Have you ever been overwhelmed by the number of different beef cuts in the meat department? Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. Most of us don’t know a porterhouse from a tri-tip. We know that filet mignon is expensive, but don’t know why. It’s important to first learn about various factors such as tenderness, thickness, bone-in or bone-out, marbling, flavor, and appearance. Once you learn the basics, you can start to appreciate the variety of meat that is offered. In this article, we’re going to focus on the most tender cuts of steak, and what makes each unique.
First of all, it’s important to know that cuts are separated based on the part of the cow from which they come. Certain locations of a cow’s body produce meat that is more tender, juicy, marbled, etc. Cheaper cuts, such as top round, come from the back of the cow, producing meat that is tough and chewy. These cuts are fine if you’re on a budget, and also useful in meals like stew.
Specific Cuts in a Cow
The infographic below shows where different types of meat come from. Depending on where you purchase your steak, names may vary slightly.
Image credit: The BBQ Depot
What makes meat tender?
- Size and density of muscle. The muscles near the backbone aren’t used as much as the hips or shoulders, so those cuts will be more tender. The muscles near the legs and butt are worked harder, so they become thicker and denser. If you want tender steak, choose a part of the cow that has less muscle.
- Proportion of muscle, fat, and collagen in a cut. Muscle is the primary substance, fat adds flavor, and collagen holds everything together. Collagen doesn’t have enough time to break down during cooking, so it causes the meat to be tough and chewy. Thick pieces of fat also detract from tenderness. Marbled fat will break down and add flavor, which is why Wagyu and Kobe beef are so popular.
If you purchase a tough piece of meat, it’s possible to make it softer by tenderizing it. This will help make the steak more tender, but it won’t replace a cut from a softer part of the cow. You also need to consider flavor, thickness, marbling, and more when you choose a steak.
Grades of beef marbling, using the Japanese BMS (Beef Marble Score) index.
What is Wagyu Beef?
Wagyu is the generic name for Japanese cattle. Their beef is extremely popular because of its fat marbling, extreme tenderness, and rich flavor.
Wagyu are bred and fed using the highest standards. Each cattle is fed a special diet of rice straws and whole crop silage and concentrate. They are individually named, brushed, massaged, and cared for in a very specialized manner. Wagyu beef is normally the highest graded type of beef on meat scores.
What is Kobe Beef?
Kobe beef is a popular type of Wagyu from the Tajima breed. It can only be raised in the Hyogo province of Japan to be classified as Kobe.
Kobe and most types of Wagyu beef are extremely expensive compared to other cuts of beef. A premium price is placed on this beef because of its extremely rich flavor and tenderness.
Most Tender Cuts of Steak
- Also known as: Filet mignon, Châteaubriand, fillet, filet
- How it’s sold: Boneless. It’s the most expensive cut of steak.
- Part of cow: Short loin and sirloin, under the ribs. A whole tenderloin starts out wide and then tapers at the other end. Filet mignon comes from the narrower end, while Châteaubriand comes from the thicker end.
- Appearance: Tenderloin is fine-grained, lean, and compact. Because of its smaller shape, tenderloin steaks are cut thicker than most other steaks.
- Taste: The tenderest of all steaks, tenderloin is buttery and mild in flavor.
- How to cook it: Sear the outside until browned, then finish cooking in the even heat of an oven.
- Also known as: Entrecôte, Delmonico, Scotch fillet, Spencer
- How it’s sold: Bone-in or boneless
- Part of cow: Upper rib cage. Ribeyes are basically a prime rib cut down into individual steaks
- Appearance: The middle (central eye) has a finer grain, while the outer section is looser and fattier. Fat marbling is spread throughout the meat.
- Taste: Fat provides a juicy, flavorful taste.
- How to cook it: Cook over high heat by pan-searing, broiling, or grilling. If you want to try something different, cook it low and slow with a wood pellet grill.
- Also known as: NY strip, Manhattan, Kansas City strip, top sirloin, top loin, contre-filet
- How it’s sold: Boneless
- Part of cow: Short loin (behind the ribs)
- Appearance: Rectangular with a slightly tapered edge. The meat is well-marbled with large pieces of fat around its edge. The meat is fine-grained in texture.
- Taste: Tender and beefy flavor. Strip steak is not as tender as tenderloins or ribeyes.
- How to cook it: Cook over high heat by pan-searing, broiling, or grilling.
- Also known as: Boneless sirloin butt steak, loin, finger steak
- How it’s sold: Boneless
- Part of cow: Sirloin, subprimal loin
- Appearance: Firm with little marbling
- Taste: Less tender and flavorful than aforementioned cuts.
- How to cook it: A fast cooking method with high dry heat (like grilling) is the best cooking method for top sirloins. Avoid cooking over 140 degrees.
T-Bone & Porterhouse Steaks
- Other names: T-bone, date steak
- How it’s sold: Bone-in
- Part of cow: A cross-section of the short loin
- What it looks like: A T-shaped bone with meat on both sides of the longer portion of the bone. On one side is a piece of the tenderloin, and the other side is New York strip. Generous fat marbling throughout.
- Taste: Porterhouses are like getting two steaks for one — one side is a piece of the buttery tenderloin, and the other side is beefy, juicy New York strip.
- How to cook it: Because there are basically two different kinds of steak in one cut, you have to be careful when cooking since the tenderloin will cook more quickly than the strip side. Try to keep the tenderloin further away from the heat source: use a two-level fire when grilling or position it away from the heating element if broiling.
Density of muscle-proportion of muscle, fat, and collagen-are what makes the steak tender. The most tender cuts of meat are tenderloin, ribeye, strip, top sirloin, and porterhouse. Step 1 is choosing the right cut. Step 2 is learning how to cook each cut properly. Try out different types, take notes, and truly learn what makes each cut unique. Eventually, you’ll be able to get creative with your cooking process. Mix it up and try different recipes with different cuts of steak. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results. Now, time to start cooking. Enjoy your steak dinner!
About The AuthorTommy Murata Edit profile
As Founder of Handbook of Man, Tommy Murata helps men of all ages and backgrounds reach their full potential. A self-proclaimed renaissance man, he enjoys golfing, skiing, DIY projects, and learning new skills. When he’s not playing outdoors, Tommy enjoys learning web design and playing music.SettingsAdd Social Links