FitttZee » Knowledgebase » All About Meat – Steak Cuts.

All About Meat – Steak Cuts.

Ready for the barbecue season but dubious about steaks? Check out this article that has everything there is to know for successful makes!

It’s important to understand the different cuts of steak available. Steaks are derived from muscles requiring minimal cooking time due to low connective tissue content. While both steaks and roasts can be sourced from the same primal cut, their size is the key distinction. A roast can be sectioned into individual steaks, but unfortunately, combining multiple steaks into a larger roast is not.

Understanding Popular Lean Steaks

Two prominent muscle groups provide the most prized cuts in steakhouses: the Longissimus dorsi and the Psoas major.

  • Longissimus dorsi
    consists of lengthy, tender muscles positioned alongside the steer’s spine. A muscle’s tenderness is inversely proportional to its workload during the animal’s life. The Longissimus dorsi (often called the loin or backstrap) sees minimal use, resulting in exceptional tenderness and suitability for steaks, but also a higher price point.
  • Psoas major
    comprises shorter muscles situated lower on the spine and interior to the ribs. These muscles, commonly known as filet mignon or tenderloin, represent the most tender cut on the steer. Their limited size and tenderness contribute to their position as the most expensive option at the butcher shop (demonstrating the influence of supply and demand).

These two muscle groups are the source of various steak cuts commonly offered by butchers.

Popular Steak Cuts

The Ribeye: A Flavorful Consideration

Alternative Names: Beauty Steak, Market Steak, Delmonico Steak, Spencer Steak, Scotch Fillet, Entrecôte

Flavor Profile: Ribeye boasts exceptional marbling, a characteristic layer of fat separating the Longissimus dorsi from the Spinalis muscle. This fat contributes significantly to the intense beef flavor, making ribeye one of the most richly flavored cuts available. The central eye of meat is known for its smooth texture and finer grain compared to a strip steak. Conversely, the Spinalis section features a looser grain with a higher fat content. Notably, many consider the Spinalis to be the most flavorful cut suitable for quick cooking.

Health Considerations: While the rich flavor of ribeye is undeniable, it’s important to acknowledge that marbling also contributes to fat content. For individuals prioritizing a leaner option, other cuts might be better suited to their dietary goals.

The Strip: A Leaner Option for Discerning Palates

Alternative Names: New York Strip, Kansas City Strip, Top Sirloin (distinct from the Sirloin primal and Sirloin Steak), Top Loin, Shell Steak (bone-in version), Contre-filet

Flavor Profile: The strip steak presents a tighter texture with a noticeable grain, resulting in moderate tenderness while offering a satisfying chew. This cut boasts good marbling and delivers a pronounced beefy flavor. Compared to the ribeye, the strip offers a less intense taste experience but is significantly easier to trim due to the absence of large fat pockets. This characteristic makes it a user-friendly option for both cooking and consumption, hence its popularity in steakhouses.

Health Considerations: The strip steak stands out as a leaner alternative compared to other cuts. This is due to the minimal marbling, which translates to a lower fat content. This aspect might be particularly appealing to individuals prioritizing a health-conscious dietary approach.

The Tenderloin: Prioritizing Tenderness

Alternative Names: Filet, Filet Mignon, Fillet, Châteaubriand (large, center-cut roast for multiple people), Tournedo (smaller tapered section closest to the rib primal)

Flavor Profile: The tenderloin is renowned for its exceptional tenderness, boasting an almost buttery texture. This desirable characteristic is a result of the muscle being minimally used throughout the animal’s life. However, this limited use also translates to a very low-fat content, which can result in a correspondingly less robust flavor profile when compared to other cuts.

Health Considerations: The tenderloin is an ideal choice for individuals prioritizing a lean cut with minimal fat content. This focus on leanness may be particularly appealing to those following a health-conscious diet. However, it’s important to acknowledge the potential trade-off between fat content and flavor intensity.

The T-Bone/Porterhouse: A Combination for Varied Preferences

Alternative Names: Porterhouse (when the tenderloin section is at least 1.5 inches wide)

Flavor Profile: The strip steak portion delivers the characteristic flavor and texture associated with the strip cut, while the tenderloin offers its renowned tenderness. The T-bone offers a unique combination of two distinct cuts – a section of tenderloin and a strip steak, separated by a T-shaped bone. The standard T-bone is sourced from the Short Loin primal, near the beginning of the tenderloin, resulting in a smaller tenderloin portion (typically between 0.5 and 1.5 inches wide). Conversely, the Porterhouse originates from a more posterior location, boasting a more substantial tenderloin section (at least 1.5 inches wide).

Health Considerations: This unique combination caters to individuals who appreciate both the pronounced beefy taste of the strip and the exceptional tenderness of the tenderloin within a single cut. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the presence of the tenderloin section also increases the overall fat content of the T-bone compared to a standalone strip steak.

