Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter

The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin (aka “filet mignon”).  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!

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The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin (aka "filet mignon").  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!Have you ever noticed how stores occasionally change up displays in order to catch your attention?  One of our grocery stores recently flipped every.single.aisle 180°, and I’m convinced it was to make us pay more attention.  I’m guilty of just going on auto-pilot and walking straight to the section that I need.  (Of course, I also found it incredibly annoying when I couldn’t find what I was looking for quickly anymore!)  But one section of the store which has always confused me is the meat department.  There are so many labels, and until recently I only had a vague idea what they actually meant.

The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin (aka "filet mignon").  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!Let’s take a look at the labels on beef.  If you’re anything like me, the labels were mighty confusing.  Organic, Grass-Fed, Hormone-Free, USDA Prime/Choice/Select, Certified Angus Beef…the list goes on.  What do those labels actually mean?

USDA Labels

Let’s start with the easy ones: USDA labels.  There are a number of categories here, but we’ll focus on the top 3: USDA Prime, USDA Choice and USDA Select.  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades beef based on quality and yield.  Only ~5% of beef meets the standards to be labeled as USDA Prime.  Prime quality beef is usually sold in restaurants and hotels.  In fact, to find USDA Prime beef as a consumer, you likely need to find a local butcher shop that specializes in quality beef.  Large supermarkets rarely ever carry USDA Prime.  For instance, in my area, we have a specialty meat market that carries almost all USDA Prime cuts.  I purchase most of my beef there as I know the quality will be amazing!

Another ~55% of beef meets the standards for USDA Choice.  Choice beef is still high quality, but it will have less marbling than Prime.  The third level, USDA Select, is still acceptable quality beef, but will likely be less tender and juicy due to the lack of marbling.  For this reason, Select cuts often benefit from marinades.  There are several grades below Select that are more economical options at a trade-off for quality.  Most beef you see in a large grocery store is either USDA Select or USDA Choice.  The packaging should have the labels on it, but when in doubt, just ask the butcher what the USDA grade is.  If they don’t know, then head on down the road to the next store!

Certified Angus Beef ® brand

Similar to how you might select Kellogg’s or General Mills cereal, Certified Angus Beef ® brand is a brand of beef.  All Certified Angus Beef ® brand beef is graded as USDA Prime or USDA Choice, so you know you can count on quality beef whenever you see their label.  (Disclosure: I work with Certified Angus Beef ® brand as a partner, but their quality truly is top-notch!)


Aside from USDA labeling which speaks to the quality of the beef, there are several other labels which you may see on the packaging in your store.  In order to be labeled antibiotic-free, cattle must never received antibiotics of any kind.  Farmers must keep detailed paperwork which proves this, too.  However, it’s worth noting that random samples are taken from all beef (regardless of whether it’s labeled antibiotic-free) to determine if residual antibiotics are present.

As I’ve learned first-hand from visiting a number of different farms and ranches, beef producers work with veterinarians to use antibiotics as a way of ensuring the health and safety of their herds.  As one farmer put it, “If your infant child gets sick and the doctor prescribes an antibiotic, you give it to them, right?  It’s the same for cattle.”  Farmers are required to keep records of all vaccines and antibiotics that are administered to their cattle.  Let me repeat what I said earlier: all beef is tested before it reaches the market to ensure that no residual antibiotics are present.

It’s worth noting that antibiotics are only used under the direction of a veterinarian to prevent, control or treat disease.  FDA guidelines prohibit the use of antibiotics for growth promotion.


Grass-fed labeling is an interesting one.  You may notice that packages with the grass-fed label are a bit more expensive.  But here’s the thing: that label might not mean anything at all!  As of January 2016, the USDA no longer provides an official definition of ‘grass-fed.’  This opens the door to a bit of interpretation…which in turn can lead to confusion when you’re standing at the meat case trying to decide what package of beef to purchase for dinner.

All cattle are grass-fed.  The difference is that some cattle are 100% grass-fed while other cattle are transitioned over to grain.  There is no definitive proof that 100% grass-fed beef is healthier.  However, 100% grass-fed beef will likely be leaner, and it will have a slightly different taste.  This one comes down to personal preference.  But remember that all cattle eat grass for most of their lives.  So a label that says “Grass-fed” doesn’t actually mean anything.  If you’re looking for 100% grass-fed beef, then make sure the label says “100% grass-fed” or “Grass-finished.”

