May 23, 2016 in Category: Guides

Some like it charred through and through.
Some like it cool and red, almost blue.
Some like it lean, cut slender.
Some like it buttery and rendered (with fat).
To each her own—steak.

We want to help you get to know your steak. There’s no time like the present. The fact that we are approaching the unofficial kick-off to grilling season only raises the steakes.

In the following steakeout, we surveil the quality, cut, and appeal of every steak in the Trader Joe’s label. To put it in context, we cursorily survey the standards for assessing beef across America and provide a brief overview of beef cuts. Then we zoom in to acquaint you with each grade and cut we offer, highlighting unique characteristics and handling tips. Finally, to get you good and fired up for grilling season, we’ve outlined straightforward steps that make strides toward successful steak—however you like it.

steak grading prime, choice, select

Making the Grade

The grading process is like the ultimate cattle call—for cattle.  It started around the 1920s, when the livestock and meat retail industry wanted to make recognizable (i.e. marketable) the distinction of meat quality. Looking to the Federal Government, they lobbied for and realized a standardized beef grading and stamping system, so that it could be made clear which beef is the meat that demands a higher price. This grading program has since been under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

The USDA assigns grades based on an assessment of quality, which is objectively measured based on the amount of internal marbling (or fat) and physiological age of the animal (determined by characteristics of bone, cartilage, etc.). The higher the ratio of marbling and the younger the beef, the higher the grade. On the flip side—the leaner & older the beef, the lower the grade. There are eight distinct grades of beef recognized by the USDA. Though similar to academic grading— A+, A, A- —there are degrees within each grade. Of the eight grades, the top four are generally sold at retail, so we’re staying focused on those:


PRIME – Superior grade with abundant marbling; excellent juiciness, flavor, and fine texture; only about 2% of beef is graded as prime & it is generally found in restaurants or boutique butchers
CHOICE – Excellent grade of beef with moderate to small marbling, which results in a slight textural difference, but is still very juicy and full flavored; typically, it’s the highest grade of beef sold at retailers
SELECT – Very good grade of beef with slight marbling; not quite as juicy and full flavored but very reliable steaks, often sold at retailers and restaurants
STANDARD/UNGRADED – As their name suggests, these cuts of beef come from cattle that actually are not graded, which is common because the grading process adds costs; generally, these are leaner cuts that have only traces of marbling; can be tremendous values


A Cut of Difference

Just like understanding grades will help you to better evaluate your steak, so will being clear on the variance between cuts. The most tender cuts, like the rib and the tenderloin (the name is a nice cue) are the ones found furthest from the horn and hoof—areas that are not weight-bearing and do not get a lot of exercise.  In juxtaposition, the tougher cuts can be found in areas where the muscles are worked the most, like the shoulder and the leg.  In the following diagram, we illustrate the general areas from which our steaks are cut.

map of cow with TJs steak cuts, rib eye, new york strip, top sirloin, sirloin steak tips, filet mignon, flank

Meet Trader Joe's Fine Quality Meats

To help acquaint you with our quality collection of steaks, we highlight the grades we now proudly offer, as well as each cut available within those grades. We also share some tasting notes, seasoning suggestions, and our preferred steak-occasion for each cut.  So, saddle up – we're going to beef up your knowledge about Trader Joe's Steaks.


Trader Joe's USDA Choice Premium Angus Beef

Our USDA Choice is the A+ equivalent, the tier as close to Prime as you can get. (As a reminder, only about 2% of beef is graded Prime, and it generally can be found in restaurants & boutique butchers.) Cut from premium Angus Beef—that are born, raised, and harvested in the USA—these carefully butchered steaks promise moderate marbling and are tender, juicy, and full of flavor.

In addition to being Choice, a couple of our cuts carry the esteemed "All Natural" attribute. At Trader Joe’s, All Natural means more than just the USDA-defined “minimally processed, containing, no artificial ingredients or added color;” it also means that the animals are given NO HORMONES EVER and NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER. What we call a cut above and beyond.



All Natural USDA Choice Premium Angus Beef  | $15.99/LB

This steak is basically the larger side of a T-bone that comes from the short loin behind the ribs. With really good marbling throughout, but no large pockets of fat, it’s full-flavored, maintains tenderness, and cooks evenly. Pretty much one of the most popular cuts in the world; this is the quintessential cookout steak. 

Seasoning Suggestion: TJ's Chile Lime Seasoning Blend (gives the strip a summer-y kick!)


