What makes a steak a steak? Is it the shape? The way it’s cooked? Or where it comes from on the cow?
Different types of steak come from different parts of a cow, but in theory, a steak could come from any body part. The word steak simply means any cut of beef that is cut ‘across the muscle’ or against the grain of the muscle.
In this article, we’ll look at nine of the most popular types of steak and find out which part of a cow each of them comes from.
What Part of a Cow is Steak?
1. Ribeye Steak
As the name suggests, a ribeye steak comes from the area around the ribs of a cow.
Ribs are sometimes roasted or barbecued whole, (Called a prime rib) but when they are cut into steaks they are called ribeye.
Like prime ribs, ribeye steaks are very fatty, with a much higher fat content than sirloin or tenderloin.
Ribeye isn’t an expensive cut compared to sirloin or tenderloin, but it’s more expensive than rump steak.
2. Strip Steak
Strip steaks are a lean cut of steak from the longissmus and psoas major muscles found in the upper middle section of a cow called the short loin.
Strip steaks are made from the longissmus muscle, which is a spinal muscle that does minimal work meaning the meat is very tender and lean.
Strip steaks usually include part of the tenderloin, although sometimes this is removed. When the tenderloin portion is removed from a strip steak, the remaining steak is called a shell strip steak.
Strip steaks are known by several other names, including:
- New York Strip
- Ambassador Steak
- Club Steak
3. Tenderloin Steak
Tenderloin comes from the psoas major muscle, which connects the hip to the spine.
It’s a muscle that isn’t used much by the cow, so the meat is very tender and lean, with minimal fat. (hence the name).
Lots of very expensive cuts come from the tenderloin, including fillet steaks and filet mignon.
4. Sirloin Steak
Sirloin steak is a cut of meat from the loin area of the cow, found roughly at their lower back.
Sirloin is further differentiated into top sirloin and bottom sirloin depending on where exactly it’s cut from.
Read More: Different Sirloin Cuts Explained
5. Porterhouse Steak
Porterhouse is cut from the top loin and tenderloin area of the cow. A porterhouse steak combines tenderloin fillet on the bottom with top loin on top.
Porterhouse is expensive because it incorporates the expensive tenderloin fillet as well as the top-loin.
Porterhouse is highly sought after because it has a lean, tender, and less flavorsome cut on the bottom of the steak (the tenderloin) with a slightly tougher, more flavorsome cut on top (short loin).
6. Flap Steak
Flap steak is what happens when you let a marketing team loose in a butchers shop.
Flap steak is cut from the abdominal internal oblique muscle, found at the bottom of the “bottom sirloin” area.
Flap steak is low quality meat. It’s rare for this meat to even be used for steaks, instead it’s mostly used for ground meat products like burgers and hotdogs.
Read More: How Many Burgers Can A Cow Make?
7. Rump Steak
A rump steak comes from the back end of a cow and is a lean cut of meat.
The cow’s rump is a technical term for the area at the rear end of a cow, between the cow’s tail and the top of its back legs.
Rump steaks are fairly lean meat, since this area of the cow doesn’t do a lot of hard work.
Rump meat is usually used for roasting instead of steaks, since it has minimal fat on the inside (marbling) but has a layer of outer fat that keeps the meat moist and flavorful during the roasting process.
This lean quality combined with the outer fat layer makes rump steaks a desirable part of the cow.
8. Tomahawk Steak
Tomahawk steaks come from the ribs. They are identical to a ribeye steak except they have a long section of the rib bone still attached, sticking out of the steak like a handle.
The long rib bone gives the steak its name, since tomahawk steaks are named after the tomahawk axe, a single-handed axe used as a tool or weapon by many indigenous North American cultures.
Many top chefs prefer this cut to a regular rib-eye steak because the bone helps prevent the meat from drying out during cooking.
To prevent the bone from turning brown or black during the cooking process, it’s often wrapped in aluminum foil before cooking. This gives the steak its signature look, as the bone stays completely white while the meat cooks.
9. Denver Steak
Denver steak is a bit of a curveball. It’s cut from the cow’s shoulders, which are notoriously tough and muscly, but the denver steak itself is a tender cut.
Usually, the shoulder meat (called chuck) is too muscular to be used for steak and is roasted instead to help break down the muscles. (This is called a chuck roast)
Denver steaks are cut from the muscle that connects directly to the shoulder blade. Because it’s only one muscle (unlike the rest of the chuck/shoulder) it’s a tender cut and easy to fry or grill.
To sum up, steak can come from any part of a cow. The word ‘steak’ is used to describe the way the meat is cut from the carcass and isn’t anything to do with where on the cow the meat comes from.
Any meat which is cut perpendicular to the grain of the muscle can be considered a steak, although there are some exceptions due to marketing.
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.