The debate rages on.
A steak is never just a steak. And when it comes to picking the best cut, well, that’s up for debate. ”It’s kind of a trick question,” says Katie Flannery, COO at Flannery Beef. “The most important thing is how you're cooking it, followed by personal preference.” That is, the best steak for a grill is totally different from the best steak to braise.
Still, finding the ultimate red meat is totally possible. “What people consider the quote-on-quote best steaks are the middle meats,” says Flannery. “Those are steaks from the midsection of the animal, between the rib and the rump.”
These cuts—ribeye, New York strip loin, and filet mignon—can certainly be dubbed the best, and few will disagree. “Filet is the most tender cut, but has the least amount of flavor. Ribeye is the most flavorful, but the least tender of the three, and New York is in the middle.” Flannery explains.
So what’s the best cut of steak? Read on to find your favorite.
Related: How to Safely Thaw Steak Fast
What Is Ribeye?
Known for its luscious marbling, ribeye is one of the best cuts of steak there is, and there’s an anatomical reason for that. “The ribeye comes from the rib of the animal, which starts right around the neck and moves toward the rump, halfway on the midsection of the animal,” says Flannery. “The ribeye has more internal fat, and fat is flavor.” More technically, one side of the rib has three different muscles, which makes ribeye meat extra flavorful and beefy. Available both boneless and bone-in, ribeye can be a natural favorite for a special steak dinner.
Like most steaks, ribeye comes in a bunch of different varieties and qualities. If you’re buying a high grade ribeye, such as prime or choice, Flannery recommends ribeye pan seared or cooked on the grill, with a little bit of salt at the beginning and some finishing salt and nice pepper to finish. “Let the natural flavor of the steak show through,” she suggests, especially if the steak is dry aged.
What Is Filet Mignon?
The cute round filet with a fancy French name is one of America’s favorite pieces of beef. And for good reason—it’s the most tender part of the cow. “The filet sets right around the vertebrae of the animal,” says Flannery. “If you’re looking for a good cut of steak, consider tenderness as related to how much the muscle worked during the animal's lifetime. The shank, legs, or rump, will be more tough because they had a lot of use.” Alternatively, the filet near the neck bones didn’t see much movement in the pasture. “How many backflips and gymnastics do you see cows doing?” Flannery jokes.
Filet mignon, though expensive, can also offer a great value for your wallet. “USDA Choice is cost-effective and fine,” Flannery says of the grade to buy. “A USDA prime has a smaller difference, and it’s going to win on tenderness every time.” One reason for the high starting price is that from a standard beef carcass weighing about 700-900 pounds, a butcher will only get about 20 pounds of tenderloin. “Then there’s a good amount of trimming to get that beautiful circular steak,” Flannery explains. “There’s a small percentage of filet per animal.”
Because filets are low in fat, and fat is flavor, this is the type of steak you’re going to want to add flavor to. For example, filet is a popular cut for steak au poivre, or can also be wrapped in bacon to add fat.
What Is Tenderloin?
Tenderloin is the full muscle that filets are cut from. “Tenderloin is what people refer to when they make a roast,” Flannery explains. “Cut it up and you have filet mignon steaks.” Tenderloin is great for a crowd because you’re cooking the most tender part of the meat, and it can absorb any flavor you like, such as a horseradish crust. It’s great on the grill, stovetop, or oven, and traditional in a beef wellington, which when sliced, you’ll see looks just like filet mignon gussied up.
What Is a Strip Steak?
Strip steak is a popular option to cook at home because it hits all the notes. “It’s a good option for anybody who doesn’t want much fat, but doesn’t want a super lean steak,” Flannery says. “All the fat is on the outer edge, so you can cook it up and you can cut the fat off. It’s the middle ground.” Cut from the loin, this part of the animal doesn’t see much movement, so it’s tender, but has some fat for flavor. Strip steak works nicely on the grill, and can be used in most steak recipes.
What Is a T-bone Steak?
A T-bone is a steak with a T-shaped bone in it. It’s also a type of Porterhouse, which is famous for its drama and high quantity of meat. A t-bone is cut to combine the New York muscle and the filet muscle, so when you cook it you’re getting a two-in-one. “What makes a steak a Porterhouse versus a T-bone is the size of the filet left on the steak itself,” Flannery says. To be considered a Porterhouse, the steak must be at least 1.25-inch thick from the interior bone to the widest edge. Thinner steaks are just T-bones. T-bones can be seared in a cast-iron pan and finished in the oven, or grilled and finished over indirect heat. Because these steaks are so large, they can be intimidating to cook, and an oven may be easier to manage.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the most expensive cut of steak?
“Within each individual grade, it’s always going to be the filet mignon. That’s the most expensive,” says Flannery. “That’s mostly [because of] supply and demand.”
Is sirloin or ribeye better?
Sirloin moves more towards the rump of the animal, which can be slightly more tough. “I’d definitely say the ribeye is better than the sirloin. It’s more tender and has more flavor,” says Flannery. “Sirloin encompasses many different cuts with different characteristics.” For example, tri-tip and picanha are popular cuts from the sirloin, but others may not be as delicious or nice to cook.
Is filet mignon or ribeye better?
If you’re looking to splurge, ribeye is where you’ll find the opportunity to spend the big bucks. Unlike filets, which are typically not dry-aged (it’s too lean), ribeye can be dry-aged to add flavor. With the dry aging comes the loss of weight in the meat, and an increase in cost.
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