Strip-loin steaks, or New York strips, are among the best and tenderest cuts for grilling. Unfortunately they're correspondingly costly, especially in the highest grades. One way for steak lovers to enjoy these premium cuts more often is by purchasing an entire strip loin and cutting it at home. Butcher shops and big-box outlets are often willing to sell uncut loins in their packaging at a much lower price per pound, putting steak nirvana within your grasp.
Where It Comes From
Experienced chefs and meat cutters know that as a rule, the tenderest muscles see the least use during the animal's life. Those are usually muscles that play a structural role, supporting the skeleton, rather than actively flexing and moving. The loins are a perfect example. They're two long muscles running along either side of the steer's spine, helping keep the backbone in place. The strip is cut from the back half of the loin. They average 7 to 9 pounds, slightly narrower at the front or loin end and slightly wider at the rear or sirloin end.
Before You Start Cutting
The top of your whole strip is usually covered with a thick rind of fat, while the underside shows a few streaks of fat and connective tissue where it was cut from the spine. Use a sharp knife to trim the fat cap to about 1/4 inch, and remove any loose pieces of fat or thin, gray-white connective tissue from the bottom. If you look at the ends of the strip, you'll see that the wide end has a Y-shaped piece of gristle running through it. Steaks at this end aren't as tender as those from the other end, though they're still good.
Cutting Your Steaks
Professional meat cutters have an extra-long knife called a scimitar for slicing big steaks, but any long, sharp knife will do. Decide how thick you want your steaks -- as thin as 3/4 inch or as thick as 2 inches is the usual range -- and mark out your cuts by notching the rind of fat at the top of your strip. Hold the loin firmly to the cutting board with your non-cutting hand, and cut off the first steak with a long, even stroke of the knife. Don't saw at it, which makes rough edges. Repeat the step until you've cut all your steaks. You might opt to leave a few inches of the less-desirable wide end intact to serve as a roast, instead.
A Few Tips
If you cut your steaks to a consistent thickness, they'll cook evenly, but the cuts from the wide end will weigh more than those from the thin end. That's a problem for restaurants but not for home cooks, because you can simply give the biggest steaks to the biggest appetites. If you prefer, you can trim away part of the largest steaks and reserve those pieces for breakfast steaks or steak sandwiches. You'll find it's easiest to cut the strip if you partially freeze it, leaving the meat firm but not hard. That way it moves less under your knife, and you'll get more even slices. Placing a damp towel under your cutting board also helps, by keeping it from sliding on your counter.