Mail-Order Strip Steaks
To connoisseurs, steaks are the stars of the beef world, and strip steaks are the divas. Long and lean, with a heartier chew and a lot more flavor, strip steaks put their more popular brethren, filets mignons, to shame. Beef is a tricky business, however, and too often you can find your steak more dud than stud. To guarantee quality, more and more people are looking beyond the confines of their local supermarket butcher case and buying their steaks through mail-order sources. These outlets promise all-star beef with a price tag to match. But do the mail-order steaks really outshine the ones you can get around the corner?
We gathered seven widely available mail-order strip steaks and two from local supermarkets. Among the group was a Wagyu steak from Australia. Wagyu steak comes from cattle raised according to the specifications dictated in Kobe, Japan, for its Kobe beef. Considered the foie gras of beef, Kobe steak is extremely well-marbled, tender, and rich. Wagyu is the more generic name for the same type of beef, although it is not raised in Japan. Though few of us could afford the hefty price tag for Wagyu beef, we wanted to see if the beef was indeed worth the cost.
After pan-searing three dozen steaks (four of each type for perhaps the largest tasting turnout in America's Test Kitchen), we found that money can buy you happiness, if happiness for you is the best steak you ever ate.
"Wow," wrote one happy taster of our first-place steak. "This is unlike any strip that I've had." Others deemed the winner "tender like a filet" and "very rich and meaty." The overwhelming richness, however, which one taster likened to "foie gras-infused beef," was not everyone's cup of tea. A minority of tasters agreed with the one who wrote, "This doesn't taste like beef at all."
Three steaks shared the spot for second place, being praised for their “robust,” beefy flavor and “nice texture.” One of the country’s most popular mail-order steak purveyors took the last two spots in our tasting. Tasters detected "off flavors" and described the steaks as "grainy tasting” and “dry.”
The good news is that you don't have to spend a small fortune (or pay for shipping) to get a great steak. One of our store-bought offerings tied for second place and was a comparative bargain. For true steak greatness, however, we recommend splurging on our first-place steak… at least once.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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