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How to Choose the Best Cuts of Steak (Everything You Need to Know)

There is nothing as overwhelming as looking at a million cuts of meat and not knowing which one you should get. When looking through all the options, what is it that you should be looking for? Often there are cuts of different sizes, colors, shapes, prices, and it can be hard to know which one you should choose. 

Choosing the best cut of steak does not need to be an overwhelming process. With a few quick tips, we will have you ready to roast, grill, smoke, or slow cook the best cut of meat for you. 

In this article, we will take a look at:

  • What makes specific cuts tender
  • Understanding the differences in cuts of meat
  • The secret to choosing the best cut of beef 

Tender vs. Tough Meat 

Before jumping into the nitty-gritty behind choosing the best cut of meat, it is important to understand what makes specific cuts tender and what makes other cuts tough. 

Fat Content (Marbling)

We've all heard the phrase "fat equals flavor," but fat also plays a huge role in the tenderness of meat. People often assume that a fattier cut (with more marbling) would mean a more tender piece of meat. While this can be true, it can also be very far from the truth. If not cooked correctly, a very fatty piece of meat can be tough, gritty, and frustrating to eat. At the same time, an overly lean piece of meat often lacks that robust flavor that you are craving. In general, it is smart to look for a good balance of fat and marbling.

Location on the Animal

A good rule of thumb to remember is that meat gets more tender as you get further from the horn and hoof. For example, the ribs and loins are going to be more tender than the brisket. The brisket is still a great cut of meat; you just have to cook it correctly to thoroughly enjoy the tenderness and flavor that it has. 

Diet Of The Animal

The cliché statement of "you are what you eat" applies to humans and animals. The diet of the animal will impact the fat to meat ratio. Beef in America is typically either grass-fed or grain-fed. Not only does this influence the tenderness of the cut, but it can also influence the nutritional value.  

Amount of Connective Tissue

The more muscles that are included in your cut of meat, the tougher it will be because of the increased prevalence of connective tissue. Connective tissue often makes the meat more tough and chewy. When choosing a cut of meat, you should choose one that is cut from a single muscle in order for it to be the most tender. 

Aging of Meat

Contrary to popular belief, aged beef is not referencing the age of the physical cow. It means how long the meat has been stored and refrigerated. The longer the meat sits, the more the flavors develop depth. Aged beef is often more tender and flavorful. 

Understanding the Different Cuts of Beef

There are a lot of different cuts of beef, and they all serve a specific purpose. They should all be cooked in certain ways to bring out flavor and tenderness. 

Chuck Roast: Chuck roast is cut from the cow's shoulder, making it slightly tougher. But, it is also one of the most flavorful pieces of beef. It is recommended that you slow cook the roast as that breaks down some of the connective tissue and will help it be more tender. 

Filet Mignon: The filet mignon is one of the most coveted pieces of meat on the cow. It is one of the most tender cuts, but there isn't much of it on every cow. While it is exceptionally delicious, it is also one of the most expensive cuts of meat (for good reason because it is fantastic). It is recommended that you cook it to medium-rare; this brings out the best flavor and tenderness. 

Strip Steak: These steaks have a great beefy flavor. They are a tender cut but not as tender as a ribeye steak because they do not have as much marbling. It is cut from the top of the short loin (longissimus muscle) of the cow. To cook it, people usually brine (rub salt and other seasonings) the steak or grill it. It is considered one of the easier steaks to cook so you really can't go wrong with this cut of meat!

Ribeye Steak: The ribeye steak is often viewed as one of the best cuts because of the beautiful fat marbling. It is cut from the "eye" of the rib steak. Because of the marbling and fat content, it has excellent flavor and tenderness if cooked right. To bring out the best flavor and tenderness, cook it on the barbecue to medium-rare. This cooking method will ensure a juicy, tender, delicious steak that you won't want to share. 

Rump Roast: Rump roasts are commonly used in a slow cooker and enjoyed as a pot roast. This type of roast is usually more tender than the chuck roast if it is cooked properly. It is cut from the "rump" of the cow, above the legs and under the tail. 

T-Bone Steak: T-bone steaks earned their name because of the steak's 'T' shaped bone. These steaks are often very popular at restaurants because of their tenderness. They are cut closer to the stomach, so they are very tender. T-bone steaks are sure to be a crowd-pleaser for any event because they have two different cuts of meat on them; a tenderloin and a strip steak. 

Top Sirloin Steak: Top sirloin is often used for a weeknight barbecue because it is typically cheaper than other steaks. It is a leaner cut, making it perfect for grilling, pan-searing, and broiling. While it is leaner, it still has a great flavor. 

Tri-Tip Roast: Tri-tip earned its name because of the triangular nature of this cut. Often people opt to marinate and smoke tri-tip to make it more tender. This cut is cut from the bottom of the sirloin steak.

The Secret to Choosing the Best Cut of Steak (and General Tips)

Ultimately, the secret to choosing the best cut of beef is knowing what dish you are going to make with it. When picking the best cut of meat, it is smart to know what you want your end product to be. 

For example, if you want a melt-in-your-mouth steak for your anniversary, you should probably go with the filet mignon. If you are having a neighborhood barbeque, the top sirloin steak would be perfect. The rump roast is ideal if you want to cook up a pot roast and potatoes for Sunday dinner. 

While beef all comes from a cow, there is a wide variety of steaks and using the right cut for the right dish makes all the difference. Knowing when to smoke, slow cook, and grill truly makes a good piece of meat great. 

Not every piece of meat should be treated, seasoned, marinated, or cooked the same. Learning the difference between the cuts and knowing what you will make before choosing your cut will make selecting the best cut a lot easier. 

In general, when choosing cuts of meat, make sure they are:

  • Not discolored and should be moist (but not wet)
  • Have even edges where they were cut
  • Firm and chilled


When choosing the best cut of steak, it is important to identify what makes a cut tender and what makes it tougher. Looking for a good balance of fat and meat, little connective tissue, and aged beef will help you identify the best cut. 

After choosing the right cut for your meal, you have to learn how to smoke and grill it. We have some awesome tips on smoking and grilling that can help you impress all your friends (and their taste buds).

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