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Steak. There’s no other piece of meat quite like it. At our house, having a steak is an event. It doesn’t matter if we’re celebrating something big or small, a steak night is something we look forward to.
What’s the best cut of steak?
The answer to this question will vary a little by personal preference and taste, but there are four steaks that always come to the top of the list. This post will help you narrow it down to your personal favorite between those four.
But before we figure out your best cut of steak, let’s do a quick history lesson:
Best Cut of Steak….Yesterday and Today
A steak (from Old Norse “steik” or “steikja”) is a cut of meat. Today we usually think of steaks as being beef, but it wasn’t always that way. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference of steak is to a “thick slice of meat cut for roasting or grilling or frying, sometimes used in a pie or pudding.” The dictionary entry goes on to talk about “steak fish”, and old 15-century books also talk about steaks when referring to venison or beef.
And throughout history, the best cut has varied some – but not much. Here’s an entry from Mary Randolph who wrote one of America’s first cookbooks, “The Virginia Housewife” published in 1827. This was a prized cookbook before the Civil War and Ms. Randolph talks about her favorite cut and how to cook it.
The best part of the beef for steaks, is the seventh and eighth ribs, the fat and lean are better mixed, and it is more tender than the rump if it be kept long enough; cut the steaks half an inch thick, beat them a little, have fine clear coals, rub the bars of the gridiron with a cloth dipped in lard before you put it over coals, that none may drip to cause a bad smell, put no salt on till you dish them, broil them quick, turning them frequently; the dish must be very hot, some slices of onion on it, lay in the steaks, sprinkle a little salt, and pour over them a spoonful of water and one of mushroom catsup, both made boiling hot, garnish with scraped horse-radish, and put on a hot dish cover. Everything must be in readiness, for the great excellence of a beef steak lie in having it immediately from the gridiron. — Mary Randolph, “The Virginia Housewife,” 1827.
Based on this description, Mary liked beef from the Rib or Loin area — the top and center of the steer.
That’s the same area we like today too. It’s where you get cuts like Filet, Strip Steak, Ribeye and T-Bone.
Why hasn’t the best cut of steak changed over the years?
So much has changed in America since the 1800s that you’d think the best cut of steak may have changed too – but it hasn’t.
Meat from the top and center of the steer is especially tender since this area doesn’t get much work during the steer’s lifetime.
The general rule of thumb for any cut of meat is to remember that beef gets more tender as the distance from the horn and hoof increases. A steer’s legs do most of the work, so the muscles there are firmer. The loin and ribs don’t get as much of a workout, so they’re more tender. If you need a refresher about all beef cuts, check out What Everybody Ought to Know About Beef Cuts.
What’s the best cut of steak for me?
There are four cuts that are the most popular with steak aficionados and steakhouses — tenderloin, ribeye, strip and T-bone. Most likely, one of these four will be your personal favorite and is how you’ll soon answer the question, “what’s the best cut of steak?”
Tenderloin – The most tender cut of steak
- Also Known As: Filet, Filet mignon, Chateaubriand.
- Taste and Texture: Tenderloin is by far the tenderest cut of beef. It’s buttery and mild in flavor. Of all of the high-end steaks, this is the one with the least amount of fat, and it will melt in your mouth since it’s so tender.
- Where it comes from: The thicker end of the tenderloin
- Cooking Recommendations: At our house, we like to grill tenderloins. The thing to remember is that tenderloins cook much faster than other steaks since they’re so low in fat. This means that they’re also much more likely to dry out. To add more flavor, you’ll often see this on restaurant menus wrapped in bacon before grilling or served with sauces or spices.
Ribeye – Very marbled. The most juicy and flavorful cut of steak
- Also Known As: Delmonico Steak, Scotch Filet, Cowboy ribeye (when served with rib still attached)
- Taste and Texture: The ribeye is the most juicy and flavorful of all steaks. It gets its amazing flavor from the fat marbling, which you will see throughout the cut. If you’re not a fan of beef marbling, this isn’t the cut for you.
- Where it comes from: Rib section
- Cooking Recommendations: Ribeyes are very versatile pieces of meat. You will want to cook it over high heat and we recommend pan-seared using a cast iron skillet, grilled or broiled. If you decide to grill it, be careful about flareups from the fat.
Strip Steak – An all-around favorite with full-beefy flavor
- Also Known As: New York Strip, Kansas City Strip, Top Sirloin, Top Loin, Club Steak, Shell Steak.
- Taste and Texture: Strip steaks have a great beefy flavor. The texture has a fine, tight grain that makes them moderately tender. It has less marbling than a ribeye, which means it’s a little chewier (tough) than the ribeye or tenderloin. This is a staple and classic at any steakhouse.
- Where it comes from: Short Loin
- Cooking Recommendations: This steak is easy to cook, which makes it a personal favorite with many people. We recommend grilling.
T-Bone – Two-for-one steak
- Taste and Texture: If you’re undecided on what type of steak texture and taste you like, or you like both equally, the T-bone is for you. The T-bone is actually a combination of two steaks – tenderloin and strip. That means with this amazing two-fer steak, you get a tender and buttery tenderloin filet on one side of the T-shaped bone, and a beefy strip steak on the other side.
- Where it comes from: Short loin
- Cooking Recommendations: Grilling or broiling. While cooking, you’ll want to keep in mind that the meat near the bone tends to cook more slowly than the other parts of the steak. Also, if you’re grilling, put the tenderloin portion further away from the heat source than the strip. This is because the T-bone has two different pieces of meat that cook differently (tenderloin cooks faster than the strip steak).
One more thing!
Here are a few other beef tips & tricks you may like:
- What Everybody Ought to Know About Beef Cuts
- Dry Rub or Marinade for Steak? Know What’s Best
- 10 Best Beef Rub Recipes
- 6 Essential Kitchen Tools for Cooking Beef
- An Essential Guide to Beef ebook
- Is It Done Yet? Why Every Kitchen Needs a Digital Meat Thermometer and the Best One
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