Quick. Think about meat. No, not bacon, stop it. Stop thinking about bacon. There you go, that’s it, steak. The meatiest of meats. Most likely, it’s not something you’re cooking every day, and if it is you’re probably just going with the same cut you always do. Don’t you think it’s time to branch out? Try something new? Here’s a quick guide to the best cuts of beef for every recipe.
T-Bone and Porterhouse
These classic, iconic cuts of beef are known for, as the name suggests, a t-shaped bone running through the middle. They’re taken from the sirloin, or short loin, of the animal and are big and juicy. I lumped them together because of those similarities, but there are some important differences as well.
The porterhouse steak is larger and cut closer to the rear of the animal. The marbling is significant, and it’s considered a better steak. A t-bone comes from closer to the front of the loin and is generally smaller in size. The porterhouse contains more of the prized tenderloin cut, making it a pricier, but accordingly delicious steak. The t-bone contains a smaller piece of tenderloin, but still includes the filet mignon on the other side. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
The flat iron comes from the shoulder, and it’s generally tougher than it’s delectable siblings. It’s sometimes offered up for sale on its own, but often it’s used in other recipes. Also commonly referred to as boneless chuck, you might find it in a delicious steak sandwich, soups, or served with pasta. Don’t let it fool you, though, it might be a little tougher, but it’s still a damn fine piece of meat.
This is the aforementioned tenderloin part of the t-bone. You don’t have to mess around with that bone, though, if you order it on its own. This is the most tender cut of meat on the animal, and resides on either side of the spine. It’s juicy, with fat marbled into the muscle perfectly to make it melt in your mouth. You could order a porterhouse, and you’ll get some mignon, but why not cut the crap and impress your date? You can even use those fun facts about bovine anatomy to spice things up.
Ribeye and Bone-In Ribeye
Filet mignon is mighty fine, and t-bone’s are great, but if you ask me (and you’re reading this, so you kind of did), the ribeye is the way to go. The rib eye comes, if you haven’t already guessed, from the ribs. The “eye” refers to the fact that, traditionally, the cut comes from between the bone. It’s tender and juicy, and it’s usually cheaper than it’s brothers from behind the porterhouse and t-bone. A bone in ribeye is just what it sounds like, and if you haven’t figured that out by now then maybe you don’t deserve steak. So there.
The last of the four prime cuts of beef, you might see this called a New York strip or a Kansas City strip. Regardless of geography, it’s the same cut. The strip is cut from a section of the animal that does less work, meaning more fat, meaning more flavor, meaning… well, you get the point. The strip is legendary for its tenderness, which lies somewhere between the ribeye and the t-bone, and for its size. This is a big muscle, which means a big piece of meat. If you’re hungry, and I mean really hungry, this is your steak.
The flank is taken either from the butt or the stomach of the cow. It’s a tougher cut of meet, with more grain. This is often remedied by cutting across the grain to eliminate some toughness and tenderize the steak. It’s served in strips, often, and is perfect for including in things like fajitas, which, incidentally, is where you’ll often find it. It’s often used in both South America and Asia. Flank is a great cut of beef to marinate, and there are a number of flavors that compliment it.
Similar to flank steak, and often used interchangeably, is the hanger steak. The difference is that the hanger lies closer to the front of the animal on the underside. It’s also very lean and is used in much the same way as the flank. It’s especially popular in Mexican and Tex-Mex style food and, like the flank, is often used in fajitas. While it is a little tougher than the best cuts of beef, it’s often prepared rare to compensate.
Skirt steak is long and thin and, like flank or hanger, a little tougher. Again, cut against the grain for maximum tenderness. It’s from along the diaphragm of the animal, so it’s very lean. It has probably the beefiest flavor of the steaks, due to the abundance of muscle, which means that it works well when it’s combined with other flavors. Best cooked quickly, it’s often used interchangeably with hanger or flank.
Top sirloin is one of the priciest and best cuts of beef. The reason for this is that it comes from a small spot on the cow, just below the tenderloin and, appropriately, above the bottom sirloin. Think side, middle, back, or about halfway up above the rear legs. It’s not up there with the big four cuts of beef, but it comes from the same area of the cow, and so it’s relatively comparable in texture and flavor.
Finally, from the bottom rear of the cow, just above the leg, comes the tri-tip. In America, specifically California, it’s used for barbecue and grilling. But in Europe, specifically France, it’s often cut into steaks. As to the tenderness of the cut, it lies somewhere in between the prime cuts from the top of the animal and the less tender lower cuts. For this reason, it’s one of the more versatile cuts of beef.