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The Best Cuts of Steak: A Comprehensive Guide

steak cuts

If you know nothing about different steak cuts, it can be hard to choose which one to order at a restaurant or buy from the butcher. Surely the waiter or a butcher will help you out, but it’s better to have at least a basic understanding of the most popular steak cuts. In this article, I’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide to the best cuts of steak.

The first thing you need to know – there are tender cuts, tough cuts, and steaks somewhere in between. The difference between them lies in the amount of intramuscular fat or marbling. The more intramuscular fat, the more tender the steak will be. Tougher cuts have less marbling and are therefore less juicy and flavorful.

You may think if the steak is lean, it can’t make the list of some of the best cuts. Well, not precisely so. One of the most popular and well-known steak cuts, filet mignon, is actually relatively lean. However, what it lacks in fat, it makes up for in flavor.

What Are The Best Cuts of Steak?

  1. Ribeye Steak
  2. Prime Rib
  3. Porterhouse Steak
  4. T-bone Steak
  5. Tenderloin Steak
  6. Filet mignon
  7. Strip Steak
  8. Top Sirloin
  9. Hanger Steak
  10. Flat Iron Steak
  11. Flank Steak
  12. Skirt Steak
  13. Bottom Sirloin Steak
  14. Denver Steak
  15. Picanha Steak

1. Ribeye Steak

ribeye steak

Ribeye is undoubtedly one of the more popular steak cuts. Coming from the rib section it’s incredibly well-marbled. You should know the more marbled the steak is, the more juicy and flavorful it is. Ribeye steaks are usually pricier, but they’re worth every penny.

The meat is juicy and incredibly tender, with a slight buttery flavor. It is a big cut that comes either boneless or bone-in. The bone-in version is often referred to as a cowboy steak. However, If you want to impress your dinner guests, go for the Tomahawk steak. It’s a bone-in ribeye with at least five inches of rib attached.

The best way to cook ribeye is by grilling, broiling, or pan-frying it. Since the meat is well-marbled, it’s more forgiving in terms of overcooking. You can cook it to your desired level of doneness without fear of drying it out, unlike leaner cuts.

2. Prime Rib

prime rib

If you’re looking for an impressive and luxurious steak cut, prime rib is the way to go. It comes from the same section of the cow as the ribeye. It’s extremely well-marbled and thus juicy and flavorful.

The prime rib is usually roasted whole and then sliced into individual steaks. It’s an excellent cut for special occasions and dinner parties since it makes a grand presentation.

The best cooking methods are oven-roasting or grilling. Prime rib is best-cooked medium-rare to medium so that the meat is juicy and tender. There’s nothing worse than an overcooked premium cut of steak. So make sure to keep an eye on it while it’s cooking. An instant-read meat thermometer can help you out.

3. Porterhouse Steak

porterhouse steak

Porterhouse is a massive piece of meat that comes from the short loin section of the cow. It’s actually two steaks in one since it consists of a strip steak and a filet mignon. A T-shaped bone separates the two.

What is more impressive is the size. Porterhouse steaks are usually about two inches thick, and they can weigh up to 24 ounces. So before eating one, make sure you’re starving.

Taste-wise it’s very similar to the ribeye. It’s well-marbled and thus juicy and flavorful. The filet mignon part is extremely tender, while the strip steak is a bit tougher but still very juicy with quite a bold, beefy flavor.

Porterhouse steaks are best cooked using dry-heat methods such as grilling, broiling, or pan-frying. Just like with other premium cuts of steak, you want to cook porterhouse to medium-rare or medium at most. Any more, and the meat will become tough and dry.

4. T-bone Steak

t-bone steak

T-bone steak is a cut of beef that comes from the short loin section of the cow. It’s very similar to the porterhouse because both consist of two steaks separated by a T-shaped bone. The real noticeable difference is that in a T-bone steak, the filet mignon part is a bit smaller while the strip steak is larger. When it comes to the price, it’s an expensive cut. However, keep in mind it’s a premium cut.

The flavors and texture of the meat are pretty similar to flank, porterhouse and ribeye steaks. The filet mignon is exceptionally tender, while the strip steak is juicy and flavorful with a bold, beefy taste. I like that it has two of the best cuts in one piece of meat. Steak lovers are absolutely thrilled when eating T-bone steak. You get the best of both – tenderness and extremely good flavor.

T-bone steaks are best cooked using dry-heat methods such as grilling, broiling, or pan-frying. In restaurants, t-bone is cooked on a grill or frying pan and finished in the oven. The ideal cooking temperature is between medium-rare and medium. Any more, and there’s a chance the steak can become tough.

