best top-blade steak:
- Marbling: Look for a steak with visible marbling or fat distribution throughout the meat. The presence of marbling enhances the flavor and juiciness of the cooked steak, making it more tender and succulent.
- Color: A good quality top-blade steak should have a bright, cherry-red color, which indicates freshness. Avoid steaks with a dull or grayish appearance, as this may suggest that the meat is past its prime.
- Thickness: Choose a steak that is at least 1-inch thick to ensure even cooking and a juicy, tender result. Thinner cuts may cook too quickly and become dry or overcooked.
- Connective tissue: Top blade steaks have connective tissue running through the center of the cut, which can be tough and chewy when cooked. If possible, ask your butcher to remove this tissue, or look for steaks labeled as “flat iron” that have already had the connective tissue removed.
- Butcher shop or supermarket: When purchasing from a butcher shop or supermarket, don’t hesitate to ask the butcher for recommendations or advice on selecting the best top-blade steak. They can guide you based on the available options and help you make an informed decision.
- Online shopping: When buying top blade steak online, make sure to choose a reputable supplier with positive customer reviews and clear product descriptions. Look for information on the steak’s grade, freshness, and any added enhancements like aging or marinating. Additionally, consider the shipping method and delivery time to ensure that the meat arrives fresh and in good condition.
How to store top-blade steak
If you plan to cook the top-blade steak within a few days of purchase, store it in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below. Place the steak on a plate or in a shallow container to catch any potential drips and prevent cross-contamination. It is recommended to use the steak within 3 to 5 days of purchase for optimal freshness.
For longer-term storage, top-blade steak can be frozen at 0°F (-18°C) or below. To freeze the steak, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or freezer paper, or place it in a freezer-safe plastic bag to prevent freezer burn. Label the package with the date and type of meat for future reference. Frozen top-blade steak can be stored for up to 6 months, but it is best to use it within 3 to 4 months for optimal quality.
When you are ready to cook the top-blade steak, thaw it safely to maintain quality and reduce the risk of bacterial growth. The USDA recommends three safe methods for thawing meat: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest method, but it requires planning, as it may take 24 hours for every 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of meat. For faster thawing, submerge the steak in a leak-proof plastic bag in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. If using the microwave, cook the steak immediately after thawing to ensure safety.
If you have cooked top-blade steak and have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking. Leftovers should be consumed within 3 to 4 days or can be frozen for later use.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides guidelines for storing meat.
How should I prepare top-blade steak for cooking?
You can prepare top-blade steak by trimming any excess fat and removing the connective tissue that runs through the middle of the steak. This will make it more tender and easier to cook evenly. You can then season it with your preferred spices or marinade, depending on the recipe you are following.
Can I marinate top-blade steak?
Yes, marinating top-blade steak can help to tenderize the meat and add extra flavor. Due to its natural robust flavor, you can use simple marinades like olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic or experiment with more complex flavors to suit your preference.
What are some good side dishes to serve with top-blade steak?
Top-blade steak pairs well with a variety of side dishes, such as roasted or mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, rice, or a fresh green salad. The choice of side dishes will depend on your personal taste and the theme of your meal.