All Natural Choice Premium Angus Beef New York Strip Steak


All Natural USDA Choice Premium Angus Beef  | $12.99/LB

Top Sirloin is cut from around the small of the back, the section of meat found under the tenderloin, between the short loin primal (behind the ribs) and round primal (the rump). It’s naturally lean with coveted tenderness—think Filet Mignon with a bit more structure (chew) and rounded beefy flavor.  This is steak night steak.

Seasoning Suggestion: TJ's Uncured Apple Smoked Bacon (wrap it around the steak to accentuate the modest marbling)


all natural usda choice premium angus beef top sirloin steak


USDA Choice Premium Angus Beef | $13.99/LB  

This cut comes from the rib cage area, where the muscles are only lightly worked, which lends to its glory: fat! The abundance of marbling renders into the meat during cooking, making this steak—oh, so juicy—and imparting rich, buttery flavor. Rib Eye is probably the most forgiving steak to cook, and the most impressive to present. The griller’s best friend, perfect for a special occasion or any day that ends in "y".

Seasoning Suggestion: TJ's BBQ Rub and Seasoning with Coffee & Garlic (accents the robust flavor)


usda choice premium angus beef ribeye steak


USDA Choice Premium Angus Beef | $19.99/LB

Mignon translates to “cute” in French, referring to the dainty, tender nature of this cut. Cross-sections of the little-worked muscle known as the tenderloin, these filets are far-and-away the most tender. If cooked properly, they can almost be cut with a fork. Very light marbling, very fine texture, Filet Mignon have a buttery mouthfeel and flavor that is true to the beef.  For many, this is as good as steak gets. We think Filet is the perfect way to serve up affection—the date night steak.

Seasoning Suggestion: TJ's Sea Salt Crystals & TJ's Black Peppercorns (just a little touch of seasoning to highlight the beauty)


USDA choice filet mignon steak


USDA Choice Premium Angus Beef | $10.99/LB*

Flank steak is cut from the bottom of the abdominal area, which contains a lot of hard-working muscles. Lean, fibrous, with a pleasing chew; it’s a full-flavored cut of beef that benefits from the tenderizing effects of a marinade and against-the-grain slicing. This is your London Broil, Fajita, Stir Fry, Chopped Steak Salad—put-me-in-a-recipe-let’s-play—steak. When it comes to grilling, go extreme—super-fast, super-hot—to get the best results.

Seasoning Suggestion: TJ's Soyaki (place in marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight in the fridge before grilling)


usda choice premium angus beef flank steak


USDA Choice Premium Angus Beef | $10.49/LB*

These tips are cut from both the sirloin (around the hip) and the short loin (around the back). Basically, this combination of moderately marbled meats is cut into chunks, making the beef tender, slightly chewy, juicy, and flavorful.  The format invites more of a sideshow than a side. Grilled Kabobs, Stroganoff, Stew—now starring: Sirloin Steak Tips!

Seasoning Suggestion: TJ's Extra Virgin Olive Oil mixed with TJ's Everyday Seasoning, TJ's Smoked Paprika, TJ's Sea Salt Crystals & TJ's Black Peppercorns (toss and coat meat in a bowl prior to threading on skewers)


usda choice premium angus beef sirloin steak tips

Trader Joe's Standard Beef

Sexy it may not sound, but these “Standard” (i.e. ungraded) beef cuts hold great appeal. They are outstanding quality, and generally leaner than graded counterparts. For some, less fat is a virtue. Speaking of virtue, these ungraded cuts are also spare on cost (the USDA graders don’t do it for free), so they present extraordinary values.



Standard Beef | $9.99/LB

Our customers’ favorite; Standard Beef Rib Eye, cut from the rib cage where the muscles are only lightly worked, delivers everything needed to cook a mouthwatering steak. That includes the revered fat needed to render (melt) and bastes the meat from the inside, imparting robust, buttery flavor and tenderness. Plus, it’s $9.99 per pound, hitting right on the value bull's-eye.

Seasoning Suggestion: TJ's Sea Salt Crystals & TJ's Lemon Pepper (adds zesty lemon flavor and peppery pungency)


standard beef rib eye steak


Standard Beef | $9.49/LB

The larger strip off of the T-Bone Steak that comes from the short loin behind the ribs, what makes this Standard Beef New York Strip Steak stand out is a beautiful fat cap. As the fat cooks down into the meat, it intensifies the full, beefy flavor and brings that much more tenderness to the bite. Making it that much more beautiful is our $9.49 per pound price.

