What Is the Best Cut of Steak?
Pro tip: Cuts that run along the back tend to be the most tender and expensive.
By Krissy Downey for Food Network Kitchen
Krissy is a Digital Culinary Production Fellow at Food Network.
The butcher counter can be overwhelming, filled with what seems like countless options but very little information. While there is no such thing as the best cut of steak (it is really all about your preferences and how you are preparing it!), there are a few cuts that are widely considered top tier. Below, we get into the meaty differences, as well as how to choose the right cut for what you’re cooking.
What Is the Best Cut of Steak?
The best cuts of meat are all found running down the back of the cow, far away from what butchers call the “hoof and horn.” Cuts that are closer to the legs and shoulder get a lot of exercise, as they help support the cow’s movements, which strains the muscles and results in tougher cuts of beef. That’s why brisket and beef shanks need to be braised low and slow – to help soften up those connective tissues. Cuts that run along the back, like ribeye, strip, tenderloin and T-bone don’t work as hard, so they are much more tender and perfect for a steak dinner.
Before we get into the benefits of each type of steak, we should quickly define the term “marbling,” which you’ll see used below. Unlike the chunky, chewy bits of fat you might cut off the side of your steak, marbling is the flavorful, welcome white fat that branches evenly throughout the tissue. Marbling affects the taste and texture of steak, and it will be a key differentiator you’ll think about when deciding between the four best cuts of steak.
Ribeye is a large, round cut with excellent marbling throughout. It is a classic favorite for steak lovers because it is hearty, flavorful and tender. It’s sold boneless or bone-in.
Strip steak, sometimes referred to as New York Strip, is a usually boneless, more rectangular cut that is known for its marbling and deep, rich flavor. It is a bit less tender than a ribeye, but it is still a high-end favorite due to that striking flavor.
Next is the tenderloin, a longer cut with no marbling. The lack of marbling means that it is not as flavorful as other cuts, but what it lacks in flavor it certainly makes up for in tenderness. Fillet mignon is a steak cut from the smaller end of the tenderloin, and it is often served with a butter-based sauce of some kind to up the flavor.
Lastly is the T-bone steak, which is a strip steak and a fillet, divided by a T-shaped bone, all in one steak. A T-bone is a steak for a crowd, mostly because it is a very large cut, but also because it offers something for everyone. No need to choose between the tenderness of a fillet or the flavor of a strip here. A porterhouse steak is just a T-bone with a larger tenderloin.
What Is the Most Expensive Cut of Steak?
The most expensive cuts of steak are taken from the most tender parts of the cow, so tenderloin is going to be the priciest cut. It is a very small part of the cow, so the high cost is also a matter of supply and demand.
If you’ve ever heard of Japanese wagyu or kobe beef, you’ve definitely heard that they will cost you a pretty penny. Wagyu and kobe beef don’t reference cuts of steak; they reference the way the cows are bred and raised. These classifications of cows are raised in Japan on a very strict, specific diet, meant to ensure that the beef contains just the right level of flavor and fat. This level of care is what guarantees the high price tag.
Which Is Better, Ribeye or Sirloin?
There are pros and cons to consider when deciding between ribeye and sirloin. Sirloin is much leaner, with less marbling and, therefore, less flavor. Remember, ribeye is known for intense marbling and excellent flavor. However, that marbling is likely going to make ribeye a much more expensive option. A nice char on the grill can help boost up the flavors of a sirloin, so the choice of which is better really depends on what kind of flavor you’re looking for and how much money you’d like to spend.
Best Cut of Steak for Medium-Rare
Most chefs will passionately insist that the best cut of steak for medium-rare is all cuts of steak, but of course, the way you like your steak cooked is all up to you. Cooking steak to medium-rare allows the steak’s natural flavor to shine, so those extra-marbled, extra-flavorful cuts like ribeye and strip are particularly delicious at that medium rare, 130 degrees F to 135 degrees F internal temperature.
Best Steak Cuts for Grilling
Since grills have super intense heat, the key to grilling steaks is ensuring that they can cook quickly on high heat without drying out. Ribeye and strip are slightly thicker cuts that will be able to achieve a dark char from the heat while maintaining a pink, medium-rare center. The grill will impart a delightful flavor on any cut of steak, but ribeye and strip steak might be the best starting point for beginners.
Other Factors to Consider When Buying Nice Steak
One thing you’ll want to think about is the USDA grading system, in which beef is graded as prime, choice or select. Prime cuts are superior, coming from young, well fed cows, with abundant marbling. Choice beef is still high-quality, but it has less marbling than prime cuts. Select beef has the lowest amount of marbling, so it is much leaner than prime and choice beef. It may still be tender, but it will be less juicy and flavorful than the others as well.
Another factor to consider is the dry aging process. During this process, beef spends a certain amount of time in a temperature-controlled environment, exposing it to air, which improves its depth of flavor and tenderness. It is a very scientific process that usually takes place over thirty to forty-five days. Dry-aged meat is more expensive, but it is certainly a treat for an extra-special occasion.
It may seem simple, but the thickness of your cut of beef is also a very important consideration. Cooking steak to perfection is all about the balance of a crisp sear on the outside, and a juicy, pink center. Whether you’re cooking on the grill, in a cast-iron skillet on the stove, or even a reverse sear starting in the oven, a slightly thicker cut will help you achieve the right sear-to-pink ratio.
The last thing you always want to remember with a nice steak is that it needs salt to bring out all its flavors. Generously salt your steaks with kosher salt at least forty minutes before cooking to let the salt permeate the steak. Don’t be shy with the salt; this is the most crucial step to achieving a perfect steak at home.
What Goes with Good Steak?
You just spent some extra money and effort on steak, so let it be the star of the show. Simple starters and sides will bring out the best in your steak. For a classic steakhouse dinner, go with a Wedge Salad to start and Baked Potatoes on the side. Maybe you’re thinking of an outdoor summer dinner with grilled steak, in which case all you need is corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with salt, and a glass of rosé. Steak pairs well with simple starches like potatoes and green vegetables like spinach and Steamed Asparagus, so let that be your guide as you plan your menu.
Now that you have all the tools to choose the right cut of steak for your palate, it’s time to give cooking the perfect steak a try.
A classic preparation of a simple T-bone that will make you a steak-at-home expert.
Looking to jazz up a tenderloin or filet mignon? This easy, 5-ingredient sauce will do all the work for you and give your meat that extra kick it needs.
Feed a crowd with a larger-than-life porterhouse steak. It’s delicious all on its own, but we think you’ll be savoring every last drop of the accompanying Balsamic Steak Sauce.
Nothing sounds more luxurious than herb butter slowly melting on top of a hot piece of juicy ribeye. You’ll be firing up the grill regularly for this juicy steak with crispy peppers.
Don’t let the name fool you- this T-bone steak, served with not one, but two fresh sauces is a year-round hit. The sauces will brighten up your savory steak (and you might just want to start putting them on all your favorite proteins).
Kick your sirloin up a notch with an herby mustard crust and rich baked potatoes. This one is simple enough for a weeknight meal, but special enough for a date night or birthday dinner.
Juicy fillet with rich mustard cream and topped and umami-packed mushrooms will turn you into a restaurant chef right in your own kitchen. It may seem fancy, but it all comes together in one pan in just thirty minutes.
Steak and creamed spinach cooked in your sous vide machine gives you a full steak dinner with minimal effort and tools. This one will transport you from your home to a steakhouse in no time.