The 5 Best Steak Cuts: Explained
by HexClad Cookware
When it comes to the ingredients we use to cook our meals, it helps to learn all that we can, so we can put them to good use. Well, today it’s time for a little meat lesson.
Here at HexClad, we created our pots, pans, knives, and mixing bowls to ensure that home cooks everywhere have the best option for cookware. But we know that having the best doesn’t end with cookware.
So today, let’s break down everything there is to know about steak cuts, what makes them unique, and what gives them their flavor. We also want to talk about how to identify the better cuts available at your local markets and some of the best methods of preparation.
Get your napkins ready. Reading this could make your mouth water.
What Are the 5 Best Steak Cuts?
There are five main cuts we want to explain here. These guys are the main cuts you’ll find at butcher shops and grocery stores. They are popular for a reason. These cuts have excellent natural flavors.
You may not want to open your own butcher shop after reading this, but you’ll be able to go into your local shop more confidently. It can be intimidating to check out all the options and decide what’s best for your recipe and tastebuds.
So next time you pop into the butcher, hold your head high. You will be able to make your choices with confidence.
1. Filet Mignon
A cut of filet comes from the tenderloin section of a cow. This is a long strip of muscle that cows don’t use very often, keeping this loin very tender and soft. You can expect to generally find these cuts in a circular or rounded shape. They are generally one of the more expensive cuts.
The higher price tag on a filet comes from the fact that you can only get a few pieces per cow. They are prized for their butter-like texture. They require a lot of prep, and the tenderloin is covered with tendon and silver skin that will need to be trimmed before selling or cooking.
You can also expect prep time to be slightly longer for a tenderloin. Due to the cut's softness and lack of fat, the meat's natural flavor is mild. It may require seasoning to better bring out the meat’s finer points.
Filet mignon cuts are primarily sold in smaller but thicker pieces, so a good sear to caramelize the surface will do well to retain juices and flavor.
Pro tip: take great care not to overcook this cut of meat. With such a low fat content, it can dry out quickly if cooked too long. Overcooking filet mignon causes that buttery softness to disappear and causes your steak to shrink.
2. Ribeye (Prime Rib)
The boneless or bone-in ribeye steak comes from the eye, or center, of the rib section on a cow. This cut is dead center on the ribs, so it’s a cut found between the fat and tendons. It is also in an area that is worked out a lot during a cow’s day, so the meat has a higher fat content.
Ribeye steaks generally have a lot of marbling, or fat, to them. This natural fattiness gives the meat a lot of flavor. It offers a smoother “chew” than some other cuts of steak (like the NY strip).
Because of the heartiness of this cut, you have the option to cook this meat a little longer without compromising the integrity of the meat. Instead of drying out the cut, a longer cook time can render or melt the fat more and give you juicy, robust bites.
3. NY Strip
The loin area of the cow, on the other side of the tenderloin, is where you’ll find the New York strip steak. This cut carries a nice richness due to marbling, although it isn’t quite as high as what you expect from the ribeye. Expect a nice “chew.”
A New York strip will have a thicker fat cap around the meat, which is helpful for retaining juices during the cooking process. You may not want to chew through this thick fat, but it will be a boon during the cooking process.
4. T-Bone Steak
A T-bone can be one of the most recognizable steaks due to the t-shape of the bone and meat. T-bones are one of those cuts that offer you the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you’ll get a lean filet; on the other hand, you’ll have a marbled strip loin with plenty of flavor.
This cut is similar to the porterhouse steak we will discuss next, but it doesn’t have the fullness on the filet side that a porterhouse offers. T-bones can be a great cut to share for those that like a little bit of everything in their meats.
It can be a temperamental cut to cook properly, so be sure to use a high-quality searing pan that conducts heat to caramelize those fats around the bone. T-bones are great in a skillet, broiled, or grilled.
5. Porterhouse Steak
As we said, a porterhouse is a bone-in short loin steak similar to a T-bone but with a heftier portion of tenderloin filet than the T-bone can offer. It’s one of the best cuts you’ll find in a steakhouse.
Due to the size of the cut, a porterhouse steak is generally featured as an option for two guests or for sharing with the table.
Porterhouse can be temperamental and delicate, so be sure to cook it on the grill or in a big, quality searing pan that is deep enough to allow the juices to simmer in the pan while your meat is searing. Tilt the pan every so often and spoon the juices over the top of the steak to soak in all the flavors.
What Other Steak Cuts Are There?
Now that you know what the best cuts of steak are, here’s a quick list of the cuts that didn’t make it into the ranks.
- Flank Steak: Fairly tough and chewy due to its low fat content and abundance of connective tissue (muscle fibers).
- London Broil Steak: Another chewy cut, but it can be a great steak if you like a beefy flavor and tender chew.
- Top Sirloin Steak: A naturally lean cut that tastes best when grilled medium-rare. The cooking method is everything when preparing this popular cut.
- Bottom Sirloin Steak: Sometimes called a thick flank or sirloin butt, this cut is better for roasting than turning it into steaks.
