Steak doesn’t need to be an expensive ingredient that’s saved for special occasions. Sure, there are plenty of pricey steaks out there, which are often very tender and easy to cook, but they’re not your only option. What about choosing some of the cheapest steak cuts instead?
These cuts of steak often don’t have the beautiful marbling or melt in your mouth tenderness that some of the expensive cuts provide. But, they’re not dry and chewy either. Instead, there are plenty of amazing cheap cuts that you’re certain to love.
Besides, the cut you choose is only part of the story. The way you prepare and cook your steak is just as important. Sometimes a well cooked cheap steak even tastes better than a poorly cooked expensive one.
Also, if you’re a steak lover, why not try a steak of the month club? These come at all different price points. You sometimes get the chance to order steak in bulk too, which means you’re paying less per piece.
These clubs are also a fantastic way to experiment with different cuts of steak, including those you mightn’t try any other way.
Sirloin is found on the back of the cow and is a fairly large cut of meat. It then gets broken down into a few smaller cuts, including top sirloin, bottom sirloin, and sirloin tip.
If you’re in the United States and you see a cut sold as sirloin steak, then it’s probably bottom sirloin (in Britain and some other countries, this same cut is known as rump).
Bottom sirloin isn’t as tender or tasty as top sirloin, but it is also much less expensive, making it a great choice when you’re on a budget. Because it isn’t incredibly tender, bottom sirloin does best when it is marinated first. You can also slow cook it, which stops it from drying out and getting tough.
That said, you can pan fry bottom sirloin, even without marinating it. The cut can still be delicious, as long as you’re careful and avoid overcooking it.
Top Round Steak
Not surprisingly, this steak cut is the uppermost section of the round (which is at the rear of the cow). The muscles in this region get a decent amount of work, so steak cuts from the round tend to be relatively tough and low in fat.
Such features also make top round an inexpensive cut of meat, perfect for weekday dinners.
It’s a surprisingly good cut of meat as well, as it is rich in flavor and can be tender enough if you’re careful when you cook it. Marinating the steak helps to keep it moist, while also making it more tender.
Top round steak is often served as part of saucy meals, such as chili, as the liquid in the rest of the dish stops the meat from drying out.
Eye Of Round
This is another cut from the round section of the animal. It has many of the same properties as top round steak, except that the eye of round tends to have a bit more flavor and isn’t as tender.
Top round wins out in most comparisons, but the differences aren’t dramatic, so you could easily use eye of round instead. In both cases, you’ll want to marinate the meat before using it. Focusing on slow low heat cooking helps too, as this keeps the meat as tender as possible.
Then there’s the bottom round. This cut is often less tender than the previous two, so it requires even more care as you’re cooking it. Still, it may be cheaper, making it useful when your budget is tight.
Sirloin Tip Side Steak
This sirloin cut is relatively obscure and may be sold either as a roast or as individual steaks. It’s a lean cut of meat, with little marbling throughout and any excess fat removed from the edges.
The leanness is one reason that this is such an inexpensive cut. It also means you need to be careful when cooking it. Slow cooking the steak works best. You can grill or pan sear it too, but it’s best to marinate the steak before doing so.
Flat Iron Steak
Flat iron is becoming increasingly popular. It comes from the cow’s shoulder and is known by a few other names too, including top blade steak and shoulder top blade steak.
Despite being fairly inexpensive, flat iron steak is a tender cut, sometimes even more so than the tenderloin, which is impressive. It’s also much cheaper, making it an excellent choice for those who can’t afford the more expensive cuts of steak.
Sirloin cap sometimes goes by the name top sirloin cap or picanha. The cut comes from above the top sirloin and is often sold with a cap of fat.
It’s a tender and delicious cut of steak, one that can be marinated or served with a sauce, but doesn’t need to be. This is a traditional cut of steak in Brazil, where it’s enjoyed frequently and is easily sourced.
While sirloin cap is harder to find in the United States, the cut’s popularity is growing. You can also ask a local butcher, who should know exactly what you’re talking about.
The fat cap on this cut is what makes it stand out. It adds plenty of flavor during cooking and you can even eat it if you want to. However, if you prefer lean steak, you can easily cut the fat cap off either before or after cooking.
Chuck Eye Steak
As the name suggests, chuck eye steak has some of the same features as rib eye. The steak cut even manages to look much like a baby ribeye.
The similarities don’t end with appearance. Chuck eye steak also has much of the same flavor and tenderness as a ribeye steak. This is why it’s sometimes known as poor man’s ribeye.
