Any steak cut tells a story of flavor, shape, marbling, texture that goes beyond its name. These aspects become easily perceived for many of us quite often because we don’t necessarily rely on some education on beef. We rather differentiate different steak cuts pretty much through our senses and beef taste memories.
However, we can’t deny the fact that it would be useful for anyone to connect their steaks memories with at least any of the beef cuts explained in this article. Being able to differentiate various cuts of beef by name and particularities becomes in essence, part of each one’s steak’s buying awareness.
Making a long story short– our reasoning behind this article
- We aim to describe some of the best beef cuts out there such as NY strip steak, Kansas City tomahawk, T-bone, Miyazaki Wagyu ribeye, filet mignon, and not only.
- On one hand, we are going to help you grasp the heart of each of these names. In other words, we bring more beef-related details for helping you connect things you’ve already wondered about when picking a steak cut.
- On the other hand, we will approach the concepts from a top-bottom perspective. We try to clear up possible confusion about some of the most common steaks that might be called elsewhere differently but they mean the same thing.
In this order of ideas, everyone could become more flexible and aware of the steak cut he/she buys.
Breaking the ice with some essential beef cuts
Overall speaking, a beef animal comprises more meat sections called primals (see the image at the beginning of the article). We refer here to primals such as chuck, rib, drop loin, leg.
More on chuck beef primal
- Chuck contains the entire shoulder region, including the first through fifth ribs.
- It is a heavily worked muscle grouping, and it has more connective tissue than other regions, including collagen, which partially melts during the cooking process. Due to this fact, most of the cuts coming from the chuck area require a low, slow method of cooking like braising, stewing, or pot roasting.
- Also, the chuck part provides the most amount of ground meat per animal which makes it quite popular for its richness of flavor and balance of meat and fat.
- Chuck is known among the cheapest cuts out there.
Going slightly deeper on the level of chuck section, we discover the so well-known steak subprimals like brisket, chuck eye roast, shoulder clod or flat iron– a flavorful cut that is a bit tough because it has a fascia membrane unless removed, neck meat part, chuck short ribs, shank– which is the toughest of the cuts.
However, within the same section, there is another gem called chuck flap which is on the arm side of the chuck and plate break, full of flavor, versatile with tender muscles around.
More to know about rib beef section
- “ The rib is one of the two most highly prized sections of the steer. It reaches from the sixth rib, adjoining the arm chuck, to the twelfth rib, nestled next to the loin.”
The rib section contains seven delicious ribs (more specifically the ribs that run along the animal’s back and come after the fifth rib till the twelfth rib).
- The muscles within the rib section are support muscles and not heavily working ones like in the case of the chuck cuts.
- The rib includes slightly higher-priced cuts compared to chuck’s cuts. Still, these delicious high-end steaks are “the best of both worlds” because its internal marbling and kernel fat produce mouth-watering steaks at a reasonable price. (source: The Butcher’s guide to well-raised meat, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone, Alexandra Zissu; The Art of beef cutting by Kary Underly)
- Ribs could be generally grilled, seared or roasted.
Moving further to the parts within the rib section, we can recall immediately the bone-in rib roast, prime rib, hanger steak (it’s taken from the plate which is the upper belly of the animal), inside/outside skirt steak and rib-eye steak.
Whether one should pick an inside or outside skirt cut
Both cuts are different starting with the parts they are coming from. But both are more like a commodity (only four skirts per animal, two outside and two inside). One would feel each one’s different texture.
The inside skirt comes from the transverse abdominal muscle and it’s tougher.
The outside skirt seems more desirable because it comes from the diaphragm(in a kind of a diagonal orientation from the bottom of the 6th rib to the upper portion of the 12th rib). This cut is quite tender, both ticker and longer than the inside skirt. At the same time, the outside skirt will be pricier on the restaurant level because there is more to manipulate on the level of its thicker layer of fat.
From a prime rib to a rib-eye or a bone-in ribeye ?
As you may have already noticed (see below comparison photo), rib-eye and bone-in ribeye come from the same cut, namely the rib roast, aka prime rib.
- To be considered a rib-eye, the bone has to be removed from the prime rib before the cooking process.
- Additionally, a rib-eye does not have all the fat and muscle of a prime rib. It will tend to be a little bit tougher than the prime rib if one cuts it from a less prime section). “Rib-eye” name is pretty suggestive because it “originally implies, the center best portion of the rib steak, without the bone” (source).
