Need to beef up your knowledge of the best steak cuts before your next trip to the meat section of the supermarket? Follow this guide for some rare — and well done — advice.
Every delicious steak you’ve ever enjoyed eating started with a good cut of meat. But picking that perfect cut can be overwhelming — supermarkets are flooded with options, and it’s not as straightforward as simply choosing the one with the highest price tag. Each cut has different qualities, and the right cut for you will rarely be the most expensive one.
That’s a good thing, of course — as long as you know what to look for.
The best cuts of beef for steak
Eye Fillet (aka Fillet or Tenderloin)
A classic cut, the eye fillet comes from the strip of muscle tucked against the backbone of the animal. (Filet mignon, widely referred to as the crème de la crème of steaks, is cut from the very tip of the tenderloin.)
Because this muscle doesn’t do much work, this is the most tender cut of beef — which also makes it the most expensive, and arguably the most desirable.
We say ‘arguably’ because, while the eye fillet is supremely lean and a favourite of those who love their steak to melt in their mouth, it can also be bland and flavourless. It has none of the intramuscular fat, or marbling, that gives other cuts their rich taste, which is why the sauce you pair it with is often the most flavoursome thing about this cut.
The eye fillet is a subjectively delicious cut with an objectively high price tag. Whether it’s worth the money for you will depend on how much you value tenderness over flavour — it’s in the eye of the beholder.
Scotch Fillet (aka Ribeye)
This cut, from the rib section of the animal, comes with an abundance of rich marbling, which makes it one of the most flavoursome steaks you can get.
The Scotch fillet isn’t quite as tender as the eye fillet, and won’t give you that same ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ feeling, but it is still one of the more tender cuts available, while offering a superior taste because of its ample fat content.
Although the names refer to the same cut of meat, there is an important difference between a Scotch fillet and a ribeye. The Scotch fillet is cooked with the bone removed, while the ribeye is cooked with the bone in. While eating around the bone can make it slightly harder to tackle this cut with a knife and fork, the bone does provide extra moisture and fat that will make your meal even more delectable.
Sirloin (aka Porterhouse or New York Steak)
Sirloin comes from the hindquarter of the animal, and is lean, tender, flavoursome and juicy. It’s essentially the Goldilocks of steak cuts — it’s not quite as tender as the tenderloin, or loaded with quite as much flavour as the Scotch fillet, but for many steak lovers, it’s just right.
The best part is that because this all-rounder has a bit more chew and a bit less marbling than those cuts, it also tends to be less expensive than them. Talk about a crowd-pleaser.
There are very few downsides to the sirloin — just keep in mind that because it tends to be on the lean side, it can easily fall prey to overcooking.
Can’t decide between the sirloin and the eye fillet? Well, why not both? The T-bone is cut with striploin on one side of a t-shaped bone, and eye fillet on the other side. It’s the perfect choice for people who don’t like to choose.
With two very different textures and flavours — the tenderness of the fillet on one side, and the juiciness of the sirloin on the other side — the T-bone offers the best of both worlds. It does tend to be on the higher end of the price spectrum, however, and since you’re essentially cooking two different types of steak at the same time, it can also be more difficult to cook. Generally, the fillet will cook faster than the sirloin, because it has less fat, and on either side, the meat closer to the bone will be slower to cook than the rest of the steak.
It all adds up to make the T-bone a great choice next time you’re at your local steakhouse, but a challenge for novice chefs.
A traditional pub favourite, rump steak comes from — you guessed it — the rear end of the animal.
Rump tends to be tougher in texture than, say, an eye fillet. You might even notice a difference from one end of your rump steak to the other, because it’s actually a cross-section of three different muscles, resulting in varying degrees of tenderness in the same cut.
For these reasons, rump will rarely be a favourite of chefs at high-end restaurants, but it is a full-flavoured cut that tends to be quite large in size, so you get plenty of bang for your buck.
Fun fact — in France, rump steak is commonly known as ‘culotte’, which literally translates to ‘panties’ or ‘underwear’.
Onglet (aka Hanger)
Cut from the lower belly of the beast, onglet hangs from the diaphragm (hence its alternative name).
Something of a hidden gem, this cut has also been known as ‘The Butcher’s Cut’, because savvy butchers would keep it for themselves rather than sell it. Relatively tender and packed with beefy flavour, it has grown in popularity as the butchers’ secret has spread, but still tends to be more affordable than more famous cuts like the eye fillet and Scotch fillet.
The onglet isn’t a pretty sight when it’s taken right from the cow, as it comes wrapped in tough gristle and silverskin, but most butchers will sell it trimmed — unless, of course, they’re trying to keep their secret.
Taken from the portion of the diaphragm muscle on the underside of the short plate, skirt is a thick-grained cut best suited to those who prioritise flavour over tenderness.
Your average skirt cut is unlikely to take home any awards from steak lovers, but it has its charms. To minimise the toughness of this inexpensive steak while still making the most of its generous flavour, your best bet is to marinate it before grilling or pan-searing it as quickly as possible.
Cut from the well-exercised abdominal muscles of the steer, flank steak is loaded with connective tissue — so, like skirt, it is packed with flavour at the expense of tenderness.
While it might be tempting to turn your nose up at this one because of its tough texture, a skilled home cook can still get a tasty steak out of this cut with a marinade to tenderise it. Just don’t cook it for too long, or you could be in for a challenging chew.
Flat-iron (aka Feather)
A relatively recent addition to the steak lexicon, flat-iron is cut from the oyster blade, which is connected to the animal’s shoulder blade.
Flat-iron requires some skill on the part of the butcher to prepare, but once they’ve removed the surrounding silverskin and sinew, you’re left with a well-marbled cut that’s both delicious and tender.
If you’re a newcomer to cooking steak, and you’re looking for a lean cut with hearty beef flavour and a pleasant texture but you don’t want to risk burning a gourmet fillet, the flat-iron is a fantastic option.
This article was originally published on 4 February 2020 and updated on 4 August 2021.