Look in your local butcher shop or wander the chilly aisles of Costco’s meat section and you’ll find a whole world of jumbled steaks. That doesn’t mean you should let all these admittedly confusing varieties get the best of you. We explain the differences between seven of our favorite steaks, including how to cook each one to succulent perfection. With a little practice, we guarantee you’ll be showing off your favorite steakhouse.
A staple of white tablecloth steakhouses across the country, this tender muscle does little to none of the cow’s heavy lifting, resulting in a smooth, buttery texture that falls apart in the presence of a steak knife. However, this cut is also nearly fat-free, which means the mild flavor has less of the juiciness that carnivores crave.
Also known as filet de boeuf, tender steak, sirloin steak, or tenderloin.
When to Order: The classic Valentine’s Day offering, the steaks are perfect for diners who are a) more concerned with tenderness than flavor and b) have money to spare. The steaks are also great for anyone on a diet who really needs a steak.
How to cook it: It’s versatile enough to cook it any way you like, from pan-frying to grilling. There’s no fat to make up for overcooking, so sous vide is a safe bet if you need extra security.
One of the most prized cuts of all, the rib eye comes boneless or with the rib bone still attached (in which case it’s frequently known as a cowboy steak). And while the bone might make it harder to navigate your knife and fork, gnawing on gristle and crispy fat is undoubtedly the best part of the steak-eating experience. Speaking of which, it’s that abundance of fat, both marbled within the meat and surrounding the edges via the white fat cap that makes rib eyes so intense and beefy in flavor. They’re not as meltingly soft as filets, but ribeyes have just enough of a chew to remind you why your experience as a vegan didn’t last.
Also Known As: cowboy steak, tomahawk steak, Spencer steak, Delmonico steak.
When to Order: If you’re a carnivore who wants the best beef-eating experience possible, and has a supply of Lipitor on hand.
How to Cook It: Rib eyes are equally at home over charcoal flames, in a cast-iron pan or under a screaming broiler. The high fat content means, yes, you can get away with cooking them somewhat past medium without the meat turning into a chewy football.
New York Strip
It might not be as tender as its fancy cousin (the filet) or as delicious as the always fatty ribeye, but the New York strip is a solid hangout. A little more chewing and a little less marbling means it’s less expensive, so you won’t lift your jaw off the floor when it’s time to pay, making this the perfect weeknight dinner for when you need a pick-me-up.
Also Known As: Conch steak, Kansas City steak, Sirloin steak.
When to Order: This is the crowd-pleasing star of steak, made only for Goldilocks in terms of flavor, tenderness, and price.
How to cook it: Just like a rib, tenderloin steaks are happy any way you cook them. Keep in mind that some may thin out a bit, making them less resistant to overcooking.
A steak is simply a New York strip and a delicate filet mignon separated by a T-bone (hence its other nickname, the mighty T-bone). This is the only time we suggest storing cast iron – meat shrinks as it cooks, which means that when it sears, the surface of a steak doesn’t come in contact with the pan when the bone starts to stick out. And since the steak side is more prone to overcooking, making the entire steak at once can be challenging.
Also known as: T-bone steak.
When to order: If you’re an experienced steak connoisseur or part of a couple who don’t like commitment (no judgment), or if you’re exceptionally hungry and would rather spend your paycheck on steaks than rent.
How to cook it: Grilling or broiling is your best bet. Just make sure the tenderloin side of the steak is exposed to less heat so it doesn’t overcook before the loaf is done.
Formerly the butcher’s hidden gem, the once-humble pendant has grown in popularity over the years. It may not be as affordable as it used to be, but the cut, taken from the front of the cow’s belly, is still a bargain given its incredibly savory flavor and relative tenderness. When taken directly from the cow, the perches are often covered in a blanket of tough sinew and silver skin, although most butchers sell them already trimmed.
Also Known As: onglet, butcher’s steak, hanging tender.
When to Order: If you’re looking for the maximum payout with little effort; or a carnivore who prefers to spend only half his salary on steak
How to cook it: A loose, tender texture makes hanger steak perfect for soaking up sticky marinades and dry seasonings. Keep in mind that there is a sweet spot when it comes to cooking this cut: too rare and it’s still unpleasantly annoying; overcooked, and it will dry out like any other steak.
Long, hard-working muscle fibers make flank steak relatively difficult to chew if not cooked properly. Be sure to slice the meat thinly against the grain after cooking it to medium rare. (On the plus side, it’s easy to get a good number of servings out of this square cut, making it the perfect fodder for a summer buffet.)
Also known as: beef fajita, Philadelphia steak.
When to Order: Like flank steak, skirt steak is best cooked at home (and not ordered when you’re out) if you’re looking for the best value for your money, or if you’re throwing a fajita party.
How to cook it: These steaks are naturally thin, so sweltering heat is needed to ensure the exterior sears before the interior becomes overcooked.
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