For many, there are few things as mouthwateringly delicious as a juicy steak.
But what about the taste and tenderness?
Taste is a bit easier to explain. A well-prepared steak is a delicious piece of meat, plain and simple. There are procedures and recipes for that.
Tenderness is a different story. While all beef steaks come from cattle, different parts of the animal’s body render different cuts of steak.
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What Types of Steaks Are Tender?
Now that you’ve got a primer on beef cuts, it’s time to look at the most tender steaks you can indulge in and savor at your next steak dinner.
By referring to the next section on primal and subprimal cuts, it will be easier to deduce the ‘where’ and ‘why’ of steak cuts — where the particular type of steak comes from on the cattle and why it is more or less tender (you’ll see a lot of rib and loin cuts here).
Here’s the list of the most tender cut of steak:
- Filet Mignon
- Ribeye (and Ribeye Roast)
- Porterhouse (why it’s special)
- Strip Steak (think New York Strip or Kansas City Strip)
- Hanger Steak
- Top Sirloin
- Bottom Sirloin (also called Tri-Tip)
- Skirt Steak
- Flat Iron Steak
- Tomahawk / Cowboy (cuts of ribeye)
Just as a reminder, steaks that are more tender are traditionally more expensive at restaurants and in stores.
Usually, you’ll have the option of bone-in or boneless steak. Bone-in takes longer to cook, but may impart more taste to the steak if it’s cooked or served well done because the bone will insulate the flavor.
Whether you pick boneless or bone-in, look for marbling (white streaks of fat throughout the meat). That will infuse steaks with even more flavor.
Otherwise, it’s really a matter of preference.
So, how do you know what steak is the most tender?
The Anatomy of A Steak
The general rule of thumb about beef is that the most tender cuts are furthest away from bone and cartilage.
So, beef cuts that are based near the legs and shoulders will be tougher than beef that comes from the center of the cow.
Like any mammal, cows work their leg and shoulder muscles when they move around. These areas have more connective tissue, creating tougher meat.
The center isn’t as muscular and, therefore, the meat is naturally more tender.
There are 8 different parts of the cattle that are used for commonplace market beef. These sections are also known as primal cuts because specific cuts of beef (including steak) come from these areas.
Subprimal cuts are the smaller parts that come from the main primal cuts.
The main primal cuts include:
This is the hind, or back end, of the cattle. It is the largest muscle that beef comes from and is typically used for braising, slow roasting, and broiling.
This cut comes from the top-middle of the cattle, around the rib cage, and between the shoulder and loin. These cuts are typically cooked by grilling or slow roasting.
You’ve probably heard of loin but in the various prefix forms of the primal cut. Loin has several subprimal cuts. Those include:
- Strip Loin
- Short Loin
While the loin area isn’t particularly muscular, due to its location on cattle, the loin comprises some of the choicest cuts of tender steak that exist.
The plate is a primal cut from the stomach area of the cow. These cuts are built for quick frying or grilling.
Short ribs, skirt steak, and hanger steak are subprimal cuts from the cattle’s plate.
Chuck comes from the cattle’s shoulder area. Therefore, there is a lot of connective tissue and it is a relatively tough cut of beef.
You have probably seen portion cuts of the chuck in the form of pot roasts, ground chuck, stew meat, and tender medallions among others.
Chuck is typically cooked as a roast or stewed. It can also be braised.
Subprimal cuts include shoulder clod, chuck tender, chuck roll, and square-cut chuck.
Flank meat comes from the abdomen area.
Although meat from the flank is boneless, it still has enough connective tissue to place it on the tougher side of beef cuts.
Flank steak and skirt steak are popular cuts from the flank. Both steak cuts are usually flash-fried on very high heat.
Brisket comes from the cattle’s breast region and is one of the larger cuts of beef.
Brisket is popular for barbecuing or holiday feasts because it requires slow cooking to make it tender.
Shank meat comes from the upper leg of cattle. As a cow’s leg is one of the most muscular areas of its body, shank meat is tough.
