A Cut Above: Your Ultimate Guide to Steak

A juicy steak hot off the grill is a staple of summer and the perfect low-carb meal. If you’re following Atkins, you can enjoy red meat in every Phase. Read on for more about red meat’s health benefits, how to pick and grill the perfect steak, plus some of our favorite grilling recipes.

Red meat is rich in vitamins B12, B3 and B6, plus selenium, protein and monounsaturated fat. Grass-fed beef, although pricier, has more omega-3 polyunsaturated fats than grain-fed beef. It’s true that red meat has gotten a bad rap in the past due to its supposed link to an increase in heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but scientists have found that processed meat—not red meat—is associated with heart disease and diabetes. Why is that? Processed meats (such as lunch meats and hot dogs) often contain preservatives like nitrates and nitrites, major sources of nitrosamines that may contribute to insulin resistance and Type-2 diabetes.

It was also thought that the saturated fats in red meat increase your levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which leads to cardiovascular disease, among other illnesses. While it’s true that saturated fats may increase LDL cholesterol, when your entire diet is taken into consideration, there is no link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. And when you consume saturated fat on a low-carb diet like Atkins, where your body is burning primarily fat for fuel, published research has shown that the level of saturated fat in the blood does not increase.

Making the Grade

Now that you’re ready to get grilling, here’s how to pick the right cut of red meat. First, look for marbling, which are visible grains of fat that run through the steak and add moisture and flavor. In terms of tenderness, the more fat the cut has, the location of the cut (loin and rib are the most tender because they are the least-used muscles) and the age of the beef all come into consideration.

Look for a steak that is 1½-inches to 2-inches thick. Thin steaks tend to overcook. You want a steak that’s thick enough to have a nice sear on the outside while being tender and juicy on the inside.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) divides beef into three grades:

  • Prime—This only includes 2% of all meat, and is naturally the most expensive. It is usually sold to restaurants, specialty butchers and high-end grocery stores, and it is harder to find. It has the most marbling and is great for grilling, as well as roasting or broiling.
  • Choice—This is probably your best overall choice for price, tenderness and marbling.
  • Select—This is still a high-quality cut of red meat, but it is very lean (which means less marbling). It is tender, but has less flavor and juiciness than Prime or Choice.

Grass-fed beef typically has less marbling and is leaner than grain-fed beef.

When it comes to grilling, here are some cuts of beef to look for:

Ribeye—This is often considered the most flavorful cut and is very juicy, although it is usually less tender.

Filet mignon—This is the most tender, but it does not have as much flavor as the ribeye.

Strip steak—This is a favorite of steakhouses. It is tender and flavorful, with good marbling.

Porterhouse/T-bone—This is extremely tender and great for grilling.

Sirloin—This is usually less tender but very flavorful.

Get Cooking

Steak should be at/close to room temperature when you cook it because when you put it on the grill, you want it to cook evenly. Trim the steak of excess fat, and brush evenly with olive oil. Salt generously with kosher salt and sprinkle with pepper.

Preheat your grill to high. Place the steaks on the grill and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, which is usually about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the steaks over and continue to grill 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare (an internal temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit), 5 to 7 minutes for medium (140 degrees Fahrenheit) or 8 to 10 minutes for medium-well (150 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move the steaks to a cutting board or platter, tent loosely with foil and let rest 5 minutes before slicing. This will let the juices distribute throughout the steak. Keep in mind that the steaks will continue to cook while they rest.

If you choose a leaner or grass-fed cut of meat with less marbling, cook it a lower temperature, which will help ensure it doesn’t overcook and dry out. Remove your steak from the grill 10 degrees before it hits your desired temperature. Use a meat thermometer for most accurate results.

Serve your steak with delicious sides such as grilled asparagus, mushrooms and zucchini or sliced on spinach salad. You can also experiment with different spice rubs and marinades. The options are endless when you’re on Atkins.

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