If you’re a BBQ lover like me, there’s a good chance you also appreciate a good hearty cut of red meat. That brings us to the great debate: T-bone vs porterhouse steak.
While both of these cuts have plenty of merit, there are distinct differences between the two that might affect which one you choose. Even if you’re already familiar with both T-bone and porterhouse, some of these differences might surprise you.
T-Bone vs Porterhouse
A porterhouse is technically a T-bone steak, but the terms aren’t interchangeable. The term “T-bone” refers to a cut from the short loin that has a T-shaped bone running through it. The porterhouse falls into this category, but in order to be classified as such, the steak has to have a sizable piece of the tenderloin included as well.
T-Bone and Porterhouse: A Closer Look
Both of these cuts come from the short loin, just behind the animal’s ribcage. While both of them are also characterized by a T-shaped bone that runs through the center, the porterhouse is cut from the rear, which means it includes a sizable piece of the tenderloin in addition to the strip steak. This earns it the label of “composite steak,” as it contains meat from both the sirloin and the tenderloin.
T-bone steaks, meanwhile, are typically cut from the section closer to the front of the cow. These are usually sliced to about 1 inch thick, but it’s not unusual to see cuts that are slightly thicker, particularly in restaurants. T-bone steaks still contain a portion of the tenderloin, but the larger strip steak—located on the opposite side of the bone—is the star of the show. Therefore, although all porterhouse steaks can technically be called T-bones, the two aren’t interchangeable.
The easiest way for casual shoppers to tell the difference between the two is to look at the size of the cut. For obvious reasons, a porterhouse will be larger, with more meat located on the tenderloin side of the bone.
Conversely, the filet of a T-bone measures below the 1.25-inch threshold. Otherwise, it would qualify as a porterhouse. It does, however, have to measure at least a quarter of an inch thick, or it doesn’t count as a T-bone. Sirloin steaks that contain the bone but less than a quarter-inch of filet are usually marketed as bone-in sirloin, NY strip, or club steaks.
According to the USDA, the filet section of the T-bone must be at least 1.25 inches thick if it’s to be classified as a porterhouse. This measurement is taken from the bone to the filet’s widest point. As you might imagine, this means that porterhouse steaks are often quite large. It’s not uncommon to find 48-ounce versions (or even larger) on the menus of high-end steakhouses. Cuts in the 24 to 48 ounce range are typically advertised as a serving for two.
Porterhouse steaks are prized not only for their generous size, but for the variety they offer. Diners who crave both the beefy flavor of the sirloin and the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the tenderloin don’t have to choose between the two when they select this cut.
A Brief History of the Porterhouse
The origin of the name “T-bone” is self-explanatory, clearly derived from the shape of the bone that divides the strip and the filet. The etymology behind “Porterhouse,” however, is more difficult to pin down.
There are several theories surrounding the origins of this unusual moniker. One of the more popular versions involves the use of the term “Porterhouse” to describe eateries that were famous for serving porter, a type of strong beer. However, while these restaurants were popular in the mid-18th century, the word wasn’t used to describe steak on menus until nearly a century later.
Another theory revolves around a man named Zachariah Porter, who owned and operated a hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The hotel was called, of course, Porter’s, and its proprietor was said to have likewise named the cut of meat after himself. Another hotel, this one located in Georgia, is also said to be the place where the name originated.
However, the Oxford English Dictionary offers a different, yet similar explanation. In the early 19th century, a man named Martin Morrison began serving extra-large T-bones at his Manhattan restaurant, which was also called the Porter House. Because this explanation works best with the timeline, it’s likely that this is the true story behind the name.
T-Bone vs Porterhouse Steak: Exploring The Differences
Besides the obvious variances we’ve mentioned, porterhouse and T-bone have numerous other characteristics that set the two apart from one another.
Which cut is less expensive: the T-bone or the porterhouse? There’s no easy answer. In this category, a number of factors come into play: how large the steaks are, the grade and quality of the meat, the aging process, and the vendor, to name just a few.
First, note that if the steak is marked USDA Prime, it will be more expensive than Choice or Select cuts. Red meat lovers will already know this—it’s true of all steak cuts. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get a decent steak at a lower grade, just that the quality of Prime beef is typically better, and therefore carries a higher price tag.
The fact that Porterhouse steaks contain a greater portion of the sought-after filet will usually give them a higher per-pound cost than T-bones. To make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, take a look at the size of the filet section. It might be thick enough to qualify as a porterhouse in one area, but there’s no rule that states it has to be this thick throughout. Steer clear of cuts that are noticeably skimpy on the filet side of the bone.
As a final note, remember that meat purchased from a specialty shop is likely to be more expensive than a steak from the supermarket display case. On the plus side, however, the butcher will be able to trim the steak to your specifications.
