Sirloin is cut from the part of the cow between their lower back and their hips (called the loin). All loin cuts come from the same general area, including sirloin, bottom sirloin, short loin, and tenderloin. Sirloin is generally understood to be the most desirable and expensive part of the cow.
Cuts of meat can be complicated. As far as cuts go, sirloin is one of the more difficult to understand. Add into the mix that there are multiple sirloin variations as well as similar cuts including tenderloin and short loin, and you have a recipe for confusion.
In this article we’ll learn everything there is to know about the various sirloin cuts including top and bottom sirloin, find out where they come from on the cow, see how they compare to other loin cuts like tenderloin, and get to the bottom of what makes this particular cut of meat so expensive.
What Part of the Cow Does Sirloin Come From?
Sirloin comes from the loin, which is the lower part of a cow’s back, between their spine and their hips. The sirloin cut is usually further differentiated into sirloin, top sirloin, and bottom sirloin, but they all come from the same general area of the cow.
Although each country has slightly different names for each butchery cut, in the US sirloin steaks are cut from the part of the animal between the short loin (in the center of the back) and the rump (above the cow’s hind legs).
T-bone, porterhouse, and club steaks are all cut from the short loin area, and the next section along from the short loin is the sirloin.
Why Is It Called Sirloin? (Etymology)
Sirloin gets its name from the French language. In French, ‘sur loin’ means ‘upper loin’. It’s not a glamorous name, but it does the job.
You may think that since we borrowed the name from the French, the French word for sirloin must surely be ‘surloin’. Nope! The French call this cut L’Aloyau.
What’s The Difference Between Sirloin and Tenderloin?
Tenderloin is a large, oblong-shaped muscle called the Psoas Major that stretches all the way through the sirloin section of a cow. Tenderloin is the most tender part of the entire cow and is highly sought after.
The lower part of the tenderloin is the most desirable and is sometimes sold separately. This cut is called the filet mignon and is the most expensive cut from any cow due to its tenderness and rarity.
There is only one tenderloin in each cow, and the average whole tenderloin weighs only around four or five pounds. (Roughly 2kg).
By comparison, sirloin cuts make up around 9% of an entire beef carcass, so it’s much less expensive than tenderloin.
Sirloin is the muscle that surrounds the tenderloin. It’s tougher than tenderloin and filet mignon, but it’s still a prized cut.
Read More: How Much Beef is on a Single Cow?
Types of Sirloin Explained (Top Sirloin vs Bottom Sirloin)
The sirloin cut isn’t a single contiguous part of the cow. It’s intersected by the tenderloin, an oblong-shaped muscle that runs along the cow’s lower back.
Sirloin is usually marketed as two or three separate and distinct cuts, based on the quality and tenderness of each part.
If meat is marketed simply as ‘sirloin’, it’s probably from the upper part of the sirloin, near the cow’s spine.
Sirloin is sometimes known for being a bit chewy since this area is very muscly.
2: Top Sirloin
Top sirloin is the sirloin found directly under the tenderloin. It’s more tender than both regular sirloin and bottom sirloin, so it’s usually marketed separately as ‘top sirloin’ and commands a premium at the butcher’s counter.
Top sirloin is often used as a less expensive substitute for tenderloin or filet mignon.
3: Bottom Sirloin
Bottom sirloin is the much larger muscle found under the top sirloin, towards the cow’s underside.
Bottom sirloin is generally considered to be the lowest quality of the three sirloin cuts, so it’s usually marketed simply as ‘sirloin’.
Why Is Sirloin Steak so Tough?
Sirloin is tough because it’s cut from a part of the cow that has a lot of muscles.
Cows have three major muscles in their loin area:
- Longissimus dorsi (The back muscle which runs along the entire length of the cow’s spine)
- Psoas major (The ‘core’ muscles connecting the spine to the hips)
- Gluteus medius (Connects the thighs to the hips)
These muscles move the cow’s back, running from their neck all the way down to their tail, and connecting their hips to their spine, and their ribcages to their hips.
What Type of Cow Does Sirloin Come From?
All cows have the same basic anatomy and sirloin can come from any breed of cattle, however, it’s usually cut from beef breeds like Angus or Herefords since they have more muscle.
Dairy cows are not usually sent for meat until they are old, when the quality of their meat is poor. Low-quality meat is usually used for ground beef or as an ingredient to make meat products like hot dogs or burgers.
Read More: How Many Burgers Can you get from a Cow?
The most expensive sirloin in the world comes from the Japanese Tajima-Gyu breed. Also known as Japanse Black Cattle or Kobe beef, a single steak from this rare Wagyu breed can cost over $600!
Read More: Wagyu Beef Quality Grades Explained
To sum up, sirloin is a cut of beef that comes from the loin area of the cow, which is roughly between their lower back and their hips.
There are a few different cuts of sirloin, most notably top sirloin, which is the most expensive and tender sirloin cut, and bottom sirloin, which is less muscular and usually considered to be of lower quality than top sirloin or regular sirloin.
Sirloin is often used for steak because it’s one of the most flavorful cuts, though it can be tougher than other cuts due to the amount of muscle in the loins of a cow.
Although tenderloin comes from the same part of the cow and is physically connected to sirloin, it’s a separate muscle and considered a separate cut. Tenderloin is more expensive than sirloin due to its tenderness and comparative rarity in each carcass.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.