5. Tenderloin Steak

tenderloin steak

Tenderloin is by far the most expensive cut of beef on this list. At the same time, it’s the most tender cut money can buy (if you do not count Wagyu beef). It comes from the tenderloin section of the cattle. This long and thin muscle runs along with the spine muscle and is inactive meaning it’s exceptionally tender. 

Even though it’s a relatively lean cut of meat, it’s still juicy and flavorful. It doesn’t have much marbling compared to other well-marbled cuts like ribeye or t-bone steaks, but what it lacks in fat makes up for in tenderness. If looking for a melt-in-your-mouth eating experience – a tenderloin is a way to go.

The best cooking methods are oven-roasting, grilling, or broiling. Just like with other premium cuts of steak, you want to cook it to medium-rare or medium at most. Any more, and there’s a chance the steak can become dry.

6. Filet Mignon

filet mignon

While technically, filet mignon is from the tenderloin, it’s different enough to warrant its own spot on the list. It’s a cut from the smaller end of the tenderloin, and it’s usually about an inch thick or less. It’s a costly cut of beef but trust me; it’s worth every penny.

It has less marbling than other premium cuts, but it’s still a very juicy and flavorful steak. A true steak lover might find it a bit too lean and not as tasty as other cuts (ribeye or porterhouse steak), but for those looking for a lean and tender option, filet mignon is the way to go.

It’s best when prepared using dry-heat methods such as grilling or pan-frying. The ideal cooking temperature is between medium-rare and medium. Knowing it’s leaner than other cuts, you want to be careful not to overcook it as it can become dry.

7. Strip Steak

strip steak

Strip steak is a cut of beef that comes from the short loin section of the cow. It’s also known as the New York strip or Kansas City strip. Strip steak is one of the most popular cuts both in restaurants and at home. And there’s a good reason for that. It’s flavorful and a bit more affordable than other premium cuts.

The strip steak is a well-marbled piece of meat. It has lots of tiny streaks of fat running through the meat, making it packed with intense flavors. In fact, the flavor profile resembles ribeye, but it’s not as buttery smooth (ribeye has more marbling). The texture is firm yet tender, and the steak is juicy with a bold, beefy taste.

It’s best to cook strip steak on a cast-iron skillet or even better, on a charcoal grill. If looking to add more flavor, baste the steak with some butter while it’s cooking. The ideal cooking temperature is between medium-rare and medium. Any more, and there’s a chance it can become dry and tasteless.

8. Top Sirloin

top sirloin

Top sirloin steak is a cut of beef that comes from the rear end of the cow. It’s well-marbled with just the right amount of fat. Not too much and not too little. You might mistake it for a bottom sirloin steak as they look similar. The main difference is that the top sirloin is a bit more tender and flavorsome. Compared to the likes of ribeye or strip steak, it’s more affordable but nevertheless delivers excellent taste and texture.

Since it’s a lean cut, pan-frying or grilling is the best cooking method. You want to cook it to medium-rare or medium at most. If you wish to tenderize it even more so use dry brine for that.

9. Hanger Steak

hanger steak

Hanger steak makes a list as one of the best steaks. Dare to guess why? Well, because it’s one of the most flavorful and juicy steak cuts available. It comes from the diaphragm area of the cow. It’s a long and narrow strip of meat. Due to its location, it’s a well-exercised muscle. It has an extremely rich and beefy taste. However, If you expect tenderness to the likes of filet mignon or strip steak, you’ll be disappointed. It’s definitely not as tender as those two cuts, but what it lacks in tenderness it makes up for in flavor.

Grilling and pan-frying are the best methods to cook hanger steak. You want to aim for medium-rare doneness. Any more, and it can become chewy.

10. Flat Iron Steak

flat iron steak

Flat iron steak is a cut from the chuck area of the cow. It gets its name from its shape, which resembles an old-fashioned flat iron. It’s a well-marbled piece of meat and one of the most flavorful steaks you’ll find. It’s also a reasonably affordable cut.

It’s an extremely tasty steak and one of my personal favorites. The texture is quite tender although not as tender as ribeye or tenderloin but it’s very juicy. The flavor profile is bold with lots of beefy taste.

In terms of cooking, it’s best to pan-fry or grill flat iron steak. The ideal doneness would be medium-rare to medium. It tends to get tough when cooked beyond that.

11. Flank Steak

flank steak

Flank steak is a cut coming from the abdominal area of the cow. It’s a long and flat cut of meat with connective tissue running through the meat. Some people may find it difficult to distinguish it from the flat iron or skirt steak. It’s pretty lean, meaning there’s not much fat running through it. As a result, it can become tough if overcooked. However, it’s an extremely flavorful and juicy cut of steak when appropriately cooked.