All Natural

The “All Natural” label does not refer to whether or not an animal has received antiobiotics or hormones.  It is also completely unrelated to the type of food (grass vs. grass & grain) an animal consumes.  Instead, All Natural refers to the addition of added artificial ingredients (like spices), colorants or preservatives.  Kinda confusing, right?  As the photo below shows, this All Natural labeling means the meat was “Minimally processed with no artificial ingredients.”

USDA Organic

In order to receive an “Organic” sticker on the package, beef must come from cattle that have never received any antibiotics or hormones.  Furthermore, the cattle must have been fed 100% organic feed and forage.  Organic is not the same as grass-fed, although the two terms are often confused.

Ok, have I thoroughly confused you yet?  I hope not!  I admit that the labeling on beef can be very confusing, and at times I have to stop and think about what I’m seeing on the package myself.  I had the chance recently to visit a local specialty butcher shop as part of my partnership with the New York Beef Council, and I learned a good bit during that visit.  I’ve shared the labeling info above, and I hope this post has shed a bit of light on the labels you see when you’re shopping for dinner.  Speaking of dinner, let’s talk steak!

The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin (aka "filet mignon").  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!As part of this visit to my local butcher, the New York Beef Council challenged me to pick up a non-familiar cut of beef.  Sure, we all have our favorite recipes for ground beef and ribeye steaks, but what about some of those other cuts?  I decided to try my hand at cooking flat iron steaks.  The flat iron steak, or top blade steak, supposedly got its name because it looks like an old-fashioned flat iron.  The flat iron is a rectangular cut of beef that is relatively uniform in thickness.  It’s also a trendy cut that has become quite popular on restaurant menus in recent years.  And for good reason!  The flat iron steak is actually the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only the tenderloin (aka filet mignon).

The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin (aka "filet mignon").  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!For this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter, I marinated the flat iron steak in a red wine & tomato paste mixture for several hours.  Then I just cooked it up in a cast iron skillet right there on the stovetop.  Flat iron steaks are also great for grilling, and you better believe I’ll be grilling these up this summer!  The result?  Delicious!  As this post is approaching the length of my dissertation, I’ll go ahead and wrap it up by saying that this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter is a quick and easy dinner that is sure to impress!  Give it a shot sometime next week and let me know what you think.  Cheers, friends!

The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin (aka "filet mignon").  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!

Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter

The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin.  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Marinating Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 542kcal


For the Marinade

For Pesto Butter

For Cooking


For the Marinade

  • Using a small bowl, combine the dry herbs (black pepper, onion powder, dried rosemary, salt and smoked paprika); press this mixture into both sides of the flat iron steak.
  • Using a medium mixing bowl, combine red wine, water, olive oil, tomato paste and garlic. Place steak in a large resealable bag and add wine marinade; reseal the bag, pressing lightly to remove any air. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours.

For Pesto Butter

  • Using a small bowl, combine butter and pesto together until well combined; set aside.

For Cooking

  • To cook, remove steak from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Using a large cast iron skillet, add additional vegetable oil and place skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, remove the steak from marinade and place in skillet; discard any excess marinade.
  • Cook for 3-7 minutes per side depending on your preference for doneness.
  • Let steak rest for 5 minutes before slicing into strips against the grain.
  • Serve steak with Pesto Butter.

This post was sponsored by the New York Beef Council.

The flat iron steak is the 2nd most tender cut of beef behind only a tenderloin (aka "filet mignon").  Give the flat iron cut a shot with this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter recipe!

Looking for more tasty steak recipes?  Check out these other favorites, too:

Packed with juicy steak, sauteed peppers + onions and two types of cheese, this Philly Cheesesteak Monkey Bread is one delicious way to mix up the routine!Philly Cheesesteak Monkey Bread

Looking for a fun marinade idea?  Pull out the bottle of bourbon!  These Bourbon Marinated Steak Tips make for a delicious (and easy) dinner idea!Bourbon Marinated Steak Tips

These Steak Sliders with Blue Cheese Butter and Grilled Mushrooms absolutely deserve a spot on your summer grilling menu!Steak Sliders with Blue Cheese Butter

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  1. This is a great post. Good information. It really can be confusing, and maybe purposely so. Great recipe, too. Nowadays I only prepare flank steak, hanger steak, and flat iron steak sous vide, but I always loved it before we made the switch. And yours is cooked beautifully

    1. I totally agree with you, Mimi! Buying beef in the store really can be confusing. I don’t want to say that all companies purposefully confuse you…but some definitely try. I mean that box labeled “made from USDA grass-fed beef”? ALL beef is grass-fed!! Also, great tip about preparing these cuts sous vide. I’ll have to give that a shot sometime. Thanks so much!

