Steak is one of the most popular ways to enjoy beef. It’s a classic dish that’s famous all over the world, and with different cuts and methods of cooking, steak lovers can enjoy a variety of flavors every time they dine at their favorite steakhouse.
Personally, I love steak. Even chewy, tough steak. My wife, however, can't stand anything but the most tender, flavorful steaks. So I wanted to so some research to find the most tender cuts of steak out there!
If there’s one thing any steak fan knows, it’s that there are many different cuts in a cow that can be used to make a steak. And because they come from different parts of the cow’s body, they end up having different flavors and textures from one another. Some cuts have soft and tender muscles that melt in your mouth, while other cuts are known for their toughness and leanness.
If you’re new to the whole steak-eating hobby, or you just want to try out some tender steak for yourself, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve listed some of the most popular cuts found in beef and ranked them in order of tenderness (from least to most tender), so you can get an idea of what’s good and what’s not in that regard.
And if you love steak, I recommend trying one of these steak of the month clubs. Why? A lot of times the meat you get from places like SaveMart or other big grocery stories is factory farmed, and not the highest quality.
Steak of the month clubs are well known for having access to the best meats, from the best farms, and they deliver it to your door. You can often choose your cuts (or you can even be surprised!), and there's always deals on bulk orders if you have a freezer and want to get a discount.
Table of Contents
Cuts of Steak By Tenderness
Starting off this list is, to put it nicely, one of the tougher steak cuts on the market. The skirt steak is taken from the diaphragm of the cow (particularly the diaphragm muscle that’s attached to the cow’s 6th and 12th ribs). Both the inside and outside skirt steak varieties come from this area of muscle. It’s also the steak that usually gets confused with flank steak, which is found elsewhere.
One of the defining features of skirt steak is its extreme toughness. The steak is actually covered in a tough membrane that will make the finished product really difficult to eat. It’s recommended that you remove this membrane before cooking to prevent that from happening. Other than its toughness, though, skirt steak actually tastes pretty good. It can be used in many dishes, including Chinese stir fry, fajitas, and Cornish pasties.
One workaround that people use to minimize toughness in skirt steak is by marinating the steak before cooking. That way, it not only becomes easier to eat, but more flavorful as well. Other workarounds include slow cooking, pan-searing quickly, or even braising. It’s also sliced in a way that makes it easy to eat.
Top Sirloin Steak
Sirloin steak is one of the most popular cuts of beef, mainly due to its flexibility as well as its affordability. Coming from the back top of the cow, the sirloin steak is actually a category of steak in its own right, with T-bones, porterhouses, top sirloin, tender sirloin, and more belonging to the group. We’ll be focusing on top sirloin for now, though.
Top sirloin is one of the more affordable cuts among the sirloin steaks. It’s a sirloin steak that has the bone, tenderloin, and bottom muscles taken out. This leaves a steak comprised of both the gluteus medius and biceps femoris, the two remaining muscle groups in the steak.
While top sirloin steak is found really close to the prized tenderloin steak (which we will talk about later), it’s not particularly tender itself. This is because the muscles in the top sirloin steak are actually used quite a bit, and any steak enthusiast will tell you that the more a muscle is used, the tougher it becomes when eaten.
Sirloin is used in many different recipes and is served grilled, pan-fried, broiled, or sautéed. If you plan on buying some top sirloin of your own, it’ll cost you around $5.99 to $7.99 per pound in the U.S.
Round steak is a moderately tough cut of beef. It’s taken from the hind leg portion of the cow, behind the sirloin and flank steaks and above the shank steak. Round steak can be divided further into more specific cuts as well, with each varying in texture.
There are top, bottom, and eye round steaks, which are found in different parts of the round steak itself. You can buy them with or without the femur, the bone that’s connected to the round steak. Occasionally, you’ll also find that the cut may come with the sirloin tip, or “knuckle” as it’s also known as.
While it isn’t very tender, round steak has found massive popularity when cut as rump cover. Rump cover is a special cut that’s made up of round, rump, and loin steaks, and is prized among many South American countries, especially in places such as Brazil and Argentina. Generally, though, round steak has found use as a slice of meat to make smoked beef jerky.