Knowing it’s a relatively lean and tough cut, the best cooking methods are pan-frying, grilling, stir-frying, or braising. The key is not to overcook it. You want to aim for medium-rare or medium doneness at most. If you’re looking to tenderize it further, you can marinate it for a few hours beforehand.

12. Skirt Steak

skirt steak

Skirt steak is a long and flat cut of meat coming from the cow’s diaphragm area. It’s one of the tastiest steaks you’ll find. The muscle is well-exercised, which gives it lots of flavors; however, at the same time, it’s a tough cut of meat if not cooked properly. It’s also a relatively lean cut with just the right amount of fat. So if you’re someone looking for a leaner cut – skirt steak is an excellent option.

Because It has a bold, beefy taste and a slightly chewy texture, the key to making it juicy and tender is not to overcook it—stir-fry over high heat or grill skirt steak. The ideal doneness would be rare to medium-rare. Any more, and it can become tough and chewy.

13. Bottom Sirloin Steak

bottom sirloin steak

Bottom sirloin steak is a cut from the rear end of the cow. It’s a relatively large and thick cut of meat divided into two subprimal cuts – the butt and the triangle. The butt portion is more tender, while the triangle portion is tougher. It’s not an expensive cut when compared to more premium cuts.

It’s a chewy steak cut, but it does have a complex set of flavors. When cooked properly, it can be juicy and tender. The best cooking methods are grilling or pan-frying over high heat. You want to aim for medium-rare or medium doneness. Any more, and it can become too tough.

14. Denver Steak

denver steak

Denver steak is a newer cut of meat that’s becoming more popular. It’s a well-marbled and juicy steak with lots of flavors. It comes from the chuck area of the cow. The muscle is well-exercised, giving it a slightly chewy texture.

It’s best when cooked over high heat whether that be pan-frying, or grilling. The ideal doneness would be medium-rare to medium. Any more, and it can become tough. Recently I tried sous vide cooking Denver steak for the first time, and it came out perfectly, so if you’re looking for an alternative cooking method, that’s definitely worth trying.

15. Picanha Steak

picanha steak

Picanha Steak is a cut of meat coming from the rump area of the cow. It has a somewhat decent amount of marbling with a thick layer of fat on top. The marbling adds lots of flavors to the Picanha making it a juicy piece of meat. It’s a popular cut in Brazil and slowly gaining popularity in the US. However, do not expect the tenderness of the more premium cuts. The muscle is well-exercised, giving it a slightly chewy texture.

The best way to cook picanha steak is over an open flame on a grill. The key is not to overcook it, as it can become tough. You want to aim for medium-rare or medium doneness at most. Let it rest for a few minutes before cutting into it so the juices can redistribute.

What is The Best Steak Cut?

Choosing one steak cut from so many excellent cuts is difficult. However, as a chef, I look for the perfect balance; therefore, ribeye is the best steak cut. It has an excellent marbling which adds lots of flavors and makes it a juicy piece of meat. It’s also an incredibly tender cut.

Unlike cooking a lean piece of steak – rib-eye is easy to cook. Coming from the rib area it has an abundance of marbling which prevents it from drying out. You can cook it any way you like, whether pan-frying or grilling. Overall it’s an excellent cut for both family gatherings or serving at restaurants.

How To Choose The Best Steak Cut?

You already know which steak cuts are the best from the list above. However, there are more things you need to know. For example, grass-fed or grain-fed?

Grass-fed beef is leaner and has a more intense flavor. You can easily recognize it from the deep red color and yellowish marbling. On the other hand, grain-fed beef is fattier and has a more buttery taste. The marbling is whiter in color, while the meat itself is pink.

Worth mentioning since grass-fed cows are fed on grass and other plants, they are packed with more nutrients.

To make it easier for you, below you’ll find a bullet list of things to look for when buying a steak:

  • Marbling. Look for streaks of fat running through the meat. The more marbling, the tastier the steak will be;
  • Thickness. Not only is thickness more forgiving when it comes to cooking it also doesn’t cool down as fast. Look for a steak that is at least an inch thick;
  • USDA grading. USDA grading provides you with information about the quality of the meat. The highest quality is Prime, followed by Choice and Select’;
  • Price. With the premium steak cuts comes a higher price tag. However, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t need to break the bank to get a good quality steak. Cheaper cuts like flank steak can be just as good if you know how to cook it.

Learn more about different steak cuts:

FAQ

What are the tenderest cuts of steak?

The tenderest cuts of steak are the premium cuts coming from the loin and rib area. These include filet mignon, strip steak, t-bone steak, and rib-eye steak.

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