  2. Such an interesting post, David! For one, I had no idea of the different types of USDA labels and woa – I didn’t know about the fact that grass fed labeling didn’t really amount to much! Like you, I, too, I’m SO guilty of going on auto-pilot and walking straight to the section that I need to get stuff from without paying much attention to placement – but, I think the Kroger near where I used to live was onto me and my quick in and outs and they started changing things up on me – big time! Anyhoot – am going off on a tangent so reeling it back into this delicious dish – dude, that pesto butter sounds insanely delicious! Everything needs to be smothered, scattered and covered in THAT!

    1. It really can be confusing, Shashi! All of those different labels…and they’re not necessarily intuitive about what they mean, either. Oh, Kroger. How I mess thee! Laura and I used to have fun times doing our weekly grocery runs on Saturday morning to the Kroger in the Vinings part of town. Now my grocery runs involve a toddler while Laura stays home and puts his toys from the week away. 🙂 Also, pesto butter = amazing. Try it sometime! I used a bit of the leftovers on a toasted English muffin. Holy moly!

  3. Oh boy! Those stores changing up displays are so annoying. Last week I couldn’t find lemons for two minutes as they had changed their location. But when we lived in Toronto, one grocery store would change the isles few times each year. It’s like, as soon as you get used to a new order, you can start over. I’m not sure if this marketing approach worth of efforts, but it doesn’t really work with us. Making us confused won’t result having too many extra items (1 or 2 possibly) in a car. But this this very sensitive issue to me. I feel like some stress eating now 🙂 Pass me this steak please. It looks delicious by the way!

    1. Wow, changing up the store layout every few months? Now that’s a bit much for me! I mean my store changed after several years, and I was thoroughly annoyed. It took my about 9 months to remember where everything was again! I hope I didn’t stress you out too much with this topic, Ben. But on the bright side, there’s always tasty steak to make it better, right? 🙂 And pesto butter. I feel like this is right up your alley! Maybe add some lavender in, though? Haha!

  4. And on a similar note – sometimes I find that within each brand of store, different locations may have things organized differently. Just when you get used to something….
    This steak looks delicious, David and a pesto butter? Yes please! I mean, I’ve had pesto on steak, I’ve had herb butter or even cheese butter, but never pesto butter. This needs to happen soon 🙂 Yum!

    1. Yes! I totally agree with you there, Dawn. I occasionally pop into other locations of stores, and it’s like walking into a whole new store. I mean it looks vaguely familiar…but it’s just not.

      Thanks so much for the kind words, my friend. This pesto butter is life changing when it comes to grilling up steaks. I know restaurants often finish steaks with a bit of butter, but pesto butter? That took it to a whole new level! And then I used a bit of the leftover butter the next day on a toasted English muffin. Woah! In truth, I added cheese so I turned it into a pesto butter grilled cheese. Sounds super fancy, but it came up as a way to use leftovers in the fridge. Haha! Hope your week is going well, my friend!

  5. Supermarkets do like to move their produce around their aisles David, I’m speaking from experience as I have a degree in retail management (yawn 😉 ) and formerly worked in a store where we did just that! Ha ha! It’s designed to make you walk past other products looking for what you originally came in for, but hoping you buy more stuff! Anyway, thanks for explaining all about the complicated meat labeling over there and making it simpler to understand. It’s not something we have over here as extensive (I don’t think anyway). And, I like how you’ve used red wine in your marinade. That’s definitely my kind of marinade! Awesome recipe David. Have a great weekend!

    1. Interesting! I don’t think I realized that you have a background in retail management. I mean I get the whole seeing new things angle, but that has to be weighed against customers getting annoyed when they can’t find things, right? Either way, the beef labeling system here in the States can indeed be mighty confusing. And now you know in case you’re over here looking to buy some steaks! Haha. Thanks, Neil! 🙂

  6. A few weeks ago Trader Joe’s moved their peanut butter display to the other side of the store, and put spices in its place. I was half asleep while I was shopping and seriously grabbed a container of salt, which was exactly in my beloved pb’s place. Fortunately I woke up before I made myself a salt sandwich, but it took me a few minutes of searching to find the nut butters. WHY Trader Joe’s? It still throws me off! I’ve never understood all the different labels on meat but this is a good primer. I’ll study up before the next time I try to cook a steak for someone!