Seasoning Suggestion:  TJ's Bold & Smoky Kansas City Barbecue Sauce (after grilling, give the meat a quick baste and serve alongside for dipping)


standard beef new york strip steak


Standard Beef | $14.49/LB*

Fear not the intimidating filet—this truly tenderloin cut comes with a more approachable price (because they aren’t graded), perfect for those who’ve ever been timid to try their hand at cooking what has been called by some “the king of steaks.”  It’s equally ideal for the filet-fearless, who prize the lean yet succulent steak, but spurn what might be considered an overly precious price.  

Seasoning Suggestion: Compound Butter – garlic & herb, gorgonzola, or mushroom – (a post-grill pat makes the naturally lean meat a bit more moist and pleasing)


beef filet mignon steak


TJ's Sure-Fire Grilling Strategy

Grilling can be quite personal. For those who have found their groove, grill on! For those who are eager to take up the tongs, but are feeling apprehensive, we’ve recorded our sure-fire, gas-grill strategy to achieve successful steaks! Okay, there is no 100% guarantee, but if you follow these steps, your steak should turn out superbly. 

  1. Choose Your Steak:  see above.

  2. Warm It Up: to avoid drying-out the outside before the inside can cook-through, allow the steak to "warm up"—come to room temperature—before cooking it.

  3.  Season To Taste: with quality meat, it certainly doesn’t take much—coarse salt and freshly ground pepper will suffice. That said, there are no rules—rubs, herb butters, or marinades can punch up character.

  4. Heat The Grill: turn up all of the burners and close the lid to get the surface barking hot (at least 450°F, or hot enough that you can hold your hand over the grill for only a couple of seconds).

  5. Prepare The Grilling Zone: just before you’re ready to put the steak on, turn off the middle burner (or turn it down really low).

  6. Lay The Steak: place your steak on the unlit burner in the middle and close the lid; let it cook for 3-5 minutes.

  7. The Flip Side: using a pair of tongs, carefully lift the steak. When the meat easily separates from the grill, turn it over, moving it to a new spot (that hasn’t lost heat to the meat) on the middle burner.

  8. The Finish: keep the lid open, and let the steak finish cooking 3-5 more minutes or when desired degree of doneness is achieved (see below, "Is It Done Yet?").

  9. Give It A Rest: remove the steak from the grill and place on cutting board or platter; let rest for about 5-10 minutes before slicing to give the juices a chance to settle back into the meat.


Is It Done Yet?

Knowing when to remove your steak to achieve your desired level of doneness is key. You can estimate by time on side, but the surest way to get your results is to take measure (of the temperature).

The basic rule of thumb is to remove steaks from the heat when the thermometer reads 5°F lower than the desired doneness, as the temperature will continue to rise while your steak rests.

What temperature gets it done? That all depends. Some like it pink; some like it grilled to the grey (unquestionably well done). We say, cook it as you like it! We also say, be mindful of the fact that the USDA recommends steaks be cooked to 145°F (medium) and then rested for at least 3 minutes.


RARE: cool red center – 125ºF
MEDIUM RARE: warm red center – 135ºF
MEDIUM: warm pink center – 145ºF
MEDIUM WELL: slightly pink center – 150ºF
WELL DONE: very little to no traces of pink – 160ºF


Steak in Play

For goodness steak, we are almost well done. Now to take our steaks and have some culinary fun! Following are a few steak-starring recipes to add to your repertoire.


Chopped Filet & Rib Eye Burger

Filet Ribeye Burger

There are burgers, and then there are chopped Filet & Rib-Eye Burgers. Grilled to perfection, stacked to impress, this rich, juicy burger calls for a serious pre-bite squish down or a knife and fork. It's robustly delicious!

Spicy-Sweet Steak,Peppers & Watermelon Salad

Spicy-Sweet Flank Steak, Mini Peppers & Watermelon Salad

Atop a verdant bed of spicy arugula are layered fresh, crunchy sweet mini peppers, juicy watermelon, and Soyaki-marinated flank steak. Dressed in a lively, kickin' Chili Sambal Vinaigrette, this salad is bursting with personality!

Con Fusion Steak Tacos

con fusion steak tacos with sauerkraut and sambal matah

Mexican, Korean, Indonesian, Thai, German, Chinese...inspired tacos? This dish is a true con fusion of vibrant ingredients from across the globe. Grilled steak wrapped in layers, upon layers of flavors.


*NOTE: There is some regional variation in steak pricing and since posting, the details of this item may have changed due to fluctuating market prices, federal regulations, currency rates, drought, pestilence, bandits, rush hour traffic, filibusters, clowns, zombie apocalypse, punctilious product developers... Contact our Crew for current price and availability.

Tags: Grilling, All Natural, USDA Choice, Steak, Choice