Welcome to the world of grilling! You’re in for a delicious and rewarding adventure, and one that will teach you valuable life skills.
For one: Just what part of the cow does steak come from? And how does this affect the texture and flavor? We’re here to tell you everything you need to know.
What Part Of The Cow Does Steak Come From?
A steak is a piece of beef that’s cut perpendicular to the grain, which are visible striations in the muscle. There are some exceptions to this, but in general, a steak can come from a variety of different sections of the steer.
In general, the term steak refers to a cut of beef that has been cut against the grain of the muscle.
If you’re wondering what the grain is, take a close look at a piece of beef. You should be able to see subtle lines running in a single direction throughout the cut. That’s the muscle grain.
A steak doesn’t come from one specific portion of the cow. In fact, steaks are cut from many different sections. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, too, which can lead to some tough decisions at the butcher counter.
You can cook steak using a number of techniques: pan-searing, broiling, or grilling. We’re partial to the latter method, as you may have guessed from the name of this website. The beef benefits greatly from exposure to an open flame, providing a nice counterpoint to its natural sweetness.
Types Of Steak
In this section, we’ll discuss some of the most popular steak cuts, pointing out which section of the cow they’re cut from.
The ribeye is cut from the rib section, hence the name. If you’ve ever eaten prime rib, you’ve enjoyed beef from the rib region before. When the butcher carves the meat into steaks, however, the resulting cut is called a ribeye.
This is a fatty cut of steak, which contributes to its rich, beefy flavor. Price-wise, it’s not as expensive as tenderloin, but it’s not a budget cut, either. Ribeye is popular with grillers and is a big hit at barbecues.
The strip steak comes from the loin primal, which is located on the upper spinal region of the animal. Because this particular spinal muscle doesn’t get much of a workout, the meat is lean and tender. As a result, the meat is not as flavorful as ribeye.
When you purchase a strip steak, you may be getting a portion of the tenderloin as well (see below). If the tenderloin segment has been removed, the steak may be labeled a “shell strip.” Other aliases for this cut include “club steak,” “New York strip,” and “ambassador steak.”
The leanest and most tender cut of them all, the tenderloin comes from the portion of the cow known as psoas major, the muscle that connects the spine to the hip. Again, since this muscle doesn’t get much exercise, the meat has an almost buttery texture.
The tenderloin muscle is cut into steaks that go by several different names. Filet mignon may be cut from any portion of the tenderloin, though some butchers reserve this name for steaks taken from the smaller tapered end.
Beef tournedos are also cut from the tapered section of the tenderloin. Because of their diminutive size, restaurants often serve tournedos in portions of 2 or 3.
A chateaubriand is the thick center portion of the tenderloin. This cut is usually roasted and served as the centerpiece on special occasions.
Note that the butcher might label the steaks simply as “tenderloin” or “beef fillet steaks.” The terms are pretty much interchangeable, all referring to steaks that are cut from the tenderloin.
When grilling tenderloin, try not to cook it too far past medium-rare. The delicate texture of the steak will suffer if it’s overcooked.
Depending on where the cut was made, a sirloin steak may be referred to as “top sirloin” or “bottom sirloin.” The section comes from an area around the rear legs, running from the top to the flank (see below). Steaks from the upper section may be labeled as top sirloin.
This steak is cut from the belly region, below the sirloin and just in front of the rear legs. It has a highly visible grain and a vaguely rectangular appearance.
Flank steak is excellent when cooked on the grill, but you need to be sure to slice it across the grain. Otherwise, every bite will be stringy and tough.
A porterhouse consists of the top loin and the tenderloin, all attached by a portion of bone. As such, it’s a large and expensive cut, popular on restaurant menus.
Steak aficionados love porterhouse because it combines the best of both worlds. You get the tender texture of the tenderloin along with the superior flavor of the top loin. Like the tenderloin, this steak is best when cooked to rare or medium-rare.
As you may have guessed, the rump is located in the rear of the cow. The meat is lean, with a minimal amount of the intramuscular fat known as marbling. However, there is a layer of exterior fat that makes the cut a good choice for roasting.
Top round comes from the round primal, and has decent beef flavor despite its lean texture. It’s the most tender part of the round, which makes it ideal for grilling.
The tomahawk steak is distinguished by the long bone that protrudes from one end. The cut is taken from the rib primal, so it’s essentially the same steak as a ribeye. The only difference is that the tomahawk still has the rib bone attached, which is what gives it its name.
Some pitmasters prefer the tomahawk to the ribeye because the bone helps keep the meat nice and moist during cooking. It’s a rich and flavorful cut that requires minimal seasoning–just kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper should be sufficient.
You might see this steak labeled by the name of its muscle, which is teres major. Restaurant menus also use the term bistro steak to refer to this excellent cut of meat.
The teres major connects the shoulder blade to the front shoulder of the steer. It’s a relatively small cut, so it takes a skilled butcher to procure it. That’s why this steak can be so difficult to find.
In terms of texture, the shoulder petite steak has a texture that’s slightly more toothsome than tenderloin, but has a superior beef flavor. We would recommend buying this cut whenever you can get your hands on it.
The hanger steak takes its name from its position in the steer, which “hangs” between the loin and the rib. It may also be called the “butcher’s cut,” since butchers used to keep the steak for themselves instead of selling it to the public.
Hanger steak has a slightly chewy texture and a thick grain, with a nice beefy flavor. It also holds up well to marinades, especially teriyaki.
The Bottom Line
Steak can come from many different areas of the cow. Its position will affect the flavor and texture of the meat, so choose wisely. When following recipes, it’s best to stick with whatever cut is suggested. Otherwise, you might wind up with inconsistent results.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!