Parts Of Beef For Steak

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What parts of beef for steak? You know, what is the difference between shell and shoulder clod, Denver steaks and Delmonico steaks? What about Chateaubriand? I’ve had many a conversation about this with other steak lovers. Have you ever stopped to wonder which of these cuts provide the most steak for your buck?

The 5 Best Cuts Of Beef

Beef is a pretty big deal. Let’s face it: For many of us, it’s the go-to meat.

But not everyone knows that much about the beef that they’re eating, buying and cooking — especially when it comes to steak. That’s where we come in. 

To get a perspective on the best cuts of beef, we talked to Marty Carpenter, an executive director at Canada Beef. His entire job is to know and advocate for beef.

Instead of just assuming the highest-ticket item in the restaurant is the most flavorful cut of beef you can get, let’s look at the distinctions between the best cuts.

There is no one best cut for any given person, but knowing what makes them different and what to expect when you cook or order them will give you a better steak experience.

5. Top Sirloin Cap

The top sirloin cap is a rarer cut of meat to find as it’s usually already sectioned out into steaks. The cut comes from the triangular-shaped muscle immediate above the top sirloin. It’s a very versatile cut of meat, both lean and flavorful, with a variety of different preparation options like grilling, broiling, and pan searing available.  The top sirloin cap works really well when marinated or seasoned with a dry rub.

4. Tenderloin

The tenderloin, referred to in other parts of the world as a filet, is a cut from the loin of beef. The tenderloin exists beneath the ribs and next to the backbone. The tenderloin is, as its name implies, the most tender cut of beef. Those who do not prefer the marbling of the rib eye and strip loin will thoroughly enjoy the tenderloin.

3. Top Sirloin

The top sirloin is a cut from the loin that offers good flavor in a thick cut ideal for grilling, broiling, sautéeing or pan-frying. While the top sirloin doesn’t have as much marbling as a rib eye or New York strip, it certainly has enough to provide good flavor for a steak. Preferred thickness for top sirloin cuts tends to be in the 1-inch to 2-inch range, with 2 inches being ideal. Thicker steaks don’t run the risk of drying out as easily when cooked.

2. Strip Loin/ New York Strip

The strip loin, sometimes referred to as strip steak, New York strip, and internationally, a club steak, is a cut from the short loin. The short loin is a large muscle allowing for very thick cuts, and provides a great alternative for those who don’t enjoy the significant internal fat content of the rib eye. When the strip loin is sold with a piece of the tenderloin included, it is referred to as a T-bone steak, or a porterhouse. The main difference between these two is that the porterhouse has a more sizable chunk of the tenderloin included.

1. Rib Eye

The rib eye is the ultimate steak-lover’s steak. It’s the most flavorful cut of the animal, and comes with very rich marbling, which provides superior taste when cooked. The cut itself comes from the rib section, where it gets its name. The bone from the rib is typically removed before sale, although some restaurants specifically sell “bone-in rib eye” preparations of the cut. Its abundance of marbling makes it a great cut for grilling and slow roasting.

Are You Choosing the Best Cut of Beef for Your Steak?

A display of 4 premium cuts of steak

The first step in cooking a perfect steak is choosing the right cut of beef. You want one that’s tender and has plenty of marbling. In general, the best cuts of beef for steak come from the rib, short loin or tenderloin primal cuts. Examples:

  • The strip steak (sometimes called a New York strip or Kansas City strip), which is from the short loin;
  • The porterhouse and T-Bone steaks, which are comprised of meat from both the short loin and the tenderloin;
  • The rib eye steak, which is from the rib primal cut;
  • Filet mignon, which is a steak from the pointy end of the tenderloin.

Tenderloin steaks can also be taken from the butt or back end of the tenderloin where a small seam of connective tissue may run through the steak, making it less desirable than the filet mignon. Chateaubriand comes from the center cut of the tenderloin.

Dry-Heat Cooking

The reasons the cuts of beef described above make the best steaks is that they are from muscles that don’t get much exercise and thus are very tender. This makes them excellent for dry-heat cooking methods such as grilling and broiling. Some cuts of meat are perfectly delicious when cooked using moist heat, but would be extremely tough and chewy if cooked using dry heat. (Think pot roast, for a good example of this.) That’s why, for the best steak, we like to stick with the cuts of beef mentioned above.

A note on filet mignon is in order here. As we said, filet mignon is a steak from the beef tenderloin primal cut and a very tender cut of meat. Often you’ll see filet mignon steaks prepared wrapped in bacon. There’s a reason for this practice: filet mignon isn’t that flavorful.

It’s true. The tenderloin, you see, is quite lean, and it’s the fat that imparts much of the flavor to a piece of meat. Thus, filet mignon is wrapped in bacon to give it more flavor. There’s nothing wrong with that, but filet mignon is relatively expensive. To me, for that kind of money, a steak shouldn’t need a strip of bacon wrapped around it for it to taste good.

