What’s the Difference Between Beef and Steak? A Guide

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raw beef rib steak with bone

When it comes to grilling, there’s a lot to learn. For instance, are the terms “beef” and “steak” interchangeable? If not, what’s the difference between beef and steak? Our beginner’s guide to red meat should tell you all you need to know.

What’s The Difference Between Beef and Steak?

raw steak with a question mark

Almost all steak is beef, which is red meat from a cow. The specific word “steak,” however, refers to a piece of beef that’s been cut across the grain of the muscle. There are many different types of steak, each with characteristics that are defined by the area from which the meat was cut.

About Beef

Beef is meat that’s obtained from large cattle. Any time you see the word “beef,” you can bet that the meat came from a cow.

Most countries consume large quantities of beef on a regular basis. However, some religions forbid its consumption, as the cow is considered a sacred animal. In parts of India, for example, the slaughter of cows is strictly forbidden.

Although pork and chicken claim the top spots in terms of worldwide meat consumption, beef comes in third. That should tell you all you need to know about its versatility and popularity.

About Steak

raw meat beef steak

To make things simple: While steak almost always falls under the beef category (see Is Steak Beef Or Pork, below), not all beef is steak. Here’s the difference.

Steak can refer to any cut of beef that’s been prepared by cutting across the grain of the animal. There are many types of beef out there—roasts, short ribs, and ground chuck or sirloin, to name a few—but only some can be classified as steak.

When you look at a beef steak, you should be able to see vaguely defined lines running through the meat. Those lines come from the grain of the muscle, and they’re instrumental in creating the ideal texture for the steak in question.

Is Steak Beef Or Pork?

Sometimes, you’ll see the word “steak” used to refer to a cut of pork. For example, pork steak ready shoulder butt is a large cut that’s been prepared so that you can easily cut it into steaks, if desired.

For the most part, however, “steak” refers to beef, while similar cuts of pork are known as “chops.” If you aren’t sure, take a close look at the cut itself. Beef often has a bright red hue, while raw pork comes in various shades of pink.

The meat should also be clearly labeled, which will make it easier to tell whether it’s pork or beef. Ask the butcher or salesperson if you still have doubts.

What Part of The Cow Does The Steak Come From?

different types of steaks

Here’s where things get even more confusing: Steak can be cut from various parts of the cow. It’s an umbrella term, meaning it can be used for a number of different cuts. Many of these steaks have little in common with one another, aside from the fact that they’re all beef.

Here’s a brief tutorial on the primal cuts that are typically used for steak. In these sections, we’ll talk about some of the most popular sub-primal cuts from each one.

Loin

The loin primal is cut from the area around the cow’s spine. This part of the animal doesn’t get a lot of exercise. As a result, the steaks that come from this primal fall on the tender end of the spectrum.

The tenderloin (also known as the filet), which is cut from the psoas major muscle, is the leanest and most tender of all. Its texture is almost buttery. As for flavor, it’s very mild, but cooking it over an open flame can help to offset this minor shortcoming.

Sirloin steak is also taken from the loin, but it’s not quite as soft as tenderloin. It has a bit more beef flavor, though, so it’s a nice choice for the grill.

A porterhouse is a bone-in steak that consists of the top loin as well as the tenderloin. It’s very popular among die-hard carnivores because it combines the tenderness of the filet with the increased flavor of the top loin steak.

The T-bone is also cut from the loin, but since it comes from the area toward the front of the animal, it doesn’t include as much of the tenderloin.

Rib

The most popular steak from the rib primal is the ribeye. This steak is typically cut very thick, and the meat is well-marbled throughout. This gives it a superbly rich beef flavor. Some pitmasters consider ribeye to be the king of the grill.

A tomahawk steak is a ribeye that still has a long, curving segment of bone attached. The resulting steak has the appearance of a tomahawk, which is what gives it its name.

Flank

The flank steak comes from the area around the cow’s belly. It’s characterized by its thick grain and rectangular appearance. The meat can be tough if it’s not prepared right, but cooking it to medium-rare and slicing it against the grain should make it tender to the bite.

Chuck

More than half of the chuck primal is reserved for ground beef, as the meat is well-marbled and has a rich beef flavor. However, there are a few steaks cut from this area. These include the chuck eye, the chuck roll, the clod top blade, and the teres major.

The teres major, which also may be called the shoulder petite steak or bistro steak, is one of our favorite cuts. The meat is tender, but not as buttery as tenderloin, with good flavoring and minimal fat.

Round

Round steaks are usually divided into top, bottom, and eye of the round. Top round steaks can be used for London broil, while the bottom round is usually reserved for corned beef. Meanwhile, eye of the round makes excellent beef jerky.

The Bottom Line

The majority of the time, when people use the word “steak,” they’re talking about beef. However, not all cuts of beef fall under this category. The more you learn about the primal and subprimal cuts, the easier it will be for you to make the distinction.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar

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