- Prime rib is generally a larger cut of beef that contains a larger bone, while a rib-eye is a smaller part that is either boneless or has a small piece of bone as well (a bone-in ribeye).
The essential difference lies in the fact that a prime rib is a big chunk of meat only, from which one can cut smaller pieces (such as boneless or bone-in rib-eyes). The boneless ones are nothing more than the proper rib-eye which has a thick “cap” of heavily delicious marbled meat.
The loin beef primal
- The loin separates itself from the rib section somewhere between the 12th and 13th ribs. It continues till the leg section (which comprises round and shank parts).
- This flavorful region supports the animal. However, since it is not primarily responsible for movement, most of the cuts of beef within the loin are really tender as well as more expensive than other beef primal.
The loin is primarily divided into the short loin(consists of strip steak and a filet) and the sirloin. But going more deeper on the subprime level, we could say that the loin’s “stars” (where the money meat comes from) are cuts like flank, New York strip (aka shell steak), Porterhouse, tenderloin, tri-tip, and sirloin flap.
Flank and Tri-tip subprime
A flank (see the image below) is an inexpensive cut of beef from the abdominal area of the animal, located just beneath the rib end portion of the loin.
What’s interesting about it, is the fact that flank is a working muscle that helps the cow to twist and walk. Within this context, a flank is tough, lean, and has long thick muscle fibers. It has a deeper red color than other steaks like the New York strip.
When cooking it, we recommend you do it fast and hot (stovetop to oven or grill) or slow like braising. But don’t pass over the medium-rare stage that seems the most delicious cooking result for a flank, otherwise, it will become chewy.
A tri-tip cut is a small inexpensive triangular muscle (from the bottom of the sirloin area) and one can easily grill or roast it without overcooking it.
The strip cut has a couple of twists in the name. It would be called a New York strip steak, but a lot of people interchange the name with the Kansas City steak. However, in case it’s also a bone-in having about an inch and a half, it would be considered more as a Kansas City one, but some would still call it a bone-in New York steak. So now at least we made you more aware now of this names’ interchange.
Porterhouse compared to a T-bone steak cut
The Porterhouse has a filet that is one and a half-inch to two-inch diameter with the T-bone that separates the filet from the New York strip part (or strip).
The filet mignon (tenderloin) is what people know as the buttery, leaner cut of meat. the most tender muscle in the animal that is low in fat and cooks very fast.
If the filet part is about one and a half-inch shorter, the porterhouse steak will be called a T-bone steak.
The difference between a Porterhouse and a T-bone lies in the way one cuts the parts from the short loin. When one cuts from the rear end of the short loin he/she will get a Porterhouse (but in essence, it is a T-bone version with a bigger tenderloin). T-bones are cut closer to the front, thus containing a smaller tenderloin (similar to the above image used for comparison).
Leg beef area
- The leg section comprises the “entire upper rear leg and includes the shank (on a human this would be the shin), making it a giant drumstick.“
- “This primal contains the femur and aitchbone (hip socket) and provides the best marrow bones.“
- “The leg is made up mostly of rounds, which are tasty but lean and tough”—great for roasting/ grilling and braising. (source: The Butcher’s guide to well-raised meat, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone, Alexandra Zissu)
“A round steak is a beef steak from the “round”, the rear leg of the cow. The round is divided into cuts including the eye (of) round, bottom round, and top round, with or without the “round” bone (femur), and may include the knuckle (sirloin tip), depending on how the round is separated from the loin.” (source: Wikipedia)
At last, other pricey and noteworthy beef cuts
The dry-aged tomahawk rib is a cut of meat touched by the dry-aging process, making it lose about 23% to 30 % of its water weight to get meaty and fragrant beef. It has on the level of one of its ends the so-called rib cap- a part that contains a lot of fat and proves to have more flavor. You will get a lot of meat though, and since its fragrance is stronger due to the dry-age process, it only needs a good salt and pepper seasoning, nothing else.
The Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu rib-eye without bone steak is a hard name to think of as it is its price. Miyazaki name comes from the province or state in Japan where these specific beef cattle which have never cross-bred, are grown. One can see on the spot the difference in color and marbling from any other beef meat in this world. This unique steak has such a strong flavor that does not need any marinade, so once you have the chance to cook such an expensive product try to not experiment with your chef’s ideas.
It wasn’t that hard making you aware of a couple of essential steak terms that you can encounter, isn’t it? Let us know about other beef cuts that you’ve found important as well or you’ve enjoyed the most.