Sorry Vegans. This One Isn't For You Guys.
If we had to pick fault with just one thing in life, it’s the fact we let little things stress us out way more than we should. Seeing unpopped kernels in our microwaveable popcorn. Accidentally buying round deli meat for our square bread sarnies. Getting comfy on the sofa only to realise we’ve left the TV remote on the other side of the room. Trying to remove a bin bag from a bin. Sitting on a cold loo seat. Sitting on a warm loo seat too. They’re all way more stressful than they should be - and trying to choose the best steak from a restaurant menu is no different.
There are just so many different kinds of cuts of meat to choose from and, to make things worse, the person sat opposite you is performing all the facial expressions of a part-time connoisseur. At the risk of offending PETA, chowing down on a lovely bit of meat is meant to be a treat. But when you haven’t got the foggiest as to which piece of the cow puzzle goes where, it can actually be quite stressful and FOMO-inducing and, in the end, you just end up doing the same thing you do when choosing a wine by going for the second least expensive out of fear you’ll be overpaying.
Basically, bovine knowledge is power, my friend. It doesn’t matter if you’re at an eatery and wondering what the difference is between a ribeye and a tenderloin, or you’re at the butcher’s the day before a dinner party and desperate to choose a cut your guests will enjoy the most - it’s a pretty grand idea to know what the different types of cuts are so that you don’t spend a massive chunk of change on an undeserving slab of meat.
So, let’s fire up the grill and crack on, shall we:
Cut No.1: The Tenderloin
Ladies and gents, meet your “special occasions” steak. An absolute favourite among steakhouse-lovers and spare-no-expense-meat-eaters. And we get it. It might not pack the biggest flavour-punch as some of the other cuts, but it’s the leanest, the most tender, and the most buttery of all the steaks. It’s next-level deeelicious. Just be prepared to cough up a bit more cash for one of these.
Insider’s tip: if you can’t see it on a menu, don’t worry. There’s no need to breathe deeply into a brown paper bag just yet. Monsieur Tenderloin will probably just be using one of its other monikers - filet, fillet or filet mignon.
It’s place on the cow: this oblong shaped cut has three parts to it - the butt, centre and tail - and it can be found nestled nicely between the sirloin and short sirloin.
Cut No.2: The Chuck
Okay, so the chuck-cut has got a bit of a reputation for being a value steak, but that doesn’t mean you should shun it because this overlooked slab can be uber-yummy when cooked properly. What’s more, it’s also one of the most diverse cuts of meat because it’s used all over the shop. The chuck-eye is like the ribeye’s slightly more rough-around-the-edges little brother, the top blade is used for flat-iron steaks, all of it can be used for a pot roast, and the other bits make for great burgers. Think of Chuck as that guy who doesn’t belong to any one clique, but floats around all willy-nilly because he’s welcomed by them all.
Insider’s tip: If you’re gonna grill or braise it, make sure you give it a good old tenderising first, otherwise it’s perfect for a fail-free slow-cooker jobby.
It’s place on the cow: chuck is essentially that bit of the shoulder, right behind the neck.
Cut No.3: The Ribeye
Sort of like the popular kid at school that never reached his full-potential but is totally fine with it, the ribeye had everything it needed to become a prime rib, before it got hacked off with a butcher’s cleaver and chucked in the “to grill” pile. And boy-o-boy are a lot of people pleased about that. The ribeye is just so flavourful and buttery and full of that crazy-good fat marbling, which is what gives it an extra-awesome juiciness. They’re total melt-in-the-mouthers.
Insider’s tip: (sorry again PETA but) this one was born to be eaten bright red and medium.
It’s place on the cow: you’ve got a 50-50 chance of getting this right and, no, it’s nowhere near the eye. That’s right, it’s right in the ribs.
Cut No.4: The Porterhouse & T-Bone
These are what we like to call “wow-factor steaks”, and two of the most worshipped cuts on a cow. They’re the bits of meat you can imagine a bunch of butcher’s fighting over like Black Friday shoppers that have discovered an awesome TV deal. Anyway, the reason we’ve chucked these two cuts together is ‘cos a lot of carnivores have a tough time telling them apart. So, to give you some pub quiz ammo, porterhouse steaks boast a larger amount of tenderloin, while T-bones have a way more badass name. It’s simple. But here’s the bottom-line: both are super-tasty.
Insider’s tip: these are ideal for those who suck at decision-making or struggle with food envy because they’re basically the best of both worlds. They’re like a filet-mignon-New-York-strip-hybrid, only bigger.
It’s place on the cow: the tastiest part of the short loin (which is at the front-end).
Cut No.5: Strip Steak
Whether you call it a strip steak, a strip loin, a shell steak or refer to it by it’s officially unofficial name, the New York Strip (some dude in the Big Apple claims to have made it mainstream), this baby is one of the most popular cuts in the whole world, especially steakhouses. It’s what they would call their classic, and it’s all because of its truly beefy flavour. But it’s also tender, lean, got a fine-grain texture and that all-important fat marbling. Basically, it’s got everything you would expect from a cut found on the thick-side of a T-Bone.
Insider’s tip: what you want is a strip steak that’s fairly firm and boasts some gorgeous marbling. That’s the goal right there.
It’s place on the cow: middle of the bovine’s back (or the short loin, as it’s also called).
Cut No.6: The Chateaubriand
A lot of people confuse the chateaubriand by thinking it’s just a posh name for a tenderloin - but that’s not quite right. Close, but not a bullseye. This cut, also known as a top sirloin, is actually the cut right below the tenderloin or, for those that want a quick snigger, it’s the “top butt”. And, if you get it right, she’s a real good-time gal.
Insider’s tip: make sure you read the fine print on this one because the last thing you want is to end up with a sirloin. To get your money’s worth, you want a “top sirloin”. They’re usually an inch or two thick and have a lovely-jubbly band of fat.
It’s place on the cow: the small of the back (the cow equivalent of where your first university-fling had a tribal tattoo).
Cut No.7: The Tri-Tip
This is a neo-renaissance cut if there ever was one, and it all began in the 50s when a Californian dude stopped using it to make burgers and threw it on the grill instead. And, you know what, we’re glad that light bulb moment happened because it was a seminal moment in culinary history - it was the birth of the Santa Maria steak. This heart-shaped cut is still very much a Californian classic (your first beachside, tri-tip sandwich smothered in barbecue is one you’ll never forget), but they’re increasingly popping up all over the shop these days. They’re also pretty inexpensive, making them perfect for a cheeky afternoon behind the BBQ.
Insider’s tip: try and pick a fatty tri-tip if you can. The reason being they’re pretty big, meaning they can need a lot of grilling, and that’ll dry them out if they’re too lean.
It’s place on the cow: near the back, just above the flank.
Cut No.8: The Flank Steak
This cut is a real tough guy. Like really tough. Like ‘cross the street out of fear you’ll be beaten up’ kinda tough. That’s why it usually needs to be super-slow-cooked or super-fast-cooked in order for your jaws to have a chance of chewing it. The trade-off is worth it, though, ‘cos this long cut is well-endowed on the flavour front. As such, it’s become an uber-popular choice for Chinese-restaurants serving wok-n-roll stir-fries and those that have nailed the art of making wow-factor fajitas.
Insider’s tip: if you’re buying your own from a butcher, make sure you grab one that’s got a fairly consistent girth so that you don’t undercook some of it and overcook the rest.
It’s place on the cow: under the fat of the belly.
And there we have it - your essential guide to the different steaks. Now all you need to do is bookmark this post, save it to your favourites, and then re-read it before every client meeting, use it to show-off on your next date, and let it smash every dinner party you host right out the park.
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