Know Your Beef: A Guide to the Best Cuts of Steak

Unless you’re a vegetarian (and if you are, more power to you for digging into this article), there’s one thing we can all agree on — cows are delicious. Yes, they are cute and kind of cuddly, but more importantly, they are tasty treats on four legs. Okay, not a treat, but an entire delicious meal on legs.

Look, we’re not knocking pork, chicken, lamb, or any other cuts of meat (hello, also-delicious bison) — we love them all like we love a fine glass of Scotch whiskey — but when it comes to a beautiful hunk of meat, we’re hard-pressed to find something more mouth-watering than a steak.

Not all steaks are created equal, however. The tenderness, taste, and very name of a given cut of steak is almost entirely dependent on its location while still attached to an animal. Did you think “ribeye” was just a name folks thought up for fun or that it comes from near some ribs? And maybe you think “ankle flank” is just something I made up as I wrote this?

There are plenty of “The Top 10 Most Popular Steaks” types of articles out there, but we want to shed a bit more light than that. According to Beef Retail, these were America’s most popular cuts of steak in 2018 from a sales standpoint:

  • Ribeye steak
  • Strip steak
  • T-Bone steak
  • Stew meat
  • Chuck center roast
  • Tenderloin steak
  • Top sirloin steak
  • Top round first steak
  • Blade chuck roast
  • Cube steak

“But wait,” you might be shrieking. “I don’t see such well-known, fancy-pants steaks as filet mignon on that list, but I know that’s a thing!”

Further Reading

Well, yes, yes it is. And it’s just this kind of shrieking that we’re here to help! Don’t worry about committing the above top 10 list to memory; that would be a weird thing to do (unless you work in the beef industry). Besides, you’ve got your Internet searches for rote fact-finding. Instead, take the time to really digest the facts about five best cuts of steaks that are essential to know about. Knowledge of these steaks will help you behind your own grill, out at a restaurant, and beyond.

Okay, maybe not beyond, but at your grill and out to eat are both great places to be knowledgeable about steaks.

Filet Mignon

The Godfather of Steaks

Know Your Beef: A Guide to the Best Cuts of Steak
GMVozd/Getty Images

Why is filet mignon so expensive? Because it comes from the very tip of the tenderloin, which is the most tender cut of meat in an animal’s back. Each beef cow can produce only a few cuts of filet mignon, and of course, scarcity drives price. But there’s more to it than scarcity — there’s also flavor. The filet mignon comes from a muscle that is seldom used, creating a soft, “clean” (minimal sinew, tendon, etc.) cut that, if cooked properly, achieves that “melt in your mouth” phenomenon you hear people blathering on about. Filet mignon is indeed one tasty steak cut, but it’s also often price-prohibitive. So what should you order at a steakhouse?

New York Strip Steak

Your Steakhouse Go-To

Know Your Beef: A Guide to the Best Cuts of Steak
Yelena Strokin/Getty Images

Many people will argue that the ribeye, the section of meat by the cow’s ribs is the best steak to order at a steakhouse: It’s not as expensive as filet mignon, it’s richly marbled, it’s amazing on the grill, and so forth. But a good strip steak (called Kansas strip steak in some parts, usually when the bone is left in) is a safer bet for a few good reasons. First, a New York strip is usually a bit cheaper than a ribeye. Second, unless you’re a real steak aficionado, you may be put off by the “marbling,” which is the fat; a strip steak tends to be even and tender and takes well to your cooking preferences (medium, well-done, etc.). In other words, if you want to order a good steak but don’t really know much about steak, try this one, which comes from the short loin section of the beef cow.

Flat Iron Steak

Grill ‘Em at Home

Know Your Beef: A Guide to the Best Cuts of Steak
Joshua Resnick/Getty Images

Flatiron steak goes by a few other names, like Patio Steak (which makes no sense) and Top Blade Steak (which makes a lot of sense, as indeed this cut comes from the shoulder region of the cow).

Listen — flatiron steak? It’s not a fancy cut. It’s not a gourmet cut.

Many people might even turn their noses up (which is a great time to punch them in the face) if they hear it mentioned. But those same smarting snobs (you went through with it and hit the guy, right?) would probably gobble down the flatiron steak you grilled up if they didn’t know better.

Flatiron steaks tend to be smaller cuts and can be a bit sinuous, but this relatively thin steak cooks fast on a grill or in a pan, offers plenty of tender bites, and costs very little. So for the home chef not ready to risk ruining fancy filets, the flatiron is a fine choice.

Prime Rib

The Steak for Special Occasions

Know Your Beef: A Guide to the Best Cuts of Steak
Debbi Smirnoff/Getty Images

When it comes to large cuts of beef, the prime rib should be your go-to — no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Coming from the primal rib section of the cow (and sometimes also called a standing rib roast, but that doesn’t sound nearly as baller), the prime rib is a large, juicy, tender cut that many people (due to its size), save for special occasions. There are a couple of things that make the prime rib so G-D delicious. First, the eye of meat in the center of the cut is marbled with a good amount of fat. This is surrounded by more marbled meat, which is surrounded by more fat. Not following? We’ll break it down in an equation for you: Meat + Fat = Heaven. Thinking about buying one? Here’s how to cook prime rib.

Sirloin Steak

The Chicken Dinner of Steaks

Know Your Beef: A Guide to the Best Cuts of Steak
Instants/Getty Images

Sirloin steak is kind of the also-ran steak in some ways. That tasty, tender, well, tenderloin runs right between the sirloin regions, which are sirloin, top sirloin, and bottom sirloin. Sadly, sirloin isn’t quite as tender as tenderloin, but dammit, a sirloin is pretty tender, often retails for less than $8 a pound, and can be sliced up for delicious sandwiches, used in savory stews, or enjoyed as an entree. In fact, in many mid- to lower-range steakhouses, if you order a steak that’s around $12 to $15, with potato and side included, you’re going to get sirloin and you’re probably going to be cool with it.