Every good man deserves a good steak, but like all men, not all steaks are created equal. Ask someone if they like steak, and if they’re worth their salt; they’ll say yes. But, ask them what their favorite cut is, and sit back and observe as they fumble through the question and avoid eye contact.
And that’s OK. Unless you’re constantly kicking it at the steakhouse or you’re a backyard grill master guru, knowing what cut of steak you prefer (especially if you’re like me and prefer literally all cuts of steak) can be tough to pin down.
What’s the difference between a filet and a bone-in ribeye? Isn’t a porterhouse the same thing as a T-bone? What the hell is a strip steak? Here’s an easy guide to identifying your favorite cuts of steak:
1. Top Sirloin: The top sirloin is a common cut of meat taken from the middle and upper part of the sirloin, near the rear of the cow. It differs from regular sirloin in that the bone, tenderloin and bottom round cuts are removed. It’s a steak I’d recommend ordering only at the steakhouse (as opposed to when you’re shopping), because it can either be tender, or it can totally suck. It all really depends on how it’s cut and how close it is to the round section of the cow (the closer to the round section, the tougher the meat is going to be). If you’re dealing with an in-house butcher who knows what he’s doing, you’re good to go. The top sirloins offer a solid amount of marbling and are easy to differentiate from regular sirloin because top sirloins are always boneless, and regular sirloins are bone-in.
2. Filet Mignon: Filet mignon is often regarded as the crème de la crème of the steak world, but it’s a misconception that’s not necessarily true. It’s 100 percent the most tender (and expensive) cut of beef, but whether or not it’s the best all depends on one’s preference. Identifying a filet is pretty simple. They usually come in smaller, thicker cuts, there generally isn’t too much marbling to them (which is why people love wrapping them in fatty bacon or slathered in drawn butter), and they’re naturally round because they’re cut from the smaller end of the tubular tenderloin, found on both sides of the cow’s back. You won’t need to trim any fat off them and, if cooked right, you can literally cut them with a fork. They offer a very tender, very dense bite, and it’s the kind of cut for which the term “melt in your mouth” was invented.
3. Porterhouse: The porterhouse is considered by many to be the steak-eater’s steak cut because it offers the best of both worlds: filet mignon and strip steak. The bone typically comes in the shape of a T, which perfectly divides the strip steak from the tenderloin cut. They’re easy to differentiate from all the other types of steaks out there because of their unique T-shaped bone, but may be difficult to separate from actual T-bones—to the untrained eye, at least. You’ll know you’re looking at a porterhouse when there’s a very clear strip steak, and a very clear tenderloin cut.
4. T-Bone: Another popular cut of steak—particularly in the supermarkets—is the T-bone. T-bones are basically the younger brother of porterhouses. They’re cut from the same exact bones and section as the porterhouse, but they include a much smaller tenderloin cut. They have the T-shaped bone like the porterhouse, but they just don’t have as much tenderloin. Luckily, standard T-bones still have enough filet to give you a taste of the good stuff.
5. Strip Steak: Another cut of the loin area, strip steaks are a favorite among steak eaters because they’re cut from a muscle that doesn’t work too much, and thus, remains mostly tender over the course of a cow’s life. They definitely have some grain, which means that they cook tender, but they have texture and a level of chewiness to them—something I, in fact, prefer. They have good marbling but aren’t fatty, and they come both boneless or bone-in. Bone-in, they’re most popularly called shell steaks.
6. Ribeye: Probably the second most popular steak cut behind filets, ribeye steaks are cut from the ribs of the cow and, because of their higher fat content, are extremely tender. They come both boneless and bone-in, but most people prefer them bone-in because, when cooked, the bone gives a very rich, very unique taste to the meat due to the yellow marrow inside. The debate between bone-in and boneless is high contentious but, regardless, ribeye is a delicious cut that you’ll notice right off the bat for its high marbling and distinct fattiness. If you like your meat lean, this is definitely not the cut for you.
7. London Broil: I’m including this one here because it’s an incredibly popular term. Unfortunately, London broil isn’t actually a cut of steak, but rather, a cooking method. The actual steak generally used for London broil is a flank or top round steak, and both cuts are relatively inexpensive, can feed a lot of people and, when cooked right, are actually pretty good. Essentially, a London broil cut is heavily marinated and tenderized, broiled quickly, served medium rare, and cut across the grain. It’s easy to differentiate because it comes in giant boneless slaps that are generally lean with little to no marbling.
Photo: Getty Images/Lisovskaya