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The Wine Snob “Steak Off”

In Search of

A “Recommendable” Steak

May 22, 15

Finding a good steak has become increasingly difficult.  The local supermarkets offer affordable steaks but they lack in consistency and overall quality.  Even the local steakhouse (Raritan, NJ), where the steaks are priced at $50, consistency is absent and mediocrity abundant.

In general, many people have reduced their red meat intake for health reasons, so when they sit down for a big juicy steak, the last thing they want to do is compromise.

So to kick off the 2015 Memorial Day Weekend, The Wine Snob assembled a steak tasting panel of 18 beef lovers (10 adults and 8 teenagers). The objective? Find a steak worthy of The Wine Snob recommendation.

THE STEAKS

For the Steak acquisition, The Wine Snob communicated with over 20 steak purveyors in North America and narrowed down the field to 8 steaks (in alphabetical order):

  • Costco
  • Elite Meats of Clinton, NJ
  • Fairway Packing of Detroit, MI
  • Hind and Fore of Bridgewater, NJ
  • Lobel’s of NY
  • Morgan Ranch of Burwell, NE
  • Pat LaFrieda of North Bergen, NJ
  • Sparrow Meats of Ann Arbor, MI

Steak Tasting Overview and Attributes:

  • “NY Bone-in Strip” except Morgan Ranch, Costco,
  • “Fresh” except Morgan Ranch
  • “Dry Aged” except Morgan Ranch and Costco
  • Seasoned with kosher salt and extra virgin olive oil “just before grilling”
  • Grilled on a Weber Propane grill at ~500 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Prepared medium rare
  • Served simultaneously
  • “Tastes” were evaluated from the “middle” of the steak

THE PROCESS

Review/Tasting Results

Important notes:

  1. EVERY steak in the “Steak-Off” was of high quality.
  2. In almost every case, steaks were higher quality than local restaurants.
  3. Yes even 8th place Costco is worthy of your table, with or without guests.

 

The steak evaluation was based on 3 criteria with the following weighting:

  • Flavor 48%
  • Tenderness 34%
  • Waste 18%

 

THE RESULTS

BEST Flavor:

#1 – Lobel’s

#2 – Fairway Packing

#3 – Elite Meat

 

MOST Tender:

#1 – Elite Meat

#2 – Lobel’s

#3 – Fairway Packing

 

MOST Waste:

Sparrow Meats

Costco

 

The TOP 3 Steaks

Lobel’s (New York, NY)

lobels.com

Unanimously, Lobel’s was the favorite of every panelist. the steak was absolutely delicious with a perfect balance of great beef flavor and luscious butteriness.

Pros – Incredibly delicious

Cons – Incredibly expensive, Pompous

COST: $86 for 20 oz steak ($66 steak, $20 shipping)

NOTE: shipping for 2-6 steaks is same as 1 steak

 

Fairway Packing (Detroit, MI)

fairwaypacking.com

Second place was not as unanimous, but Fairway packing gained the edge.  The steak was delightfully juicy, especially tender with great clean beef flavor.

Pros – Delicious, Tender, Personable

Cons – Expensive

COST: $75 for 20 oz steak ($50 steak, $25 shipping)

NOTE: shipping for 2-6 steaks is same as 1 steak

 

Elite Meat (Clinton, NJ)

https://www.facebook.com/EliteMeatClinton

Third place was captured with the absolute most tender strip steak the panel ever experienced.  The tenderness was on par with filet mignon and was complemented by a delightfully sweet, clean and mild beef flavor.

Pros – Incredibly Tender, Best Value, Local (to The Wine Snob), Excellent/Personable service

Cons – None

COST: $44 for 20 oz steak ($44 steak, Local Butcher)

 

Middle of the Pack

Pat LaFrieda (North Bergen, NJ)

http://www.lafrieda.com/Default.asp

Pat LaFrieda delivered a most interesting steak with a unique flavor profile unlike any of the other steaks.  The steak had an obvious and prominent nuttiness that was enjoyable, but noticeably different.  The quality of the meat was excellent and tender, but the nutty flavor at times masked the most desirable and sought after butteriness. Close to the bone was amazing!