Many butchers and chefs hold these cuts in high regard. While more affordable, they boast exceptional character. Often comprised of whole muscles, they require skillful trimming by the butcher to achieve optimal tenderness and size suitable for steak preparation. Additionally, these cuts are relatively scarce on a single animal. Compared to the yield of ribeyes and T-bones, a steer provides only two hanger steaks.

These “butcher’s cuts” are known for their intense flavor profile, a direct result of the muscle’s function within the animal. However, due to lower consumer recognition and the slightly higher skill required for cooking and presentation, they remain significantly more affordable than mainstream cuts. This translates to a fantastic opportunity to maximize flavor and value.

The Hanger Steak: Unveiling a Flavorful Lean Cut

Alternative Names: Butcher’s Steak, Arrachera (Mexico), Fajitas Arracheras (South Texas), Bistro Steak, Onglet (France)

Origin: Sourced from the plate section (front of the belly) of the cow, it hangs from the diaphragm, hence the name (NAMP 140 classification).

Flavor Profile: The hanger steak boasts a rich beefy taste with a unique mineral note. Individuals with a sensitivity to “livery” flavors may perceive this characteristic more intensely. However, many consider it one of the most flavorful cuts available.

Preparation: Due to its looser texture, the hanger steak responds well to marinades. A common technique involves coating the steak in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and peppercorns for a day before grilling.

Cooking Considerations: The triangular cross-section of individual hanger steaks can present a challenge for achieving even cooking. This cut thrives under high heat and should be cooked to at least medium-rare to avoid a chewy and wet texture. Conversely, exceeding medium doneness can result in toughness and dryness.

Health Considerations: The hanger steak is a naturally lean cut, making it an attractive option for those prioritizing a healthy diet. This characteristic leanness contributes to its lower overall fat content.

The Skirt Steak: A Flavorful Option for Trim Techniques

Alternative Names: Fajita Meat, Roumanian Strip (New York)

Origin: The skirt steak is comprised of two sections: outside skirt (diaphragm muscle) and inside skirt (flank muscle), both sourced from the plate area of the cow. The outside skirt, traditionally used for fajitas, is generally sold to restaurants. The inside skirt enjoys wider availability.

Flavor Profile: Skirt steak delivers an exceptionally rich, almost buttery flavor profile due to its higher fat content. This characteristic fat also contributes to a loose, heavily grained texture. The cut itself is thin, necessitating high heat cooking to achieve a charred exterior before overcooking the center. Improper butchering can result in an unpleasantly tough and chewy texture. For optimal enjoyment, the steak must be sectioned and thinly sliced against the grain, mimicking the preparation for classic fajitas. Skirt steak can also be incorporated into braised dishes, such as Cuban ropa vieja, where it shreds into long, flavorful strands.

Health Considerations: While the skirt steak boasts a pronounced flavor, it’s important to acknowledge its higher fat content. Individuals prioritizing a lean diet may find other cuts to be better suited to their health goals. However, various preparation techniques, such as trimming excess fat and employing lean cooking methods, can help mitigate the overall fat content.

The Short Rib: Unlocking Flavorful Potential with Trimming Techniques

Alternative Names: Kalbi (Korean), Jacob’s Ladder (U.K., when bone-in and cut across the bones), Asado de Tira (Argentina)

Origin: Short ribs are frequently overlooked for grilling, with braising being the more common preparation method. However, when grilled and thinly sliced, they transform into an exceptionally juicy and flavorful cut, worthy of rediscovery.

Sourced from the rib section, short ribs are located slightly lower towards the belly compared to rib steaks or strip steaks (positioned closer to the back). These ribs offer various cutting styles. Long slabs with bone sections measuring 6 to 8 inches are referred to as “English cut.” Alternatively, “flanken style” involves slicing across the bones, resulting in individual portions containing four to five short bone sections. Korean restaurants often employ a “butterfly” technique, where the meat remains attached to the bone while being sliced open to create long, thin pieces. This approach maximizes marinade absorption and promotes tenderness exceeding that of whole ribs.

Flavor Profile: Short ribs boast an exceptionally rich, intensely beefy, and remarkably juicy character. This is attributed to their status as one of the most well-marbled cuts on the animal. The flavor profile closely resembles the prized spinalis dorsi, also known as the ribeye cap (considered the tastiest part of a ribeye steak). While some may find the richness overwhelming, this characteristic is appreciated by many, particularly when served in moderate portions.

Cooking Considerations: Unless meticulously sliced against the grain and very thin, short ribs can present a challenge in terms of toughness. Their traditional application lies in slow-cooking methods like braising.

