An expert’s guide to choosing the perfect steak
Steak School

Whether you’re thinking of dining out or cooking at home, choosing the perfect steak can be daunting.

We went along to Steak School at Manchester’s The Grill on the Alley to learn more about where our steak comes from, which wines pair well with beef, and to try some of the ‘big boys’ of the steak world – the club steak, the tomahawk, and the legendary porterhouse.

Here’s what we learnt at school.

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After a glass of Prosecco, we were given an apron and greeted by a butcher from Fairfax Meadow who proceeded to talk us through the various cuts of steak, where they come from, and how they are prepared.

It’s fair to say half an animal on a board is a pretty daunting sight.

The various cuts

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The butcher showed us where each cut comes from and how it is cut as he deftly dissected the carcass into various steaks we’re all familiar with – from rib-eye, T-bone and sirloin to topside, fillet and rump.

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Rump is the most popular steak

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Despite competition from rib-eye, sirloin and fillet, rump steak remains the most popular steak in the UK.

This is partly due to its price – it’s still one of the cheaper cuts widely available – and partly due to its taste, which is often considered superior to fillet or sirloin.

It comes from a part of the animal that does more work, so it’s tougher than fillet, but suits quick cooking such as frying, stir-fry, grilling or the barbecue.

Rib-eye is a rising star

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Rump may be the most popular, but rib-eye’s popularity is rising all the time.

It’s fattier than sirloin or rump, but has much more flavour. Cook it slightly longer than you would rump so the fat melts into the meat – it suits being more on the medium/medium rare side rather than rare.

It was our butcher’s favourite steak – and mine, too.

The fat gives flavour

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Although it might be tempting to order the leanest cut you can see when you’re buying beef, the fat is vital in terms of flavour.

The fat melts into the steak as you cook it, helping to baste it from within and giving it a far superior taste and texture.

Don’t cook your steak straight out of the fridge

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Don’t get your steak out of the fridge and put it straight into a hot pan, as it won’t be tender.

Our butcher recommended leaving your steaks out of the fridge for around 30 mins before you start cooking them.

Matching wine

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Our wine expert from Bibendum gave us three red wines to try alongside our steaks: Vivanco Rioja Crianza 2011, Chianti Classico Reserva 2010, and Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah 2013.

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It’s very much personal taste which wine you prefer with your steak, as we found out discussing the varieties with other guests.

As a rule, the sommelier suggested that something like the Syrah suits more intense and fattier cuts, whereas the Rioja tends to suit a leaner cut such as rump.

It’s worth experimenting to see which wines you prefer.

The ‘big boys’: porterhouse, club sirloin and tomahawk

So, what did we make the infamous ‘big boys’ of the steak world?

First up, the porterhouse, or T-bone. Incorporating two of the most popular cuts – fillet on one side and sirloin on the other, either side of the bone – this is a perfect steak to share if you fancy trying essentially two steaks in one.

We slightly preferred the sirloin side to the fillet, but that’s personal preference.

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Next up, the club sirloin.

Cooked beautifully pink and well rested, this was a winner for us, as we loved the juicy, succulent texture as well as the taste.

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Finally, we tried the tomahawk.

Apparently named because it resembles the axe, this is a cut few people have tried, but which is starting to pop up on restaurant menus.

It’s an on-the bone Rib Steak, cut from the Fore-rib with the entire rib bone left – and there’s no doubting its caveman appeal.

Another winner for sharing.

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Check out The Grill on the Alley for future events such as Steak School.

What’s your favourite spot for steak in Manchester? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter

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All photos by Tobias Alexander