Flank steak is a cut that, as mentioned earlier, is a cut that seems similar to the skirt steak. While both cuts are thin and lean, the flank steak has a few different traits from the skirt. It’s a moderately tough cut that can be found in the abdominal muscles of the cow.
Another key trait of flank steak is the presence of grain (or muscle fiber) in the cut. Chefs usually deal with the grain by cutting across it to minimize the toughness of the cut.
As it is similar to skirt steak in some rights, flank steak is used sometimes as an alternative to skirt steak in dishes that require the latter, such as fajitas. It’s also a common cut in Asian markets, being sold as “stir-fry beef”. The French use it in medium-rare steak, and Colombia, in particular, has it as a common cut in the market, referred to as sobrebarriga, or “over the belly”.
Taken from the short loin steak, the T-Bone steak is a unique type of steak that has a t-shaped bone in the center of the cut as its defining characteristic. Because it’s taken from the rear end of the short loin steak, T-Bone steak has more tenderloin steak in it than other short loin cuts, which attributes to its popularity.
If you’re confused between a T-Bone and porterhouse, don’t worry – most people are too. In fact, many experts disagree on the difference between these two prized cuts, even though they come from the same part of the cow. As a general rule, you’re more or less safe to assume that T-Bone and porterhouse steak are one and the same unless you really want to be nitpicky.
Don’t expect that you’ll be able to buy T-Bone off the market or at a restaurant for a humble price, though. As two of the most prized cuts of steak (tenderloin and short loin) are both found in T-Bone steak, it naturally is sold at a very high price in supermarkets, even more so when served in steakhouses.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to eat T-Bone steak on a regular basis unless you’re filthy rich. If you do get your hands on some T-Bone steak, though, then it’s recommended that you either grill or broil the steak for maximum flavor. The T-Bone’s bone is actually favorable in the cut for this reason, as heat is conducted through bone, cooking the steak more evenly than other cuts.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the obvious winner, the tenderloin steak. As the name suggests, this top-of-the-line steak has its supreme tenderness as its defining characteristic. This cut of beef is one of if not the most prized cut of beef and is a staple in many fine-dining restaurants all around the world.
The steak goes by many names other than tenderloin, including eye fillet in Australia, Filet Mignon in Brazil, filet in France, and fillet in the U.K, and South Africa. They’re a cut of muscles found near the kidneys and other sirloin steaks, meaning that they’re a muscle rarely used, which results in extraordinarily tender meat.
Tenderloin steak comes in many different forms. You can buy them unpeeled (where the steak still has the skin and fats attached to it) or peeled (with only the skin and without the fat). The most expensive form of tenderloin is PSMOs (read as “pismos”), an acronym that stands for “peeled, silver skin removed, and side muscle left on”.
Other than the presence or absence of skin and fat, tenderloin also comes in different cuts. The three cuts of tenderloin are the butt, center-cut, and tail cuts, which are used in a wide variety of premium dishes, such as carpaccio, beef Wellington, and beef Stroganoff.'
Secret Recommendation! Ribeye Cap
If you love tender steak, then there's a secret cut of steak that you don't hear about much, but you just have to try. It's called the ribeye cap (there's a couple other names too).
You may have noticed that the ribeye didn't make it to this list of tender steaks, despite being one of the most popular cuts (and one of my favorites). The truth is, ribeye is loved for its flavor and marbling, not tenderness.
However, the ribeye cap is basically where they carve the outside of the ribeye steak off, so you get the most tender and flavorful part of that particular steak. It's hard to find, and very expensive, but worth it if you can find it (I get mind from Costco, when they have it).
When I buy it, it's always wrapped with twine so it forms a ball-shape, similar to a filet mignon.
With all the different cuts available in the market, there’s an even greater selection of steaks to choose from. The different methods of cooking each cut make for a new tasting experience each time, so in theory, you’ll never get tired of beef.
With that being said, some beef steaks are just a “cut” above the rest in terms of certain factors. And with tenderness being the most universally accepted standard, tenderloin steak reigns supreme as one of the best cuts of steak. The other cuts are plenty tasty on their own, though.