A great steak starts from good raw materials—in this case, it’s the meat. Restaurant owners don’t just go to the butcher and pile up in the shopping cart any slab of meat they can get their hands on. They’ll want meat of the highest grade and quality. A piece of meat’s grade is based on its marbling and the age of the cut. In the United States, the USDA divides meat into three grades: prime, choice, and select. Prime cuts are what usually end up on your plate in restaurants. What makes these prime is the amount of marbling in the cut; the white streaks of fat are what provide the juicy flavor to steak when it’s cooked.
Another factor in meat choice is what part of the cow it comes from. There are three types determined by their location starting from the upper back down to the mid-back: the ribs, the short loin, and the sirloin, which includes the tenderloin. The ribs provide the least tender meat, with the loins increasing in tenderness.