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Steaks are a bit like golf holes. A ribeye, a NY strip and a skirt steak all share notable similarities, for example, but they’re also distinguished by key factors that render some more desirable than others.
To better understand this hierarchy of beef, we went to Texas. The Lone Star State, after all, is home to more beef cattle than any other state in the country. More specifically, we sought the advice of Chef Miguel Ortiz, who serves as the executive chef at Cap Rock Clubhouse, a members-only dining and entertaining space for Horseshoe Bay Resort’s private club in Texas hill country.
What follows is Chef Ortiz’s ranking of nine popular cuts of beef. Yes, the order of this list is subjective, but any ranking of food is going to be. What isn’t debatable is the best cooking method for each cut. Unless specified below, your best strategy for the following cuts is a quick sear (two to three minutes per side) on a scorching hot grill or in a cast iron skillet that is, in Ortiz’s own words, “screaming hot.”
“This steak has a superior beefy flavor due to the area of the cow it is cut from — the center rib section — and the marbling of fat throughout the meat,” says Ortiz. “The natural fats within this piece of meat act as its own tenderizer, breaking down the proteins for a soft buttery mouthfeel.”
Although equally tender served either rare or medium-rare, Ortiz advocates for medium-rare, as the extra time on the grill or under the broiler (for no more than two and a half minutes per side) produces just enough caramelization to allow the meat to reach its peak flavor.
Whether you choose a Porterhouse or a T-Bone, you’ll be assured of getting great flavor and great texture. The steaks are essentially the same — a combination of tenderloin and top loin (essentially NY strip) separated by a T-shaped bone. The only significant difference between these two steaks is their volume. A Porterhouse will be cut thicker than a T-Bone, and it will feature more of the tenderloin in its ratio of meat. “The bone helps to increase the beef flavor when cooking,” explains Ortiz, who also likes to serve these steaks with a chimichurri sauce, since the added acidity further enhances the meat’s natural flavor.
3. NY Strip
Sourced from the short loin area, a NY Strip Steak is naturally tender with a fat cap that provides a lot of flavor. For those who plan to cook one at home, Ortiz suggests approaching it as if it were a thick T-bone. “You can sear it fairly quickly on a high temperature,” he says, “but it’ll take three minutes on each side because of its thickness. You can also treat it like a filet and finish it in a 500-degree oven for four or five minutes.”
Known for its melt-in-your-mouth texture when properly cooked, a tenderloin filet is, as its name suggests, naturally tender. To prepare it as chefs do, Ortiz recommends grilling or pan searing it for two minutes per side at high heat, then transferring it to a 500-degree oven for another four to five minutes. That will produce restaurant-quality, medium-rare results.
Chateaubriand is a larger tenderloin that’s not cut into individual filets. Again, medium-rare represents this cut’s ideal temperature, and achieving it simply requires about twice as much time in the oven. Like a filet, chateaubriand offers a mild beef flavor, but according to Ortiz, “it can be a little more flavorful because of the longer roasting process and the caramelization that comes from that.”
When it comes to cooking steak at home, London broil using top round sirloin is one of Chef Ortiz’s favorite preparations. It’s a cut of beef that is higher in flavor than filet mignon, albeit with a firmer (though not tough) texture, but it requires more precision.
If you have a high-powered broiler at home, cooking it on high for 2 to 3 minutes each side will produce exceptional results. Alternatively, you can grill it for a couple of minutes per side, so long as you crank up the heat.
“If you cook it rare at a high temperature, it’s absolutely delicious,” says Ortiz. “You’ll be able to tell when it’s done — it’ll form a brown bark of caramelization. Once the outer rim is starting to char, then you know you’re done. Just make sure you cut it against the grain.”
6. Short Rib
Sourced from the midsection of a cow, just below the prime rib and ribeye areas, the short rib delivers incredible flavor and can be equally tender, but only with the right preparations. When sliced thin and quickly seared or grilled at very high temperatures, the short rib can elevate Asian stir-fried dishes. It’s also often a staple of Korean barbecue. In those contexts, marinades or glazes that include pears and pineapples can often assist in tenderizing the meat thanks to an enzyme found in the fruit.
For the average at-home cook, Ortiz recommends the braising method, where the meat is first seared quickly and then cooked in a broth over low heat for several hours. Especially with this method, Ortiz explains that “the meat is going to take on the flavors that you introduce to it.”
Taken from the short plate region of the cow, skirt steak offers a very clean and authentic beef flavor. As Ortiz acknowledges, it’s the cut of beef that is commonly used in a lot of Mexican dishes, especially fajitas. “It can be cooked rare to well-done and it will maintain its tenderness at all temperatures,” he says, “so long as you cut it against the grain.”
The aptly named flank steak (or hanger steak), which is cut from the flank section of the cow just behind the short plate, is thicker than skirt steak, but due to a smaller amount of fat marbling, it won’t be quite as tender or flavorful. Nevertheless, these steaks can be either grilled or seared, so long as you stick to the quick-and-hot strategy.
Sourced from a cow’s sirloin section, tri-tip delivers intense flavor, so much so that Ortiz says it can sometimes have an almost iron-like quality to it. “If cooked medium rare,” he says, “it’s tender but with some bite to it, which makes it good for tacos, salads, and sandwiches.”
If you’re cooking it yourself, Ortiz encourages a strong marinade to mitigate some of the iron undertones. He also recommends a quick, high-temperature sear or grill. “If you cook it quickly — two minutes on each side — you’ll get the perfect tenderness and temperature, but if you overcook it, this steak will definitely be tough.”
Shaun Tolson is a freelance writer based in Rhode Island. When it comes to golf, he covers everything from architecture, course reviews, and travel, to equipment, gadgets and gear, and feature profiles. As a lifestyle writer, his expertise is rooted in the finer things in life — wine and spirits, luxury automobiles, private aviation, hotels & resorts, fine dining, and more.