Seasoned grilling aficionados know that the T-bone steak is a natural partner for the smoke and sizzle of the grill. The sirloin portion of the steak is generously marbled with fat, which helps to keep the meat juicy and flavorful. Although the tenderloin is far leaner, the bone helps to preserve flavor and moisture to that segment as well. As a bonus, the bone itself acts as a nifty handle to grab onto with the tongs when it’s time to flip the steak.
T-bone steak should be simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled rapidly over high heat. This will help to lock in the juices. A light coating of neutral oil (such as canola) might be required to keep the meat from sticking to the cooking grates. Also, remember to keep the leaner tenderloin segment toward the cooler section of the grill. The meat will cook through more quickly than the strip portion and become unpleasantly dry if it’s left over direct heat for too long.
Preparing a porterhouse requires a bit more time and effort. Although grilling is certainly an option, it’s better suited to the stovetop, where you can heat a cast iron skillet to a fiercely hot temperature before slapping on the steak. This initial sear will give the tenderloin a nice char on the exterior, while keeping the inside nice and tender.
As with the T-bone, the seasonings should be kept simple—coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper should do the trick. Because the steak is larger, a porterhouse will take longer to cook than a T-bone, depending on how you’d like it cooked. Remember that tenderloin steaks are at their best when served rare to medium-rare, so try not to go past 135 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Take a look at this video tutorial for a visual demonstration on preparing porterhouse steak in a cast-iron skillet.
Both T-bone and porterhouse steaks can be enhanced with a pat or two of butter as soon as they come off the heat. If you’d like, you can experiment with different herb butters—a blend of parsley, thyme, and rosemary with a hint of garlic is a nice combination.
All red meat boasts high levels of vitamin B-12, which is beneficial to the immune system. Because it also contains generous levels of iron, it also promotes the health of the red blood cells, helping to prevent conditions like anemia. And let’s not forget the fact that 4 ounces of lean red meat contains 28 grams of protein—a definite benefit for bodybuilders or anyone who’s looking to boost muscle growth.
The T-bone delivers a slightly higher concentration of protein, with about 30 grams contained in the same 4-ounce portion. You’ll also receive heavy doses of riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B-6—more than one-third the daily amount recommended by the USDA.
The downside? The meat is also very high in fat and cholesterol. When you consider the fact that the average T-bone steak may contain between 5 to 12 ounces of edible meat (depending on the size of the cut), eating the entire thing can put you in the danger zone. Try to stick to a 4-ounce serving, which will clock in at around 200 calories and 12 grams of fat.
Although porterhouse steaks contain the same vitamins and minerals as T-bones, their exaggerated size makes them a problematic choice in the eyes of most nutritional experts. A single porterhouse can contain as many as 2,500 calories—and that’s before you’ve added the pat of butter on top.
Fortunately, because of the way the steak is configured, it’s possible to divide the meat into more reasonable portions. If you stick to the filet and save most of the strip steak for a later use (say, as a salad topping), you’ll be consuming a lower concentration of saturated fat than you would with a T-bone.
It goes without saying that you’ll want to choose the best piece of meat you can afford. When it comes to selecting a T-bone or porterhouse steak, there are a couple of ways to go about it.
Take a close look at the steaks you’re considering. If you’ve decided on a T-bone, you might be able to find a cut with a significant portion of filet, even if it doesn’t quite reach the 1.25-inch threshold. This will give you a steak that’s quite similar to a porterhouse at a T-bone price.
Also, be aware of the numbers on the label and what they stand for. If the meat has been certified by the USDA, there will be a code known as the IMPS (Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications) number listed there. The T-bone IMPS code is 1174, while porterhouse is distinguished by the number 1173. Knowing these codes will help you ascertain whether you’re getting the same cut of meat that’s being advertised.
The Bottom Line
So, when it comes down to the great T-bone vs porterhouse steak debate, is one really better than the other? Let’s break it down.
If you’re a fan of the tender, buttery meat that can only be found on the tenderloin, then you’ll be much happier with the porterhouse. Another good time to choose this cut might be when you’re planning on serving two people—a porterhouse is large enough for two people to get their fill, often with some leftovers. Also, because the porterhouse is at its best when seared on a preheated cast iron skillet, it’s a solid choice for nights when grilling isn’t an option.
On the other hand, a T-bone is typically easier on the wallet, owing to its lower concentration of tenderloin and the fact that the cut is smaller than the porterhouse. The strip isn’t as tender as the filet, but it has a beefier flavor and a mouthwateringly juicy texture. If you’ll be dining alone and you’re in the mood to throw a great steak on the grill, a T-bone should fit the bill perfectly.
In the end, the choice is a matter of personal preference. You can’t go wrong with either one—the decision depends on how many people you’re feeding, how much you can afford to spend, and whether you’re craving the fine texture of a filet steak as well as the strong beef flavor of the sirloin.