All good steaks need a little bit of fat in order to give them the proper texture. Even when preparing naturally lean cuts like tenderloin, most chefs will add bacon or butter to prevent the meat from turning out too dry.
However, if the fat doesn’t render properly, it will give the steak a stringy, chewy texture. Here’s our ultimate guide on how to render fat on steak.
How To Render Fat on Steak
When you sear a steak over medium-high heat and allow it to cook to medium rare, the intramuscular fat known as marbling should melt into the surrounding meat. There may be some wider strips of fat left behind, but these will contribute to the taste and texture of the steak as well.
What Are The Fattiest Steak Cuts?
Though all red meat contains at least some fat, not all steaks are created equally in this regard. Some cuts are much fattier than others. A single steak may contain as little as 10 grams or as much as 40 grams of fat, which is quite a broad spectrum.
As a rule, the fattier the cut is, the better it tastes. Lean cuts, such as the aforementioned filet mignon or eye of round, don’t have a great deal of beef flavor. The fat imbues the meat with richness, improving the flavor as well as the texture.
The ribeye, which comes from the rib primal, is likely the fattiest cut of steak you’ll find. It contains plenty of marbling, which is another term for intramuscular fat—those thin white ribbons you’ll see running throughout the cut.
In fact, a ribeye steak consists of multiple fat layers, all of which help to keep the meat juicy and tender as it cooks. These steaks are excellent when grilled over medium-high heat, but you can also roast them in the oven to great effect.
T-Bone and Porterhouse
Though the terms T-bone and porterhouse are often used interchangeably, there’s actually a quantifiable distinction between the two.
Both of these steaks are cut from the short loin and are characterized by a T-shaped bone running through the center, which divides the strip from the tenderloin. The T-bone is typically taken from the front portion of the loin, while butchers cut the porterhouse further down.
In order to qualify as a porterhouse, the steak needs to have a section of tenderloin that measures at least 1.25 inches across at its widest point. If the tenderloin segment measures .51 to 1.24 inches, then the steak is a T-bone.
What if there’s a portion of tenderloin on the opposite side of the bone, but it measures less than .51 inches? In this case, the steak should be labeled as a bone-in strip steak.
The strip portion of these steaks should contain plenty of marbling to give the meat more flavor. While the tenderloin portion is much leaner, these steaks still have a great deal of fat on them, especially around the edges.
New York Strip
The muscles of the strip steak itself don’t see a great deal of action during the cow’s lifetime. As such, the meat is tender yet fatty, with an impressive amount of marbling.
The New York strip doesn’t contain as much fat as the ribeye, and it’s usually trimmed down more than the T-bone. Nonetheless, it’s fatty and flavorful enough to earn a spot on our list.
How To Render Fat on Steak
For the purposes of this experiment, we used a ribeye, which has a higher fat content than the competition. But you can replicate the process when you want to render the fat on just about any thick-cut steak.
To begin, remove the steaks from the refrigerator about 30-45 minutes before you plan to start cooking to promote even browning. Don’t leave them out at room temperature for any longer than 2 hours, though, or the meat will no longer be safe to consume.
There’s another reason why you shouldn’t start with meat that’s been taken straight out of the fridge: the cold steak won’t allow the fat to melt. Your goal is to wind up with perfectly rendered fat and tender, juicy steak.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Sometimes, retailers will soak the meat in brine to extend its shelf life and improve its appearance. If there’s too much water in the meat, it will steam and turn gray instead of developing a nice brown crust. It will also prevent the fat from rendering properly.
You should choose a cooking method that will allow any rendered fat to collect without pooling beneath the steak. Otherwise, the meat will be fried instead of grilled or seared, which will affect the texture.
Grilling is the preferred method for fatty steaks like ribeye. Alternatively, you can use a broiler pan with a rack. When searing steak in a skillet, make sure it’s large enough to allow the rendered fat to move away from the steak itself.
Grill, broil, or sear the steak using medium-high heat. When you do this properly, the Maillard reaction will kick in. That’s what gives the steak its crisp, golden brown, caramelized exterior.
Visually, the Maillard reaction is useful because it only occurs at temperatures exceeding 250 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough to melt the saturated fat that solidifies at room temperature.
Most premium steaks are at their best when cooked to medium rare. Take the meat off the heat when the internal temperature hits the 125-degree mark, then set it aside to allow the temperature to rise another 5 to 10 degrees.
Note that while the marbling should melt away into the surrounding muscle, there may also be broader strips of fat around the edges—or, in the case of the ribeye steak, in between the muscle sections themselves. These won’t melt away entirely, so you’ll need to work around them when eating.
How To Render Beef Tallow
What if you have a supply of trimmed beef fat on your hands, and you want to turn it into tallow? This is a slightly different process, as you might imagine. Fortunately, it’s not a complicated one.
When you render fat, you cook it slowly over low heat until it reverts to a liquid state. After the fat solidifies once more, it will have a softer texture—reminiscent of butter.
You can use beef tallow when searing steaks, stir-frying meat and vegetables, or making homemade pie crusts. It’s also excellent when smeared on fresh bread with a bit of salt—much like butter, but with a subtle beef flavor.
To render the fat from a steak or large cut of beef, cut it into small pieces. You might need to put it in the freezer for a while first so it doesn’t stick to the knife.
Set the pieces in a pan, then place the pan over a burner set to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has melted completely. Set aside.
Once the rendered fat has cooled slightly, remove it to an airtight container with a lid. Cover and store in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to use it.
The Bottom Line
We’re conditioned to think of fat as a bad thing, but without it, beef would be boring and tasteless. Why else would we add it to otherwise delectable steaks like tenderloin? When the natural marbling in a steak like ribeye is allowed to render properly, the results are incomparably delicious.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!