Pros – Flavorful and tender

Cons – Expensive

COST: $62 for 24 oz steak ($62 steak, Shipping is free within VERY large radius of NJ)

 

Hind & Fore (Bridgewater, NJ)

http://www.hindandfore.com

Hind & Fore showed well with a very tasty steak that exhibited delicious and concentrated beef flavor with a firm but tender bite. While a NY strip was requested, the butcher was dry aging porterhouse steaks for the Memorial Day weekend resulting in the purchase of a steak that included the filet side resulting in extra cost.

Pros – Delicious and flavorful, Local (to The Wine Snob)

Cons – Very Expensive, Inflexible choice of dry age cut

COST: $63 for 24 oz steak ($63 steak, Local Butcher)

 

Sparrow Meats (Ann Arbor, MI)

http://kerrytown.com/sparrowmeats/

If the rating was based on flavor alone, Sparrow Meats would garner a higher ranking.  The Sparrow steak exuded exceptional flavor and juiciness but at times was a bit chewy and the amount of waste was unacceptable.  Navigating through the waste contributed to a frustrating dining experience in an attempt to surgically separate the delicious nuggets of meat from the excessive fat and sinew.

Pros – Among the best flavor

Cons – Unacceptable Waste representing approximately 40% of the steak volume.

COST: $27 for 14 oz steak ($27 steak, Local Butcher)

  

Rounding out the Rest

Morgan Ranch (Burwell, NE)

http://www.morganranchinc.com/

Morgan Ranch was among the 2 steaks that was not dry-aged and was also boneless.  The steaks are American Wagyu that deliver consistent buttery beef flavor and relatively tender.  Morgan ranch sells smaller cuts of 12 oz steaks, but being boneless, the steak is about the right portion for one person.  A very good steak, but no match for dry aged.

Pros – Flavorful, Affordable (when buying volume)

Cons – Frozen, not aged

COST: $30 for 12 oz steak ($30/steak for 10 steaks, Shipping is included)

 

Costco (Bridgewater, NJ)

costco.com

Costco delivers steaks that possess the typical excess fat associated with non-discerning supermarkets. As a warehouse purveyor, steaks are sold in “packs” of 5 with EVERY pack having 1 steak that was undesirable with fat and sinew.  Overall, the steak delivered decent flavor, but to get the best steaks, the buyer has to sort through several packages to find one with the acceptable level of marbleization.  Hence finding the gems are “hit or miss”.  Other than Sparrow’s, Costco had the most waste.

Pros – Affordable

Cons – Chewy, Fair amount of waste, not aged

COST: $12 for 12 oz steak ($12/steak for package of 5 steaks)

 

GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS

In summary, there are often 2 choices for procuring steak, the local butcher or mail order.

  1. If the local butcher delivers a high quality affordable product, such as with Elite Meats, then shop local and eliminate the expense associated with shipping. Ask for Paul.
  2. If mail order is the only option, partner with friends/family, create a bulk order to reduce the cost of shipping and reach a threshold for volume discount.
  3. Tell them The Wine Snob sent you!
    1. Fairway Packing is perhaps the best price to quality ratio and Joey Baratta is very personable and likely to be flexible, Joey@fairwaypacking.com
    2. Lobel’s is certainly beyond the average budget, but the steak is definitely a treat.  Lobel’s is also abundantly confident that they are the best, hence volume discounts are minimal (jennifer@lobels.com):

i.     $1,500-$3,499         2% Discount

ii.     $3,500-$7,000         3% Discount

iii.     $7,001-$10,000       5% Discount

iv.     $10,001+                 7% Discount

  1.  Morgan Ranch has a very good product with built in discounting.  Dan Morgan (info@morganranchinc.com) owns the ranch and answers the phone.  Morgan Ranch steaks are nicely portioned at 12 oz each, but they are frozen, not fresh.

Last, the panel tasted “strip steaks” based on personal preference, feel free to reach out to purveyors and try the rib-eyes, filet and more!

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