This cut is generally recommended for use in soups, stews, or ground beef.
Which Steak Is More Tender: Ribeye or Sirloin?
As everyone’s preferences and tastes for steak are unique, there will always be debate about what type of steak is best.
However, there isn’t much debate about whether ribeye or sirloin is more tender.
Ribeye is, hands down, the more tender steak of the two cuts.
Both steaks are absolutely divine and delicious. However, ribeye gets the edge on tenderness because ribeye is well-marbled, allowing fat to seep in during cooking, keeping the cut juicy, moist, and flavorful until it hits your plate.
Sirloin is still one of the most tender steak cuts but has more connective tissue and less marbling than ribeye.
A Little Taste Before Tenderness
Does tenderness affect the taste of steak? Is that part of what makes it taste so good? Why is steak so delicious, especially when it has a great sear on it?
That scrumptious crust on a steak cut is all due to a little something called the Maillard reaction.
When cooking a steak, sugars reduce and combine with amino acids as the steak browns. That’s when the tantalizing aroma starts tickling your nose and making your tummy grumble. It’s also what gives a nicely seared cut that slightly umami flavor that is unmistakably steak.
However, while cooking techniques will enhance a steak’s flavor, tenderness is a different story.
Tender meat appeals to people because of its texture. It doesn’t take as much effort to chew, so there’s less work involved in eating.
Still, the tenderness quality is different than the actual taste. In fact, some feel that tougher cuts of steak have more flavor, even if they are harder to chew and swallow.
Regardless, toughness takes away from the satisfaction quotient that tender cuts of steak often give the person eating it.
So, does steak tenderness influence the taste?
It truly is a matter of preference, but most people do prefer tender steak cuts over tougher meat.
What happens before the steak gets on the market has a big effect on taste and tenderness.
To determine the most tender steak cuts, it helps to have some background about the anatomy of a steer.
When a steer is being prepared to be broken down for beef, it has to be “dressed” first.
Dressing beef involves the complete process of preparing the cow for distribution and sale.
Preharvesting, stripping hide, removing organs, and sectioning parts for beef cuts are all part of preparing the animal for restaurants and other markets.
It’s an extremely regulated and technical process that involves various steps and techniques.
However, all of that careful preparation is necessary in order to provide beef to consumers that is safe and delicious to eat.
It’s also a massive industry.
In 2020, there were more than 27 billion pounds of beef produced in the U.S. alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
While all 50 states produce beef cattle, a handful of states are top producers of steak-producing cattle.
According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, these states (ranked in order) include:
- Texas (13.1 million)
- Nebraska (6.85 million)
- Kansas (6.5 million)
- Oklahoma (5.3 million)
- California (5.15 million)
So, if you’ve ever heard of eponymous companies like Omaha Steak and Texas Roadhouse, both are based in states that have earned some major bragging rights about tender steak cuts.
Calm Cattle Provide More Tender Steak
Did you know that calm cattle provide the most tender steaks?
Before slaughter, handlers that aspire to offer consumers tender beef pay special attention to the cattle’s stress levels.
When a cow is stressed, it can fall and sustain bruises that negatively impact the quality of meat.
Fear and stress also raise adrenaline levels in cattle, inducing muscle contractions that can make beef much tougher than it should be.
Constant exposure to stress hormones can cause muscle tissue to degrade, resulting in beef that has a subpar flavor or completely losing its taste.
So, if you’re on the hunt for tender steak cuts, you might want to source them from a ranch that practices humane animal husbandry.
Make sure those succulent cuts of steak are coming from some chill and relaxed cattle.
Is Steak Still Worth Buying If It’s Less Tender?
If you’re on a budget and can’t splurge on expensive steak cuts, there’s good news for you! Almost any steak cut can become tender with adequate preparation and time.
Steak with more connective tissue will be tougher, of course. However, you can take measures to break down connective tissue and turn those tough cuts into tender portions of succulent steak.
Some tricks you can use include:
Use Acidic Marinades
You can use liquids like vinegar or lemon juice to break down connective tissue and make tough steak much more tender.
