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The 5 Steak Cuts You Need to Know

BY: Editors | May 26, 2017

Unless you're a butcher, chances are you don't know the intricate differences between steak cuts. Sure, you might know that prime rib has a reputation for being fatty (and tasty), or that tenderloin is the tenderest, but that limited knowledge only helps so much when you find yourself eyeballing the butcher case or perusing the menu at a fancy steakhouse. Often, though, the choice is simple: the best cut of steak for you depends on how you want it cooked. Fatty steaks deserve more time on the grill, whereas a thin, lean cut is best served rare.

This is because of marbling—the term for the fat deposits that seem to weave through the meat like veins in stone. As a steak cooks, the fat begins to liquefy and seep into the meat itself, enriching its flavor. The more marbling a cut exhibits, the more heat it can handle before it reaches its full potential; conversely, a leaner cut should never be cooked higher than medium, lest it become dry and tough. Although the cuts available at a market, butcher, or steakhouse may vary, most will carry these popular cuts:

Rib Eye

Cut from the tender muscle that runs along the cow's spine, a rib eye contains some of the richest marbling out there. Cook it to at least medium, though it may be better suited to the pan or broiler than the grill.

Strip Steak

Also known as kansas city steak or new york strip, this tightly textured steak is well-balanced, with many thin rivulets of fat throughout. That balance makes it equally tasty whether cooked medium-rare or medium-well.

Filet Mignon

A fancier name for tenderloin, filet mignon is one of the supplest and least marbled cuts of steak out there. Because of its low fat content, it should be served rare or medium-rare, with no uncooked fat.

T-bone

This cut is actually a combination of two other types of steak—strip and tenderloin—separated by a T-shaped bone. Here, a unique challenge: since both meats are suited to different temperatures, you want to make sure the (larger) strip portion cooks longer than the tenderloin.

Porterhouse

It's easy to confuse a t-bone and porterhouse steak since they have a very similar appearance and are cut from the same area. But there actually are some important distinctions between the two steak cuts. A porterhouse is a larger steak and is cut from the short (or back) end of the loin, while a regular t-bone is cut from the middle (and more narrow) section. As a result, porterhouses have a larger tenderloin section than t-bones.

Because of the porterhouse's size, many steakhouses offer the cut as a "steak for two" meal.