- Skirt Steak: Skirt steak is versatile and affordable. It’s a winner for sandwiches and fajitas.
- Strip Steak: This high-end beef cut has plenty of marbling, making each bit buttery and juicy. However, while steak lovers might be surprised that it didn’t make our top 5 list, this tender cut just isn’t quite up to par with filet mignon.
- Hanger Steak: This cut is tender and flavorful. It’s best served in thin slices.
- Brisket: The brisket is cut from the cow's lower chest. It’s often prepared by braising the meat in a juicy marinade and serving it in thin slices.
- Flat Iron Steak: Flat iron steaks are decently chewy but can still make a tasty entree when prepared properly.
- Tri-Tip Steak: This lesser-known cut is from the leaner portion of the sirloin and has a distinct triangular shape.
How Do You Tell If a Steak Cut Is High-Quality?
You’re at the market and looking at all the different cuts and packages of beef. What do you pick? Well, there are a few items to consider. We’ve got a good breakdown of what you can expect and what you should look for in a high-quality cut of beef.
There should be a plump juiciness that sits on top of a well-packaged cut of steak. If the cut isn’t smooth and even on the surface of the meat, then chances are the quality is low or was compromised during the butchering process.
Packaging won’t ruin the juicy qualities of meat, but it can mean that your steak isn’t high-quality. So if you see a steak that doesn’t seem to have plumpness to the meat and the packaging isn’t well done, chances are the steak won’t live up to your expectations either.
Not all steaks will have marbling, which can be good or bad. For those that like a lot of fat, you’re going to want to see a lot of marbling. The natural flavors of meat are amplified tenfold in marbling.
You’ll want to see veins that connect to fat caps on the outer corners of the meat. Marbling should be bright white and apparent throughout the cut.
On the other hand, filets should be completely devoid of any marbling to be considered high-quality. Low-grade cuts may still have silver skin or fat caps connected to the filet, essentially because it wasn’t worth completely trimming.
Color and Smell
Using your senses to find the right cuts of meat can ensure you never buy anything subpar from the butcher. A high-quality cut of beef will be a vibrant red. If there is any fat, it should look bright white.
The smell of steak should be neutral or have a slight smell of iron or blood. Anything with a strong smell or unpleasant aroma is of lower quality. Look for a better, fresher option.
There are three grades to beef: prime, choice, and select. Prime grade is the highest quality, offering the leanest and softest filets and the most quality marbling in ribeyes and strip loins. It will come with the highest price tag, but it’s worth every penny.
Choice and select cuts are less expensive. These options generally have less marbling or are less tender, but they are more moderately priced and plentiful in supermarkets.
What’s the Best Pan To Cook a Steak With?
To pan-sear or pan-fry a steak, you need a quality pan that can render fat without having any flavor stick to the pan. That’s why you’ll need HexClad.
Our hybrid pan technology offers the best heat conductor core, and the peaks and valleys cooking surface will give you the best searing power with top-of-the-line nonstick qualities. Imagine perfecting a steak just to have all that flavor stick to the pan. What a waste of time.
With our Hybrid Deep Saute Pan, cook the fattiest ribeyes or the leanest filets and get the most out of your meat. A great way to mimic the grill is to start by searing meat on the range and throwing your cuts in the oven to come up to temp. It will melt fat but keep the perfect amount of browning on the surface of your beef.
Our pans are strong enough to go from the stovetop to the oven. You won’t have to mess with transferring food. You’ll save time and dishes.
What Are the Three Steps to a Perfect Steak?
Ready to stop reading and get to cooking? We don’t blame you. But before you run to the store, let’s make sure you’re ready to cook that beef to perfection. Follow these three easy steps to unlock your tastebuds’ wildest dreams.
Use High Heat
To get that delicious brown crust on the outside of your meat, you’ll need substantially high heat to get it to sear and not just cook. Thankfully you’re a part of the HexClad family, which means you don’t have to crank up the heat to get a good result.
You can comfortably keep your pans at medium or medium-high heat and get the most perfect sear every time.
Flip and Season
Depending on the internal temp you want on your steak, you’ll want to let your steak sear untouched for three to five minutes on each side before flipping over.
Once your steak is perfectly browned on each side, you can turn down the heat and allow it to come up to temp, or put it in the oven at 350 degrees to let it continue cooking.
Let It Rest
When your steak is ready, take it off the heat and put it off to the side to rest before serving. Cutting a steak immediately following the cooking process will allow the juices to run out. Your steak may end up dry and flavorless.
You didn’t go through all this trouble just to stumble at the finish line, so trust us when we say that the resting process is important. Let your steak rest on a cool surface away from a heat source. Otherwise, it will continue to cook and could become dry. Give it three minutes before putting it on your dinner plate.
The Bottom Line
For flavorful cuts of meat, you need pans that can keep up. HexClad has you covered. You don’t have to turn to the top steak choices as long as you are seasoning and cooking your steak well. We have your back.
With HexClad hybrid pans, you’ll get the highest quality out of your cooking experience, no matter the grade.