For the budgeting college student, a good steak can seem like a dream that only becomes reality when parents are in town. Although the meat section of the grocery store can be as intimidating as the prices at a fancy steakhouse, a little knowledge can go a long way. Learning how to use different cuts of beef in your own kitchen can be an affordable means to satisfy your meat craving. Look to this guide to see which cuts of beef you can afford, which to indulge in, and how to avoid an expensive kitchen disaster.

Prime rib $$$

Short rib $$

The ribs of the cow divide into several cuts of meat. Short ribs are part lean and part fatty. Braising them results in tender meat that falls right off the bone. Ribeye and prime rib, two pricier cuts (the prime rib entrée at the Chicago Chophouse will set you back $49) are known for their well-marbled fat, resulting in the best flavor when cooked in dry heat, such as on the grill or in the broiler.

Brisket $

Leaner than the chuck, brisket requires slow cooking in moist heat to avoid a leathery texture. It is best braised, which involves browning the beef on a stovetop and then cooking it with a small amount of liquid in a covered container, such as a Dutch oven or slow cooker. Brisket is good for beef stew and corned beef.

Shank $

The shank is the toughest cut of beef because
it is a highly worked muscle with little excess fat. It’s not common to find it at the store, but if you do, it is best used in soups and stews that require it to simmer for a long time to help soften the meat.

Chuck $

The chuck has great flavor potential because of its relatively high fat content. It is a muscular section with a tougher texture that benefits from cooking at low temperatures for long periods of time to become tender, such as in a pot roast or stew. Ground chuck also makes for juicy burgers.

Short Loin $$$

Several of the highest quality and most expensive steaks come from the short loin. The porterhouse and T-bone steaks, made up of tenderloin and strip steak meat, are cut from this section. Just like the rib steaks, these are best suited for dry heat cooking to take advantage of the meat’s natural moisture.

Plate $$

The plate contains the skirt steak and the rest of the short ribs. Despite being a fairly fatty section, the plate lacks the tenderness of the more expensive short loin. A longer cooking process, such as braising, can bring out its flavor. If you want to use a quicker method like sautéing, marinate the skirt steak first to add moisture and flavor.

Sirloin $

Tenderloin $$$

The sirloin covers a range of steaks varying in quality and price, including the tenderloin (the source of filet mignon), top sirloin and bottom sirloin. The tenderloin and top sirloin, two of the most naturally tender sections, should be reserved for grilling and broiling to medium doneness to avoid drying them out. The bottom sirloin, often just labeled as sirloin, is the less tender section better suited to long, moist cooking.

Round $

The round encompasses a large portion of the back end of the cow and is leaner than more central cuts. The meat from the round makes up large roasts, such as the rump roast, ideal
for braising. Like chuck, round meat is great as a base for beef stew and is a source of high quality ground meat for burgers.

Flank $$

The flank is the source of lean flank steak. Although it was once cheaper, the popularity of lean meat has inflated its price. Similar to the plate, flank meat must be braised or marinated to prevent the meat from becoming tough.