Health Considerations: It’s important to acknowledge the significant marbling within short ribs, which translates to a higher fat content. Individuals prioritizing a lean diet may find other cuts to be more aligned with their health goals. However, various preparation techniques can be employed to mitigate the overall fat content. Trimming excess fat and utilizing lean cooking methods, such as grilling, offer strategies for those seeking to enjoy the flavor of short ribs while maintaining a health-conscious approach.

The Flap Steak: Exploring Flavorful Trimming Techniques

Alternative Names: Faux Hanger, Bavette (France), Sirloin Tip (New England)

Origin: Sourced from the bottom sirloin butt, the same general area as the tri-tip.

Flavor Profile: The flap steak presents a very loose texture with a unique combination of sweet and beefy flavors, accompanied by a mineral note. On occasion, a “livery” taste may be present, particularly in cuts stored using vacuum-sealing methods. This cut exhibits a coarse grain and an exceptionally soft texture, almost mushy when raw or rare. Therefore, a minimum internal temperature of medium-rare is recommended for optimal enjoyment. Similar to skirt and hanger steak, the flap steak requires meticulous slicing against the grain to minimize chewiness.

Health Considerations: The flap steak offers a distinct flavor profile, but it’s important to consider its texture. The loose nature and coarse grain may not be suitable for all preferences. Additionally, the presence of some fat necessitates careful trimming for individuals prioritizing a lean diet. Trimming techniques can be employed to reduce overall fat content, making the flap steak a more attractive option for those seeking a balance between flavor and health-conscious choices.

The Flank Steak: A Versatile Option for Creative Trimming

Alternative Names: London Broil, Sobrebarriga (Colombia)

Origin: The flank steak originates from the far rear of the cow’s belly, at the point where the belly meets the rear legs.

Flavor Profile: Compared to other butcher’s cuts, the flank steak possesses a relatively mild flavor profile. It is characterized by a tight, dense grain with a very pronounced texture. This textural quality is easily identifiable.

Flank steak has grown in popularity over the years due to its presentation as a single, square piece with a convenient 1-inch thickness and clean edges, ideal for slicing. However, this popularity has occasionally driven its price to rival that of pricier loin cuts.

Preparation Considerations: Similar to most butcher’s cuts, achieving tenderness necessitates slicing the flank steak thinly against the grain.

Health Considerations: The flank steak presents an opportunity for creative trimming techniques. Due to its lean nature, strategic trimming can further reduce overall fat content, making it an attractive option for those prioritizing a health-conscious diet. Additionally, flank steak’s versatility allows for various preparations that can enhance its flavor profile. For instance, stuffing and rolling the steak can introduce additional flavors and textures.

The Tri-Tip: A Naturally Lean Cut for Flavorful Innovation

Alternative Names: Santa Maria Steak, Newport Steak (individual steaks), Aguillote Baronne (France), Punta de Anca/Solomo/Colita de Cuadril (Latin America), Maminha (Brazil)

Origin: Sourced from the bottom sirloin, specifically the muscle group controlling the steer’s rear legs (targeting the kneecap).

Flavor Profile: The tri-tip is a naturally lean cut, boasting a mild flavor with some resemblance to eye round. However, it surpasses eye round in terms of juiciness and pronounced beef taste. This inherent leanness makes it an attractive option for individuals prioritizing a health-conscious diet.

Cooking Considerations: The tri-tip’s significantly tapered shape can present a challenge in achieving uniform doneness throughout the cut. The smaller end tends to overcook more readily.

Preparation Considerations: Tri-tip excels when smoked or seasoned with spice rubs. To maximize tenderness and flavor, avoid exceeding medium-rare doneness. However, for braised dishes like chili, the tri-tip can be cooked beyond this point.

The tri-tip’s lean nature allows for exploration with various flavorful marinades and spice blends. This experimentation can further enhance its taste profile while catering to health-conscious preferences.


Prime Cuts

  • Ribeye: Rich flavor, exceptional tenderness (high fat content).
  • Strip Steak: Leaner with pronounced beef taste, easier to trim.
  • Tenderloin: Unmatched tenderness, minimal fat (potentially milder flavor).
  • T-Bone/Porterhouse: Combines strip and tenderloin for varied taste and texture (higher fat due to tenderloin).

Underrated Gems

  • Hanger Steak: Intense beef flavor, lean (marinate for best results).
  • Skirt Steak: Bold flavor, high fat (trim excess fat, slice thin).
  • Short Rib: Rich, juicy when grilled thin (marbled, trim for leaner option).
  • Flank Steak: Versatile, lean (slice thin for tenderness).
  • Tri-Tip: Naturally lean, mild flavor (ideal for smoking or spicing).
  • Flap Steak: Unique flavor profile, lean (trim for best results, consider texture).