Slow Cook Meat
Salt and Let It Sit
Salting is another way to break down tough tissue and a perfect way to flavor those steak cuts.
Break Out the Mallet
If you have a meat mallet, use it to pound the cut. Not only will it help reduce toughness, but it can also thin meat and allow for extra servings.
If you don’t have a mallet, you can use a rolling pin or something else solid that’s easy to clean.
FAQs about Tender Steak Cuts
Which cut of steak is most tender?
The most tender cut of steak is the tenderloin steak, which is lean and renowned for its delicate, butter-like texture and thick cut. These delectable steaks are so tender that they can be easily sliced with a butter knife. Tenderloin steaks are also commonly referred to as filets or filet mignon.
What steak is closest to filet mignon?
The steak that is closest to filet mignon is the tapered end of the Tenderloin, which is the most tender and will yield steaks that are similar to pre-cut Filet Mignon. It is important to note that the preparation should be the same for all the filets.
What is the best cut of steak that isn’t chewy?
The least chewy and most tender cuts of steak include the tenderloin (which is where the filet mignon comes from), the rib area (which is where ribeye and prime rib come from), and the short loin area (which is where the New York strip comes from).
Which steak is more tender ribeye or New York strip?
The ribeye steak is more tender than the New York strip due to its higher fat content and marbling. The New York strip, being a leaner cut with less fat, can be tougher in texture compared to the ribeye. Additionally, the ribeye offers a richer flavor profile because of its increased fat content.
What is the most buttery steak?
The most buttery steak is the Filet Mignon, which is derived from the tenderloin steak located under the ribs of the cow. This cut is thicker than most steaks, yet remains lean and compact. Its unique flavor and tender texture set it apart from other beef cuts.
Are ribeye steaks tender?
Ribeye steaks are indeed tender. They are boneless cuts obtained from the rib section of beef cattle, while rib steaks are bone-in ribeyes. This cut of meat is known for its tenderness, as it contains more marbling compared to other cuts. To ensure optimal cooking, the USDA suggests reaching an internal temperature of 145°F when preparing ribeye steaks.
What is the best cut of steak at a steakhouse?
The best cut of steak at a steakhouse is the Filet Mignon, known as the King of Tenderness. Other delicious options include the Rib Eye, a succulent cut, the New York Strip, an iconic strip steak, and the T-bone or Porterhouse, which are favorites among meat lovers. The Hanger is also a perfectly cut option, while the Sirloin is a great choice for dining. Lastly, the Flat Iron is an affordable cut that still delivers great flavor.
What is America’s favorite cut of steak?
America’s favorite cut of steak is the Filet Mignon, which is renowned as the “Aristocrat of Tenderness.” This particular cut is highly regarded for its tender texture and subtle taste, making it the most easily enjoyed among all steak cuts.
What is the most high quality steak?
The most high quality steak is typically considered to be Japanese Kobe beef, Japanese Wagyu beef, American Wagyu beef, filet mignon, and beef tenderloin. These cuts are renowned for their exceptional quality and are often priced at the higher end due to their coveted textures and overall excellence.
Is a New York strip better than a ribeye?
A ribeye offers a more exquisite and intense flavor, as well as tenderness, due to its higher marbling content. While the New York strip is still a fantastic steak, the ribeye slightly surpasses it in terms of flavor and texture quality.
What is the king of steak cuts?
The king of steak cuts is Filet Mignon, renowned for its exceptional tenderness and exquisite, buttery taste. Derived from the tenderloin, situated beneath the cow’s spine, this cut remains incredibly tender due to the limited usage of this muscle throughout the cow’s life.
What is the most expensive cut of steak?
The most expensive cut of steak is typically the Japanese Kobe steak, known for its exceptional marbling and considered the finest in the world. With rigorous grading procedures and a limited supply of only 3,000 cattle meeting the criteria for authentic Kobe beef each year, it is no wonder that this option comes with a hefty price tag.
Is filet mignon the best steak?
