Best Cuts of Steak Explained

As summer kicks off, many people are excited to fire up the grill for the season. One of our favorite things to grill is our own pasture-raised steak. But no matter where you source your beef, it’s important that you are grilling the right cut of meat. In fact, if you want the juiciest, most mouthwatering piece of meat to end up on your plate, it has a lot more to do with the cut than the preparation. So what’s best: t-bone, sirloin, ribeye? If you give a big shoulder shrug, you’re not alone!

Cut of steak on the grill

Rewind a few years ago, as newlywed farmer/rancher’s wife, I knew very little about the different cuts of steak and the cooking method that best suits each one. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of beef other than ground beef, and as a poor college student, I mostly survived off meatless meals or chicken-based dishes. Then when I married my husband (and the farm) I suddenly had a freezer full of beef, labeled with cuts that I had heard of but didn’t really understand. So whether you are shopping at the grocery store or purchased a half a cow for your freezer, let’s break it down in simple terms what to expect when it comes to the different cuts of steak.

What are the common cuts of steak?

There are about 15 different kinds of steak cuts. However, we are going to keep things simple and discuss the five that you’ll probably come across most frequently. Ranked from most tender to least tender, these include:

  • Tenderloin
  • Ribeye
  • T-bone
  • Sirloin
  • Round (Tenderized/Cube)

Tenderloin

This is one of the best cuts of steak you can find. This cut is prized for being incredibly tender. Think filet mignon and other expensive cuts.

How to prepare it:
Grill it! Tenderloin doesn’t need any extra help in the form of a marinade or low/slow cooking method. It’s best cooked quickly over high heat, charred on the outside and cooked medium in the center.

Ribeye

This cut is taken from the rib of the cow, as the name suggests. This is another excellent cut that is tender, juicy, and full of flavor.

How to prepare it:
Ribeyes are also best cooked hot and fast using the grill or a good cast-iron pan. The goal is to form a good outer crust and keep the center tender and moist. Marinades are not necessary with this cut, but may enhance the flavor further.

T-bone

T-bone is named after it’s classic shape with a T-shaped bone in the center. The bone separates two distinct steaks. The larger side contains a strip of the top loin, which tends to be moderately tender, and the smaller side of the bone includes a cut of tenderloin.

How to prepare it:
The T-bone is still a great choice for the grill. Some care is required, though, as the smaller tenderloin side will cook faster. It’s best to position the tenderloin portion away from flame if possible so that the strip side has a chance to cook through without overcooking the tenderloin. Using a cast-iron pan or broiling are also great options to provide similar high-heat results. Marinating is not required, but T-bone steaks can benefit from the additional fat and flavor of the oils and seasonings in a marinade.

Sirloin

This is a boneless steak that is tender with some assistance. It needs to be cooked and prepared carefully to avoid producing a chewy eating experience. The sirloin sits back further, towards the back legs of the cow, where the muscles get more exercise. This means a tougher cut of meat. The sirloin is divided into two varieties, top and bottom butt. Top-sirloin is typically cut into steaks, while bottom is used for roasts, ground beef, and stew meat.

How to prepare it:
Top-sirloin steak can still be used for grilling, or high-heat methods. However, the meat tends to get tough beyond medium doneness. Marinating is highly recommended for this cut to add moisture and to help tenderize the meat with the use of an acid.

I prefer to save this cut for a variety of dishes that use small strips of steak, such as fajitas, stroganoff, stir-fry, and cheese-steak. By slicing the steak thinly, against the grain, and cooking quickly in hot pan over high heat, you can ensure that the meat stays tender.

Round (Tenderized/Cube)

Tenderized steak can come from various parts of the cow, but commonly comes from the round, which the rear leg of the cow. The round is typically a tougher cut that is mechanically tenderized with a machine that pounds it with needles. It is sometimes referred to as cube steak due to the indentations made during the tenderization process. This is not a cut that I would recommend to be thrown on the grill, but is still delicious in its own right if prepared the right way.

How to prepare it:
Even though round steak is still cut into a steak, its preparation looks very different than the other types of steak. This is NOT at steak that should be cooked hot and fast. However, it is perfect when seared, then cooked low and slow like a roast. Serving with gravy is optional, but also adds delicious flavor and moisture.

What type of steak is best for the grill?

Tenderloin, t-bone, and ribeye are all great options for your grill this summer. Select what fits within your family’s budget, and know that no matter what steak cut you choose, you can always boost it up a notch with a great marinade. Want the BEST steak marinade to wow your family and friends, check out my Best Steak Marinade for a Mouthwatering Steak recipe. You won’t be disappointed.

T-bone steak cooked on the grill

The more you understand about the different cuts of meat, the better you can pair them with appropriate recipes. Looking for more beef recipes? Check out our beef recipe list to find recipes that are quick and easy, nutritious, and family-approved.

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