From Season 6: Dinner on a Dime
We taste-tested 12 inexpensive steaks (all priced around $6.99 per pound or less). We've listed the steaks by the name used in the Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (a national system for standardizing terminology for retail cuts of meat), but because supermarkets still often use regional or other names, we've listed the likely alternatives you'll find, too. The "hard-to-find cuts" listed below are usually sold only at butchers' shops; all other cuts can be found in most supermarkets.
GOOD CUT FOR PAN-SEARING:
Boneless Shell Sirloin Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Top butt, butt steak, top sirloin butt, top sirloin steak, center-cut roast)
Shopping Tips: One of the two main muscles from the hip. Can be quite large. Look for a 1-pound piece of uniform, 1 1/4-inch thickness.
Tasters' Comments: "Tremendous beef flavor" coupled with "very tender" texture make this steak a winner. "Just like butter."
Flap Meat Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Top sirloin tips, beef sirloin tips, sirloin tip steak, sirloin flap meat for tips)
Shopping Tips: Varies widely in size. Ask for a 1-pound steak of even thickness. Avoid small strips of meat or large steaks that taper drastically at one end.
Tasters' Comments: "Great beefy flavor" is the main selling point. Praised as "tender and fun to chew" and "never mushy."
CUT BETTER FOR GRILLING:
Flank Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Jiffy steak, London broil)
Shopping Tips: This wide, thin steak doesn't fit easily in a pan but works great on the grill.
Tasters' Comments: "Pleasant," "mild" flavor, with "just enough chew."
Skirt Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Philadelphia steak, fajitas meat)
Shopping Tips: This thin steak can measure more than a foot long, making it better suited for grilling than pan-searing.
Tasters' Comments: Tasters gushed with praise such as "wonderful" and "beefy heaven." The meat is "rich and fatty."
Top Blade Steak, Boneless (ALTERNATE NAMES: Blade steak, book steak, butler steak, lifter steak, petit steak, flat-iron steak, boneless top chuck steak)
Tasters' Comments: "Tender and juicy" but undependable. Often tastes "like liver." But "when it's good, it's really good." Watch out for vein that runs through center of steak.
Shoulder Steak, Boneless (ALTERNATE NAMES: Chuck for swissing, boneless clod steak, London broil, boneless shoulder cutlet)
Tasters' Comments: "Strong taste veers toward liver," but texture has "decent bite."
Top Round Steak (ALTERNATE NAME: Inside round cut)
Tasters' Comments: "Nice basic beef flavor," but texture is "like bubblegum."
Bottom Round Steak
Tasters' Comments: Overall assessment: "gummy, with flat flavor."
Eye Round Steak
Tasters' Comments: "Not much meat flavor"; also described as "tough" and "like sawdust."
Tip Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Sirloin tip steak, round tip steak, knuckle steak) Tasters' Comments: "Spongy," "shallow" beef flavor. "Tough as shoe leather."
HARD-TO-FIND CUT/BUTCHER'S SPECIAL:
Hanger Steak (ALTERNATE NAMES: Hanging tenderloin, butcher's steak)
Shopping Tips: Usually a restaurant cut, but your butcher may be able to procure this thick steak that "hangs" between the last rib and the loin.
Tasters' Comments: "Bold, brash beef flavor," with a texture that's "moderately tender" and "a little chewy."
Flat Iron Steak (ALTERNATE NAME: Blade steak)
Shopping Tips: This restaurant cut comes from the same muscle as the top blade steak, but the muscle is cut in such a way that the vein is removed at the same time.
Tasters' Comments: "Great beef flavor" and "awesome combination of tender and chewy." Like blade steak, can be livery on occasion.
Columela Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its big olive aroma, big olive taste with a buttery flavor that is sweet and full, with a peppery finish. One taster said: Its very green and freshlike a squeezed olive. Another simply wrote: Fantastic.
|$19 for 17 oz|
Lucini Italia Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Tasters noted this oils flavor was much deeper than the other samples, describing it as fruity, with a slight peppery finish, buttery undertones, and a clean, green taste that was aromatic, with a good balance. It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have, said one admiring taster.
|$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed round and buttery, with a light body and flavor that was briny and fruity, very fine and smooth, and almost herbal, with great balance. Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it, approved one taster. In a word, pleasant.
|$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted overall mild flavor and very little aroma, with only a hint of green olive and a hint of spiciness at the end. In pasta, it was initially not complex, but gradually bloomed in your mouth. Overall, it was worthy of a second bite.
|$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
Filippo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil
While some tasters found this oil sweet and buttery with medium body and slight spice at the end, others complained that it had zero olive flavor and was so floral its almost like eating perfume; still others noted a bitter aftertaste. In pasta, it was extremely mild to the point of being boring.
|$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Goya Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were mild and neutral. Some liked it on pasta (though one called it Snoozeville), but complaints were myriad: metallic, soapy, briny, hints of dirt. Carped one taster, I cant imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.
|$13.99 for 1 liter|
Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Comments: While some tasters called this oil mild and smooth, others found it thin, greasy and not very interesting. I bet the cooking water had more olive flavor, speculated one taster; could be canolait is so bland, mused another. A few noted an objectionable aftertaste that was soapy, chemical or mentholthink
|$9.99 for 473 ml ($21.12 per liter)|
Botticelli Extra Virgin Olive Oil
While a few tasters liked this potent oil, others said they detected mushroom, rotten walnuts, a Band-Aid wrapped in a cherry blossom, and a quality that was downright medicinalTriaminic, anyone? Several deemed it overpowering and musky, with a rank, off-flavor. Tastes not like olives but like the armpits of olive laborers, shuddered one.
|$10.99 for 1 liter|
Carapelli Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Italy, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, Cyprus, Morocco, and Syria Comments: Nothing remarkable herejust greasy, no flavor, summarized one taster. Where did the olive go? said another. This oil was judged to have a kind of rancid aftertaste that was reminiscent of not only soil, tree resin, and ammonia and grass, but even kitty litter smells and a set of sweaty hockey pads.
|$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
DaVinci Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Although this oil won top place in a previous tasting, because olive oil is an agricultural product, it can differ from year to year. This time, tasters found it washed out and muted, if nice, in a totally bland and unremarkable way. Tasted plain, objections ranged from insipid, with no real complexity to tastes like EVOO mixed with vegetable oil.
|$17.99 for 1 liter|
Star Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Origin: Spain, Italy, Greece, and Tunisia Comments: Boring and not very complex, this oil came across as plastic-y and industrial; some hint of olives, but it fades quickly. Tasters identified off-flavors that were unpleasant, dirty, like rubber and metal, with a sour aftertaste, or at least a bit funky, with a strange taste that was spicy, but in a motor oil kind of way. One simply wrote, Blech.
|$11.99 for 750 ml ($15.99 per liter)|