What Part of the Cow Does Ribeye Come From? A Primer

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Fresh and raw ribeye

To some grilling aficionados, ribeye is the king of all steaks. Its robust flavor is only enhanced by the smoky kiss of the grill, and the texture is just tender enough without crossing the line into mushiness.

Still, even steak lovers might not know the precise origins of the ribeye, or how its location contributes to the taste sensation we all know so well. What part of the cow does ribeye come from, and why does it matter?

What Part of the Cow Does Ribeye Come From?

Ribeye comes from the rib section of the cow, between ribs 6 and 12. It’s composed of two muscles, one of which contains a great deal of fat. The impressive marbling gives this steak high marks in the flavor department. When the cut is sold with the bone in, it may be called either a cowboy steak, a rib steak, or a tomahawk steak.

The Basics

Raw ribeye steak

Ribeye’s origins are actually right there in the name. The steak is cut from the upper rib portion of the steer. Although the boneless version is popular, it’s possible to purchase bone-in ribeye. When the steak is sold with the bone in, it’s called either cowboy steak or rib steak. See below for more information on ribeye’s various aliases.

The rib section is taken from the portion between the 6th and 12th ribs. It’s also quite fatty, more so than many other cuts of beef. It’s this factor that gives ribeye such an intense beef flavor. It also helps the meat remain tender and juicy when it’s cooked at high temperatures.

A ribeye steak is made up of two muscles: the longissimus Dorsi and the spinalis Dorsi. The former comprises the meatier portion of the steak, while the spinalis contains the fat cap.

The cut is typically large, weighing between 9 and 12 ounces and measuring 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick. If it’s cut any thinner, the meat will cook too quickly, and the last thing you want is to ruin a good ribeye by overcooking it.

Dry-heat cooking methods, such as grilling, are ideal for ribeye because the fat cap doesn’t contain any interconnective tissue. Therefore, the fat melts into the surrounding meat fibers instead of toughening up. Since bone-in ribeye has a pocket of additional fat, some chefs believe that this version has even more flavor than the boneless kind.

What To Look For When Buying Ribeye

The meat should be bright red with a broad ribbon of creamy white fat that collects in a knob toward the center. Depending on how it was trimmed, there may also be an exterior layer of fat lining one edge.

The marbling should also be white in color, appearing as small lines or flecks across the surface of the meat. A slight browning on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean the ribeye is spoiled, but it should still be red when it’s displayed in the butcher case. Otherwise, it might mean that this particular cut has been sitting there for a while.

If you choose to buy ribeye steak online, there are a few quality purveyors out there. Some of them even allow you to check the provenance of the cuts you’re buying. Snake River Farms, Omaha Steaks, and Holy Grail Steak Co. are all good bets.

Ribeye Platter

Other Names For Ribeye

The most common name for this cut refers to the fact that it comes from the rib section and contains the central muscle of the rib known as the “eye.” However, most cuts of meat go by more than one name, and ribeye is no exception.

You might see a ribeye steak packaged and sold as a Delmonico, owing to the New York restaurant which sold and popularized this cut in the 1800s. However, a steak with the Delmonico label might not be a true ribeye, so don’t trust this designation without checking with the butcher first.

When traveling through Australia and New Zealand, you could come across a steak called the Scotch fillet. This is the local term for ribeye, though it’s rare to hear it anywhere else in the world.

We mentioned the cowboy steak designation, but it earns this moniker only if it’s a bone-in cut. The bone should also be french-trimmed to make it look nicer on the plate. Cowboy steaks are also typically larger and thicker than traditional ribeyes.

The tomahawk steak is the next step up from a cowboy steak, size-wise. In order to earn this moniker, the bone needs to measure longer than 5 inches. Because this gives the steak an ax-like appearance, it’s called a tomahawk steak. This is one of the largest steaks on the market, often weighing between 30 and 60 ounces.

Uses For Ribeye

Ribeye is best when it’s allowed to be the star of the meal, perhaps alongside a baked potato and a green salad. Right after you take it off the grill, try topping it with a pat of herb butter. As the meat rests, the butter will melt across the surface, giving the ribeye additional flavor and moisture.

Unlike some other cuts like sirloin and filet mignon, ribeye isn’t a good fit for salads or sandwiches. The amount of marbling in the meat makes it hard to carve into uniform slices that will present themselves well on the plate.

Tips On Preparing Ribeye

Grilled steak Ribeye with herb butter

1. Let the steak sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking.

2. Keep the seasonings simple. We like to use a combination of Worcestershire sauce and Lawry’s seasoning salt. Save the pepper for the table, as it can burn at high temperatures, lending the steak a bitter flavor.

3. Try to cook the steak on a grill or smoker. This will yield the best results. If you need to cook it indoors, use a cast-iron skillet and make sure it’s nice and hot before you add the ribeye.

4. Keep an eye on the grill while the ribeye is cooking. Because of the high fat content, the open flames pose a flare-up risk.

5. Cook the steak to medium, or at least medium-rare. If you serve it too rare, the fat won’t have time to render, which will affect the texture.

6. Rest the meat for 10 minutes, topping it with a pat of herb butter before tenting it with foil.

7. Slice the meat against the grain before serving.

Final Thoughts

Ribeye comes from a portion of the steer that contains plenty of fat, making for a juicy and full-flavored steak experience. There’s a reason why it’s so popular with grilling enthusiasts–and steak lovers in general.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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