It's the height of summer -- which for many Americans means vacations, swimming, loafing around and popping a steak on the grill.
Despite the recent economic downturn, U.S. beef consumption has remained relatively stable over the past eight years.
In fact, industry officials say now is a good time to take advantage of lower costs for higher-quality cuts of beef. "Since the recession and the fact that fewer people are eating out. . .the middle parts of the animals -- those rib and loin cuts -- have dropped significantly because they're not being sold in restaurants and they're being featured more in retail [ads]," says Jim Henger, executive director of marketing for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Denver.
In fact, some of the best butchers sell their meat online, so no matter where you live in the U.S., you can still pick up a great steak from, say, Chicago's Allen Brothers or Lobel's of New York.
The best-selling cuts of beef have several factors in common, according to Henger: They cook well with dry heat, they don't require a lot of marinades, tenderizing or other preparations and they have enough internal marbling of fat within the meat that they'll cook up moist and tender with the proper culinary attention -- and the right grill.
According to The Cattlemen's Beef Board & National Cattlemen's Beef Association, here are the top 10 Grilling Season Cuts of Beef for the first quarter of this year, compared to the first quarter of 2009.
1. Beef Ribeye Steak Boneless
2010: 26.8 million pounds
2009: 26.9 million pounds
Taken from the rib along the steer's side, this cut contains less connective tissues and is naturally more tender.
2. Beef Loin Top Sirloin Steak Boneless
2010: 23.8 million pounds
2009: 26.4 million pounds
Usually served in 8 to 12 ounce steaks in restaurants, this cut is sold a little bit bigger -- between 12 and 16 ounces -- at your local supermarket. They've also become great value lately. Top Sirloin was featured in grocery ads selling for between $6.99 and $8.99 a pound two years ago, says Henger. Today you can find them at $3.99 to $5.99 a pound. "It's not as expensive as ribeye," he says, "but it's a very good value for consumers. . .and very popular."
3. Beef Top Loin Steak Boneless
2010: 22.0 million pounds
2009: 24.3 million pounds
This cut is what most people refer to as a New York strip steak or a strip steak. It's part of the same muscle as the ribeye, but a little bit leaner.
4. Beef Loin T-Bone Steak Bone In
2010: 19.3 million pounds
2009: 18.1 million pounds, 2009
Formed by the juncture of two muscle groups, the T-Bone "is a great steak if you're looking for portion size," says Henger, and is very popular shared cut for two people.
5. Beef Ribeye Steak Lip On Bone In
2010: 15.9 million pounds
2009: 16.6 million pounds, 2009
Favored by people who believe the beef bone adds additional flavor to the meat.
6. Beef Top Loin Steak Bone In
2010: 13.5 million pounds
2009: 15.4 million pounds
A strip steak with the bone in.
7. Beef Loin Porterhouse Steak Bone In
2010: 12.5 million pounds
2009: 12.4 million pounds
The same two muscles as the T-bone cut, but with a smaller tenderloin portion.
8. Beef Loin Tenderloin Steak Boneless
2010: 8.5 million pounds
2009: 8.2 million pounds
Also referred to as filet mignon, it's lean and the most tender muscle in the animal -- and also the most expensive, per-pound.
9. Beef Loin Tri Tip Roast Boneless
2010: 6.0 million pounds
2009: 5.6 million pounds
Sold mostly on the West Coast, this relatively small, triangular-shaped cut is usually sliced thinly.
10. Beef Chuck Eye Steak Boneless
2010: 4.5 million pounds
2009: 4.5 million pounds
Located in the animal's shoulder area, this cut only produces four-to-six steaks per animal.
The Top 10 Cuts of Beef for Summer Grilling