Filet mignon is not necessarily the best steak; it ultimately depends on personal preferences. However, filet mignon is often favored by steak enthusiasts due to its exceptional tenderness, which pairs perfectly with sophisticated, high-quality dishes, making it a popular choice.
Is medium-rare the best steak?
Medium-rare is considered the best steak temperature. The breakdown of myosin and actin, two proteins responsible for muscle contraction in beef, occurs at different temperatures, resulting in a change in texture and flavor of the meat. This is supported by scientific evidence, making medium-rare the preferred choice for enjoying the taste of premium cuts of meat.
What is the best steak for beginners?
The best steak for beginners is ribeye and strip steak, as they are slightly thicker cuts that can achieve a dark char from the heat while maintaining a pink, medium-rare center. These cuts are a great starting point for beginners because the grill imparts a delightful flavor on any cut of steak, but ribeye and strip steak are particularly beginner-friendly.
What is the least tough steak cut?
The least tough steak cut is the tenderloin, also known as the source of filet mignon steak. It possesses a delicate, lean, and tender texture, resembling that of butter. Due to its minimal exertion, it never becomes tough or fibrous.
Which is more tender ribeye or sirloin?
The ribeye steak is generally more tender compared to the sirloin steak due to its abundant marbling that is evenly distributed throughout the ribeye. However, the tenderness of the steak primarily depends on the cooking method employed. To achieve a more tender sirloin steak, it is recommended to cook it slowly at a lower temperature.
What is the toughest steak to eat?
The toughest steak to eat is flank steak due to its location on the abdomen. Flank steaks are tougher because of the constant exercise the muscle undergoes when the steer walks or turns its body. The strenuous activity of the muscle is visible in a cut of flank steak.
What is the least fatty but tender steak?
The least fatty but tender steak is the Tenderloin (Eye fillet). This cut of beef has minimal intramuscular fat, making it incredibly tender. It is highly sought after due to its tenderness and is a great choice for cooking with medium marbling and without any external fats.
What is the second most tender cut of steak?
The second most tender cut of steak is the Flat Iron steak, which is derived from the chuck subprimal of the animal. It is highly regarded as a remarkably tender option, comparable to the ribeye.
What is the best cut of steak not chewy?
The least chewy and most tender cuts of steak include the tenderloin (where the filet mignon comes from), the rib area (where ribeye and prime rib come from), and the short loin area (where the New York strip comes from).
What breaks down tough steak?
The breakdown of tough steak can be achieved by incorporating acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, or buttermilk. These ingredients not only enhance the flavor but also tenderize the proteins in the meat, providing a preliminary cooking process prior to grilling.
Why is my ribeye steak so chewy?
Your ribeye steak is chewy because the fat and protein content of the meat undergoes a transformation during the cooking process, resulting in the loss of moisture that contributes to tenderness.
Is medium-rare steak chewy?
Medium-rare steak is not chewy. It is cooked to a tender and well-cooked state, providing just the right amount of flavor. High-quality meat cooked to medium-rare will be delicious and easy to chew, with a light pink center and charred brown exterior.
What is the easiest steak?
The easiest steak to cook at home is the filet mignon, as it is the most tender. However, ribeye is also a great option. This recipe works well with any type of steak cut.
What is the most tender lean meat?
The most tender lean meat is the Chateaubriand Tenderloin Roast, which is renowned for its succulence and leanness.
What is the best cut of steak for someone who doesn’t like fat?
The best cut of steak for someone who doesn’t like fat is a filet mignon, New York strip, or top sirloin. It is important to choose USDA Choice or better to ensure tenderness. Additionally, experimenting with various steaks and preparation methods at Rube’s will help you discover your preferred cut.
Does fat make a steak more tender?
The presence of fat in a steak enhances its tenderness. Intramuscular fats, found within and surrounding the muscle fibers, act as a lubricant for the fibers and fibrils. This lubrication contributes to a more tender and juicy steak, intensifying the perception of tenderness. Consequently, tenderness and juiciness are closely linked.