Chuck eye isn’t as well-known as many other steak cuts, so it can be tricky to find. While some grocery stores may stock it, you’ll often need to look at butcher’s shops instead.
Tri tip is a triangular cut of steak (hence the name) that comes from bottom sirloin. It doesn’t look or sound like an appealing piece of meat, but it is surprisingly delicious.
Tri tip does particularly well if you marinate it first and then grill it. This approach gives you a fairly tender cut that isn’t too expensive. The cut works well with slow cooking too.
However, tri tip isn’t as obscure as it once was, which has driven the price up. It’s still a cheap enough cut of meat, just perhaps not as cheap as you might be expecting.
Flank steak has many disadvantages, as it is a tough and thin cut of steak that can easily be excessively chewy. It’s best to marinate the steak before using it. Even then, cooking it past medium rare or medium risks giving you meat that’s almost impossible to use.
Still, flank has two things in its favor. The first is that it can be delicious when cooked well. It’s a go-to cut of steak for cooking fajitas and is excellent when fried quickly over a high heat.
The other is the price, as flank has traditionally been a low cost cut.
Whether this is still the case depends on where you live and where you’re ordering your steak from. Some suppliers have caught onto the popularity of flank, which has driven the prices up.
This is a little surprising for a cut of meat without a ton going for it. However, there isn’t that much flank steak per animal, so the balance of supply and demand can quickly skyrocket the price.
Skirt steak comes from a different part of the animal than flank steak, but the patterns are similar. Again, this is a fairly tough cut of meat that is excellent in fajitas if you marinate it and cook it over a high heat.
With the changing balance of supply and demand, prices for this cut may be all over the place. It can still be very cheap, on occasion, but may also be surprisingly expensive. You’ll need to shop around to find a good price.
Flap steak is found directly under the flank. It’s much less well known than flank or skirt steak, which means it’s also less expensive.
Despite this, flap steak has many of the same features. It also offers more flavor than flank steak, making it even more attractive – when you can find it.
The merlot steak cut is pretty obscure, although it’s starting to make waves in the media. Many people love this cut because it’s surprisingly tender, much more than you’d expect for the low price.
In fact, the name merlot is a hint to how tender this cut can be. You can even cook it without marinating it first. That’s impressive, as cheap cuts often need marinade or some type of tenderizing to help them along.
Hanger steak is often inexpensive, as it’s still an undervalued cut of meat. It really does live up to its name, with the beef hanging from the cow’s diaphragm. Because the muscle isn’t used a lot, it ends up being pretty tender.
Think of a hanger steak a bit like flank steak, as it is used in much the same way. So, you’ll still need to marinate it and cook it over a high temperature. However, this time you can bring it to medium without any problem at all (as hanger steak is more tender than flank steak).
Just like flank steak, hanger isn’t as obscure as it once was. As the cut has become more well-known, the price has increased accordingly. It can still be inexpensive, just not as amazingly so as it once was.
How To Make Cheap Steak Taste Good
Marinate, With Caution
Most of the steaks on this list aren’t all that tender when cooked directly. Marinating first helps to break down some of the fibers within the steak, making it more tender.
Acid-based marinades work well, although you can also use ones that rely on fruit enzymes instead (such as pineapple). There are also dairy marinades. These have a slower and more gentle effect, which can be helpful.
If you haven’t worked with marinades much before, then it’s best to search for specifics about the best marinade for the cut of steak you’re working with. This is crucial because marinades can have adverse effects on texture too.
Tenderize With Salt
You could also skip the marinade and tenderize your steak with salt instead. You get a similar tenderizing effect and the process is much simpler than working with marinade.
Of course, this won’t work so well if you’re trying to keep your sodium intake down or doing really enjoy salt.
Use Plenty Of Butter
Cooking your steak in a ton of butter always helps it along. Try spooning the melted butter over the steak as you’re cooking it. This butter bath simply adds to the steak’s flavor, giving it much more complexity.
Herbed butter can be even better, as the herbs add extra flavor, making your meal even tastier.
Don’t Cook It Well Done
Most cheap steaks are best when cooked to medium rare or perhaps medium. Going beyond this point can easily ruin the steak, giving you very chewy meat that isn’t at all tasty.
If you want a well done steak, you’ll need a cut with a decent amount of fat. Most of those are more expensive than the ones we’ve highlighted here.
Experiment With Spices
Rather than serving steak on its own, why not add some herbs or spices? There are plenty of delicious spices that work well with steak, regardless of the cooking method you choose. Most herbs and spices won’t drown out the flavor of your steak. Instead, they’ll complement the meat nicely, giving your meal a more complex flavor profile.