Don't get caught wondering the difference between a strip steak and a sirloin. 

When you step into a Columbia steakhouse and sit among the pressed tablecloths and folded napkins, you might hesitate upon glancing at the menu. You might be intimidated; you might pray your dining experience isn't as threatening as all the gleaming cutlery. You’re about to ask yourself the all-important question: What exactly do I want to eat?

At every steakhouse, you're met with multiple varieties of meat, each with names that do little to inform you of how they actually taste. Why does a filet cost more than a sirloin? What's better, a Kansas City strip or a rib-eye? And why does one go so well with a cream sauce while the other is better with sautéed vegetables?

Chris McDonnell, chef and owner of his eponymous restaurant, Chris McD’s, and Dustin Norem, CC’s City Broiler’s general manager, solve this debacle by taking us, steak by steak, through a few offerings at their beloved restaurants. So next time you're out for an elegant dinner, don't let a cut of meat catch you off-guard. This time, you’ll know exactly what you want.

Chris McD’s

Location: 1400 Forum Blvd. #38

Filet for Steak Guide

Sadie Collins

Cost: $14-41

Call: 573-446-6237

Hours: Tues.-Sat. 4:30-10 p.m.; Sun.-Mon. closed 

This steakhouse’s award-winning selection runs the gamut, serving up filets, sirloins, rib-eyes and Kansas City strip steaks. McDonnell says the filet stands out for its buttery tenderness and super-lean cut. You'll never get stuck chewing a hunk of fat when you're eating a filet, which means it's usually more expensive. 

The sirloin cut, on the other hand, can be a bit tougher, but it's made all the better for its marbling: the streaks of fat in the meat. Marbling is essential in the steak business; that juicy fat is where much of the savory flavor comes from. Steakhouse owners stake their businesses — no pun intended — on good marbling, so they usually inspect individual cuts for their quality. McDonnell says he buys meat from a butchering shop in Chicago, and sometimes he travels there himself to make sure the marbling is top-notch. 

He explains that a Kansas City strip comes from a different cut of the cow than a sirloin, and it features a nice, satisfying chew. The rib-eye is the richest of the cuts. Its generous helping of fat works its way into the meat while the steak cooks, making it an extra flavorful pick.

Sirloin for Steak Guide

Sadie Collins

When it comes to pairing steaks and sauces, experimentation is key. McDonnell says that filets go amazing with the Chris McD's gorgonzola cream sauce, a smooth and nutty offering served with asparagus. He knows it’s unorthodox to spoon white sauce rather than brown sauce over steak, but in his opinion the sharp gorgonzola goes wonderfully with the umami of red meat.

The sirloin at Chris McD's is also served with the cream sauce, but it includes a tomato cucumber relish for extra zest. The Kansas City strip is matched with a spiced steak butter, roasted garlic mashers and shoestring onions. With a rib-eye, McDonnell says he combines it with fresh spinach and mushrooms because it's best to keep things simple; the steak already has so much heavy flavor.

Chris McD’s has one major offering that it holds near and dear to its heart: Certified Angus Beef. According to the Certified Angus Beef website, “To earn this brand name, cattle must first be Angus-influenced, with a predominantly solid black coat. Then, beef must pass 10 quality standards.” A few of those standards include 1) a medium or fine marbling texture, 2) less than 1-inch fat thickness and 3) no dark cutters, purplish meat that most customers find unappetizing. 

Rib-eye for Steak Guide

Sadie Collins

McDonnell says he and his servers speak very highly of the restaurant's beef quality — so highly, in fact, that the Certified Angus Beef label is printed on every menu at Chris McD's.

CC’s City Broiler

Location: 1401 Forum Blvd.

Cost: $28.95-49.95

Call: 573-445-7772

Hours: Open daily 5-10 p.m. 

CC’s City Broiler not only offers the same slices of meat as Chris McD’s, but the restaurant also features a healthier beef called Akaushi, which is cut from a breed of Japanese cattle. Dustin Norem says this steak has become a new favorite of CC’s guests. But, like Chris McD's, CC's finds its tried-and-true hit in the filet. “The filet is the most popular cut here,” Norem says. “It is what we’re known for.”

Once you've chosen your meat, you'll need to decide how you want it cooked, whether rare, medium rare, medium, medium well or well. Norem says cook time and temperature are really about personal preference, but the cut does affect how long a steak should sizzle. A filet is so tender that medium well — where only a hint of pink is left in the center — frequently suits the steak best. With a sirloin or rib-eye, on the other hand, don't be afraid to order it medium rare. You don't want an excessive cooking time to suck up all the savory juices. 

Akaushi Beef for Steak Guide

Sadie Collins

Norem believes that the menu shouldn't dictate what steaks can be paired with which sauces or sides. Instead, he lets diners have their preference. One might choose a vegetable; another might like their beef plain. Waiters and waitresses at CC’s are merely instructed to lead patrons in the right direction. CC's sides include jalapeño twice baked potatoes, lobster mashed potatoes, steamed asparagus, creamed spinach with blue cheese, wine and garlic mushrooms, and french fried Brussels sprouts. 

For many customers, steaks are a difficult food to decipher. But with help from McDonnell and Norem, you can now confidently scoop up a menu, select your steak, and dig into a filet — without any fear. 

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