How to Buy Beef

Not all steaks are created equal. You’ll see all kinds of cuts of beef at the supermarket that have the word “steak” in their names but beware. Chuck steak, blade steak, round steak, tip steak, or even sirloin steak are not the best steaks for cooking the perfect steak. Usually, if it has the word rib or loin or strip in its name, it’s going to make a good steak.

Certainly, it’s possible to grill a nice flank steak or even a chuck blade steak. But in the case of a flank steak, you’ve got to marinate it first, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Flank steak is really flavorful. But if you want that feeling of cutting into a thick, juicy steak, a flank steak won’t give it to you.

Look for the Marbling

My personal favorite steak is a boneless rib-eye steak. It’s incredibly tender and flavorful. You might prefer a different one, and your preferences might change with time. For years, my go-to steak was the New York strip, but I’m currently a ribeye man. But remember, not all steaks are created equal. You don’t just want a ribeye, you want a good ribeye. Fortunately, you can easily distinguish a high-quality steak from a lesser one, simply by looking at it. You just need to know what to look for. And that something is called marbling.

The word marbling refers to the little flecks of fat that naturally occur within the muscle of the meat. The more marbling a steak has, the more flavorful it will be. (Take a look at the photo above for an example.) Chances are you’ll notice a price difference, too. Conversely, if you’ve ever looked at two steaks at the butcher shop and wondered why one cost more than the other, you’ll probably see that the pricier one had significantly more marbling.

Quality designations, such as prime, choice and select, can be helpful, but not every steak you buy at the store will have these designations. If they do, prime is the best quality, followed by choice, then select. Moreover, these quality designations are based in large part on marbling, so even if the meat hasn’t been graded, you can identify a superior cut of meat by looking for the marbling.

How Thick Should a Steak Be?

If you’re buying your steak at the supermarket, you may be limited to whatever steaks are on the shelf or in the meat case. But at a butcher shop or specialty meat store, the butcher might cut your steaks for you, which means you’ll need to specify how thick you want them.

My preference is 1½ inches. To me, an inch is just a little too thin, while two inches might be too thick. I would never go thicker than two inches, nor thinner than an inch. Too thin and you’re missing out on the luxurious experience of eating a perfect, juicy steak, and you also run the risk of overcooking it.

Too thick of a steak gives you the opposite problem: If you’re not careful, you can cook the outside just fine but have the inside undercooked. Also, let’s be serious: unless you have a huge mouth or one that comes off at the jaw hinges, more than two inches of steak is just going to be awkward to eat. An inch and a half are the perfect thickness for a steak.

For the Best Steak, Dry-Aged Beef

Finally, let’s talk about aging. All beef is aged before it gets to the supermarket or butcher shop. There are two methods for aging beef, wet and dry. Wet-aged beef is simply aged in vacuum bags and it’s the way most supermarket meat is aged. Dry-aged beef, on the other hand, produces more intense flavor and is the way the most high-end beef is aged.

Dry-aged beef has been hung in a cooler for a length of time—a few weeks, usually—under humidity-controlled conditions, which allows excess moisture to drain out, thus concentrating the flavor and also tenderizing it by allowing the meat’s natural enzymes to break down some of the connective tissues that make a steak tough.

While it may be uncommon to find dry-aged beef at the supermarket, a better butcher shop or specialty food store should carry it. A warning, though: This superior quality and flavor are going to cost you. Dry-aged beef is more expensive, pound for pound because it has less moisture in it—and thus less weight—than a regular steak. Yes, if you think about it, that means you’re paying for water. But, in the words of famed steak aficionado Frank Sinatra, that’s life.

A dry-aged steak is also going to have to be trimmed more, which means the butcher is going to have to charge a little more to make up for the bits that were trimmed off. So a dry-aged steak will cost more, but it is absolutely worth it.

And the Best Steak Is…

And so (drumroll, please…), the best steak is a dry-aged steak from the rib, short loin or tenderloin primal cuts, with plenty of marbling and sliced about 1½ inches thick. Choose your meat wisely and you’ll be well on your way to cooking the perfect steak.

