I remember the first time I tried a so-called “fancy” steak. It was a New York Strip steak at a restaurant that felt like it harkened from a different era, where the waiters wore serious-looking suits and pulled out the chairs for you to sit. It’s the steak that stands out in my memory, though: assertively “beefy” in flavor, with a seared exterior but pink interior; incredibly tender, simply seasoned and topped with a dab of compound butter. It was simple, but every component was perfectly executed, making the experience exquisite.
Steak is often considered a special occasion food, but unlike the aforementioned strip steak, not all cuts are suitable for pan searing and serving just as-is. Some cuts of beef, like shank or brisket, are rather tough, so require slow cooking methods such as braising or stewing, and would end up chewy and unpalatable if you tried to cook them as you would a premium steak cut.
How do you identify those coveted cuts of steak that are suitable for cooking simply? Here, we’ll explore four of the premier high end steak cuts that everyone should know. These are definitely not the cuts you’d use for a humble stew.
What makes a high end steak cut?
The short answer? A superior texture and flavor. The texture is tender, and the flavor is full. How is this determined?
The tenderness of a cut of meat is directly tied to what muscle it comes from. When it comes to meat, the more “worked” a muscle is, the tougher the meat. So the hard-working muscles of the upper leg, for instance, are typically going to be chewier in texture and better suited to slow cooking methods.
Most of the high end cuts of beef come from the lower mid section of the cow, from below the ribs to the psoas area. These muscles are less active in the cow’s daily life, so the meat is more tender. Most of these cuts also have an assertive amount of fat, which assures a full flavor.
With this in mind, let’s explore four of the premier steak cuts.
What it is. A steak cut which comes from the center section of the rib, specifically from the area of ribs 6 through 12 (12 being the closest to the rump).
Selling points. It has a tender texture and well-distributed marbling. The combination of fat (and therefore flavor) and tender texture makes it one of the more desirable cuts of beef. It’s also among the pricier cuts of beef.
Alternate names. The ribeye also might be mentioned by any of these names:
- Beef rib ribeye steak
- Delmonico Steak
- Fillet Steak
- Spencer Steak
- Beauty Steak
Tasting notes. The assertive amount of fat in the ribeye cut imparts an incredible amount of flavor on your steak. It’s among the “beefiest” tasting cuts of meat, with buttery undertones. At the same time, it has a smooth, fine grain, which makes it easy to cut and quite tender.
How to cook / serve it. Because it’s so tender, ribeye is well suited for various forms of dry-heat cooking, and requires no marinating. It’s often served with a compound butter or simple sauce. A word of warning when cooking, though: the high ratio of fat means that this type of steak is subject to spatter, so sear with care.
What it is. The strip steak comes from a portion of the cow known as the “short loin”, from the back of the cow, below the ribs but before the rump, including part of the spine, the top loin, and the tenderloin. Several cuts come from this portion of the cow, including porterhouse, strip steak, and T-bone.
Selling points. Steaks from the short loin are desirable because they have a tender texture, but with a slight amount of “chew” that keeps them from being too buttery. Less marbling throughout makes it less likely that you’ll find a portion of fat within the main part of the meat; typically the fat is easy to trim off the sides. It’s easy to cut and makes for comfortable eating, which makes it a restaurant favorite.
Alternate names. The strip steak also might be mentioned by of these names:
- Shell Steak
- Strip Steak Club Steak
- Chip Club Steak Country Club Steak
- Sirloin Strip Steak
- Delmonico Steak
- Strip Steak
- Kansas City Steak
- New York Strip Steak
- Veiny Steak
- Hotel Style Steak Ambassador Steak
- Boneless Club Steak
Tasting notes. A defined grain makes this steak slightly chewier than ribeye steak, but still extremely tender. They have a robust, beefy flavor, but not as much fat as a ribeye steak.
How to cook / serve it. Like the ribeye, the tenderness of the strip steak makes it well suited for dry-heat cooking such as grilling or pan-frying. Spatter is less of a concern than with its fattier friend the ribeye, because it contains less fat marbling.
Selling points. This is one of the most tender cuts of beef. It has a texture that is often described as “buttery”, which defies its relatively low amount of fat. The muscle isn’t extremely “worked”, which explains the tenderness. The somewhat mild flavor can be a selling point, making this steak perfect for a number of different sauces and flavorings.
Alternate names. The tenderloin steak also might be mentioned by of these names:
- Filet Mignon
- Fillet de Boeuf
- Tender Steak
- Fillet Steak
Tasting notes. In terms of steak, fat often equals flavor. Since this cut doesn’t have a lot of fat, it isn’t the most assertively flavored cut of steak, with a more subtle and less “beefy” flavor than some other cuts. For some, this is desirable, as they prefer the milder flavor. For others, it makes it necessary to serve this steak with a sauce.
How to cook / serve it. Grilling or pan-frying are well suited for tenderloin, but often times, due to its lower fat content and more inherent dryness, rather than just placing on the hot surface, it will be greased with oil or butter. Sometimes, it’s even wrapped in bacon to seal in moisture and add flavor. Its low fat content will affect the cook time, though–a similarly sized tenderloin will take much less time to cook than, say, a strip steak. Tenderloin is often served with a compound butter or sauce.
What it is. The t-bone is a cut from the short loin, below the ribs but before the rump, but is differentiated from other cuts from this area in that it also includes part of the tenderloin.
Selling points. Because of the unique shape of the cut, which includes part of the short loin and tenderloin, it’s almost like two steaks in one, separated by a T-shaped portion of bone.
Alternate names. T-bone and Porterhouse steak are sometimes used interchangeably, but technically, a porterhouse steak will include a much more assertive portion of the tenderloin.
Tasting notes. The unique “two in one” cut of the T-bone gives it a two-part eating experience. The tenderloin portion is as described in the tenderloin steak entry above, whereas the short loin portion tastes more like a strip steak.
How to cook / serve it. Grilling and broiling are ideal for the T-bone steak. While you can pan-sear it, there are some obstacles: that bone is rarely just flat, and as the meat cooks, it shrinks slightly, whereas the bone does not. This can make it difficult to retain direct contact of the meat and pan. A grill pan will yield better results than a flat pan. Serve it straight-up, or with compound butter or sauce. It’s usually served with the bone, which can be easily sliced around.
Everyone deserves a special occasion steak night now and again. While you can go to a restaurant for the full experience, it can also be rewarding to seek out and explore cooking these coveted cuts at home. Educating yourself on some of the key high-end cuts of steak will help you make an educated choice on what type is best suited to your personal taste.
What is your favorite high end steak cut?