    1. Hah! I’m laughing at the idea of a salt sandwich right now. I mean I do love salt, but a salt sandwich? I think I’ll pass. On a side note, I recently heard about a book called “Salt” (original right?) that details how salt has influenced world history. It’s on my to-read list…whenever that happens. 🙂 Thanks so much, Kelsie! And good luck with the PB!

  7. They re-arrange our supermarket on a regular basis which is very confusing indeed and challenging when you are in a hurry 🙂 I really enjoyed reading your posts visiting farms, something I would like to do as well as it is so important to understand where our food comes from and how it has been treated. My husband and I are very keen on buying good quality meat and are happy to pay extra for it. I need to make an effort to understand our food labels here in the UK better as well. We love a good steak on the weekend and just looking at the pictures of your flat iron steak made my mouth water. Have a nice weekend, David!

    1. I totally agree with you, Miriam! I mean I understand the goal of rearranging supermarkets so that you see different products…but man is it annoying when you’re trying to hurry. I often have Robbie in tow when I’m shopping, so my time is limited before he gets annoyed at me standing there.

      I appreciate your comment about my farm posts. I’m right there with ya on knowing about where food comes from, and I’ve really enjoyed learning about the beef industry here in the States. We started buying better quality meat a little while back, and it’s such a HUGE difference in flavor. I don’t have any idea what the beef labels in the UK are like, but it’s worth learning about what they mean…and don’t mean. They can be tricky! Thanks, Miriam, and I hope you have a great weekend!

  8. Very informative article! It’s pretty interesting how some labels are pretty arbitrary. Have to keep on the look out for that!

    Flat iron is an amazinggggg cut! We used to get them more frequently growing up when they first came around but then they got popular and wellll not so reasonable. Your recipe seems like it would pair amazingly with that tender steak goodness!

    1. It really is amazing (and confusing!) how those different labels mean different things. Some are intuitive, but other’s aren’t at all! I mean the label saying “Made from USDA grass-fed beef”? ALL beef is grass-fed. Tricky, tricky packaging there!

      And yes I totally agree with you about flat iron steaks. They’re delicious, but they have been ‘discovered’ so the price has gone up a bit. They’re still more affordable than filet mignon, though, so that’s cool. Perfect for when you just want to splurge on a good steak! 🙂 Thanks, Matt!

  9. I’m not only on auto-pilot with my local store, but when I go into the same store at a different location, I expect the same layout! I always have a game plan o where to go and what to grab. This flat iron steak looks amazing! Love the sauce too.

    1. I am totally the same way, Kathy! I guess I’m just a creature of habit (Laura would 100% agree with that), so when I go to a certain aisle, I expect to find what I’m looking for. Hope you have a great weekend. Maybe grab some flat iron steaks for the grill? 🙂 Cheers!

  10. Thanks for all the information on meat! I consider myself fairly savvy at the meat counter but I’m sure if I took the time to read ALL the labels I’d lose my mind. Luckily my local stores don’t go crazy reorganizing the shelves but the produce department (where I spend most of my time) seems to change all the time. Luckily, it’s not very big so it doesn’t take long to find what I need.

    But seriously though, this Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Pesto Butter looks utterly mouthwatering! You best believe I’m making this the next time I splurge on some nummy meat!

    1. I agree with you about finding my way around. I mean it’s not that hard, but I like to go on autopilot. Actually, to be more accurate, I’ve got 1.5 eyes on Robbie who happily chomps on his Cheerios as we make our way around the store. So when I reach the aisle I need, I want to know where my stuff is! Anyhoo, flat iron steaks are the bomb-diggity! I didn’t know much about the flat iron cut until recently, but I’m a fan now!

  11. Labels can be so confusing (and misleading!). Thanks for the primer, David!

    This steak with pesto butter sounds wonderful to me. You’ve cooked it to perfection.

    1. Labels can indeed be confusing, and while most are not meant to mislead on purpose…there are definitely some companies that try to be tricky! It’s good to know your stuff when you go to the meat section. 🙂 Also, steak + pesto butter? SO good!

    1. Wow, that is awesome that you get all of your beef from your brothers and the farm! You should include some photos of the family farm in one of your posts. 🙂

  12. This was a delicious recipe. I made it for guests that we had over for dinner, and the Pistachio Pesto Butter was a big hit. It took the steak from everyday to restaurant style 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Jack! The flat iron cut is one of our new favorites…and I agree that the pesto butter takes it to a whole new level!

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