Beef Meat Identification

Beef The Major Cuts

Round

Round Steak

TThis steak is identified by the round leg bone and three muscles. At the top of the screen is the top round, at the lower left is the bottom round, and lower right is the eye of the round.
Cooking Recommendations
Braise or Panfry

Boneless Rump Roast

When the rump is removed, boned, rolled and tied, a retail cut called the Beef Round Rump Roast is made. This represents a cut only moderately tender, moist heat is often used. However with a cut from choice and prime cattle, it is often cooked with dry heat.
Cooking Recommendations
Roast or Braise

Top Round Steak

The Top Round Steak is the most tender of the various round steaks. This boneless steak consists of a large muscle called the top or inside round. Note the cover fat on the curved top surface, the cut surface on the left side, and connective tissue along the bottom.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Panbroil, or Panfry

Bottom Round Steak

The Beef Bottom Round Steak contains muscles which are less tender than the top round muscle. The two muscles of this steak are the eye of the round on the left and the bottom round on the right. Note the heavy band of connective tissue separating the muscles. Moist heat is recommended for this steak.
Cooking Recommendations
Braise

Eye Round Steak

The Beef Round Eye Round Steak is a small round boneless steak. It usually has a layer of external fat on two sides.
Cooking Recommendations
Braise, Grill, Panbroil, or Panfry

Tip Roast

The Beef Round Tip Roast is a rolled and tied roast that is identified by four individual muscles within one large muscle mass.
Cooking Recommendations
Roast

Nutritional Information

Tip Steak

The Tip Steak is cut from the tip roast. Like the roast this steak is identified by four individual muscles within on large muscle mass.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Panbroil, or Panfry

Heel of Round


The Beef Heel of Round represents a cut from the beef round immediately above the hock. This roast is composed of many small muscle groups, has a lot of seam fat, and is one of the least tender cuts of beef.
Cooking Recommendations
Braise

Loin

Top Loin Steak


The Beef Loin Top Loin Steak is the first type of steak cut from the beef loin. It is cut from the end of the beef loin which contains the last or 13th rib. This steak is identified by the large eye muscle, the rib bone, and part of the backbone.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil,or Panfry

Nutritional Information

T-Bone Steak


This steak has the characteristic “T” shaped vertebrae and the large eye muscle. The smaller muscle located below the T-bone is the tenderloin.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil,or Panfry

Nutritional Information

Top Loin Steak, Boneless


The boneless large eye muscle from the T-bone steak is called the Beef Loin Top Loin Steak, Boneless.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil,or Panfry

Porterhouse Steak


The Porterhouse Steak is similar to the beef loin T-bone steak. However the tenderloin muscle is much larger and an extra muscle is located in the center of the porterhouse steak on the upper side.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil,or Panfry

Nutritional Information

Tender Loin Steak


The most tender retail cut from the entire beef carcass is the Beef Loin Tenderloin Steak. This steak has a fine texture, is circular in shape and is usually about three inches in diameter.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil, or Panfry

Nutritional Information

Sirloin Steak Pin Bone


The Beef Loin Sirloin Steak, Pin Bone is the first cut from the sirloin area of the beef loin. This steak looks much like the beef loin T-bone and porterhouse steaks in that it contains the T-bone the large eye muscle and the tenderloin muscle. However, it also contains an oval-shaped bone which you can see in the upper left corner of the steak. This bone is called the pin bone and is the tip portion of the hip bone.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil, or Panfry

Nutritional Information

Sirloin Steak Flat Bones


The Beef Loin Sirloin Steak, Flat Bone is the least valuable type of sirloin steak if both the flat hip and backbones are left in the steak.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil, or Panfry

Sirloin Steak Round Bones


The Sirloin Steak, Round Bone is located further back on the sirloin area of the beef loin. This particular sirloin steak has the greatest amount of lean and the least amount of bone.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil, or Panfry

Sirloin Steak, Wedge Bone


The sirloin steak nearest the wholesale beef round is called the Beef Loin Sirloin Steak, Wedge Bone. Only one bone is usually seen, a wedge-shaped bone at the bottom of the cut near the center.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil, or Panfry

Sirloin Steak, Boneless


The Beef Loin Sirloin Steak, Boneless is an excellent steak for broiling and is made by removing all of the bones from any of the other types of sirloin steaks.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil,or Panfry

Rib

Rib Roast Small End


The Beef Rib Roast, Small End, contains several ribs, a protion of the backbone and one large muscle, the rib eye
Cooking Recommendations
Roast, or Grill by indirect heat

Nutritional Information

Beef Rib Roast Roll


The bones of the beef rib roast are sometimes removed and the cut is tied in a roll with string as shown in this slide. When this is done the cut is known as a Beef Rib Roast,Boneless. Note that the rib eye muscle runs through the center of the roast and is surrounded by smaller muscles.
Cooking Recommendations
Roast, or Braise

Rib Steak Large & Small End


On the right is a Beef Rib Steak, Small End. The cut on the left is a Beef Rib Steak, Large End. Both steaks contain a rib and portion of the backbone. Steaks from the small end of the beef rib contains only the large rib eye muscle while steaks from the large end also contains one or more smaller muscles.
Cooking Recommendations
Broil, Grill, Panbroil,or Panfry

Rib Eye Steak


The Beef Rib Eye Steak come from the large end of the beef rib and is made by removing back and rib bones.
Cooking Recommendations

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