Beef steak is one of the definitive barbecue foods, we all know that. Few things grill up better than that sweet mass of muscle, collagen, and fat. Steaks come from only a few parts of the cow and make up less than ten percent of the total amount of meat that can be yielded from it. The cuts that the most popular steaks come from are the rib, short loin, sirloin, and tenderloin. These muscles, the tenderloin in particular, don't get much of a workout during the animal’s life because they are located on the hindquarters (except for the rib, but it still enjoys quite a relaxing life). This is why steaks are so delectable.
If you’re reading this, you probably know how you like your steak done. We’re not going to cover that aspect of the cook here, but do you have a favourite cut? Whether you do or you don’t, we’re going to cover some of the classic steak cuts and what sets them apart from each other. Whether you have a favourite or not, at least you’ll have an idea of what each one is.
1. Rib Eye Steak
The rib eye is an easy choice for favourite; basically you get the ideal steak experience. The longissimus dorsi makes up the eye of the rib eye and it’s where most of that marbling or intramuscular fat builds up. The fat cap surrounds it, but the jewel of the rib eye is the cap, that small, unbelievably tender section of meat above the fat cap which is comprised of the semispinalis capitis.
The high fat content of the rib eye makes it a quintessential choice for grilling, and grilling it is one of the best ways to cook it. The dry, high heat of a gas or charcoal grill locks in the flavour and creates that charismatic crust. The popular tomahawk or cowboy steak is a rib eye with the bone attached, usually called “bone in.”
2. Tenderloin Steak
The tenderloin is made up of the psoas major, a small muscle that runs along the spine. The most popular cut that comes from the tenderloin is the filet mignon. The psoas major is one of the least used muscles on the animal and also generates one of the lowest yields. These factors create a soft texture and mild flavour, resulting in the most expensive cut of steak. The tenderloin does not have a high fat content and because of this, it’s usually recommended that you either cook the filet in a fat, like butter, or cooked while wrapped with bacon.
If you’re planning on cooking filet mignon for a number of guests, or just want to stockpile some for yourself, it can be cheaper to buy an entire tenderloin and butcher the filets from it yourself. This way your guests will be doubly-impressed.
3. Strip Loin & Sirloin Steak
The “do-it-all” cut. If you’re confounded by the different cuts and are saying “I just want to grill dammit!” and also don’t want to spend a proverbial arm-and-a-leg, this one is for you. The names for strip loin steak vary, but the New York Strip is one of the most iconic strip loin cuts and originates from the short loin being made up of the longissimus muscle. Strip loin steaks don’t have the fat content of a rib eye, or the tenderness of a filet mignon, but they’re more tender than the sirloin and they’ll still get you the steak flavour you’re craving.
When it comes to sirloin we can say; all New York strips are sirloin but not all sirloins are New York Strips. Sirloin is typically leaner than strip loin and not as tender, but for the price (which is usually the cheapest of what we’ve covered so far) it’s a great choice.
4. T-Bone & Porterhouse Steak
Nothing says “steak” like a bone-in cut. Both the T-bone and the porterhouse are strip loin cuts with a section of the tenderloin attached by the bone. The T-bone has a little tenderloin and the porterhouse typically has an entire filet mignon on it. Think of it like a New York strip and a filet mignon in one. The porterhouse is cut a little farther back than the T-bone, thus the difference in tenderloin participation. These steaks are great for sharing and though they’re expensive, you’re essentially getting two steaks for one. The catch: because of the two different muscles that make it up, it can cook unevenly (not always, but there’s a chance). The filet has a tendency to cook faster than the strip side, so keep that in mind. What makes them so delicious? The answer: what doesn’t? It’s like steak paradise.
5. Tri-Tip Steak
It's exactly how it sounds, it has 3 tips. Originally called the California cut, the distinguished flavour profile has brought fame to the name. The tri-tip steak is cut from the lower sirloin section of the cow and has been named an excellent alternative to rib eye due to it's lower price, yet similar taste. The tri-tip has incredible marbling, as it typically has a strip of fat surrounded by lean meat, ready to be thrown on a hot skillet.
Recipes to Try
So now that you're a certified steak fanatic that knows the difference between these 5 cuts, it's time get cooking. All the cuts we’ve covered love the high and dry heat of a gas grill and we can’t think of a better way to test out a new grill than with a beautiful steak or two... dozen.
If you have any questions about steak paradise, grilling hacks, or grills in general, please do not hesitate to hit that chat button in the bottom right-hand corner of this webpage. You can also call or come visit one of our five locations across Canada, we have two in Calgary, and three in the GTA (Burlington, Oakville, and Toronto), our barbecue experts are on standby.