Not all steak cuts are created equal when it comes to grilling. Some specific cuts take to a grill better and result in a delicious, tender, and juicy grilled steak.
If you are wanting to up your grilling game and master how to cook competition steak like the pros, making sure you have one of the best steak cuts for grilling is crucial. The last thing you want is a tough piece of beef that you can hardly cut through.
In this article, we’ll break down what to look for when it comes to steak cuts and the options you have when you are searching for the best cut of steak to grill.
Cooking a perfect grilled steak is about more than just knowing what the best steak cuts for grilling are. There are some things to consider when selecting your steak cut that will help tremendously.
To get an amazingly tender and flavorful grilled steak, you have to buy good quality beef. As you probably know, there are several grades of beef as determined by the USDA. The thing that differentiates the different grades of beef is the amount of fat marbling throughout the meat.
The more marbling in your cut of steak the more tender your meat will be. A favorite choice of many grillmasters is USDA Prime beef. Prime cuts will be more expensive but will have a great amount of marbling running through the meat.
If you are going to be grilling steak a lot and don’t want to spend the money on Prime cuts all the time (or are having trouble finding it), your next best option is upper-two-thirds USDA Choice.
Either way, look for a good amount of the white, spiderweb-like marbling running through the meat to end up with a juicy and tender steak.
In most instances, the highest grade of beef you’ll find at the grocery store is USDA Choice. You may also run into some difficulty finding some of the good cuts of steak in these stores. If you are serious about cooking great grilled steak it’s time to befriend your local butcher.
Your local butcher will have a much larger variety of the best steak cuts for grilling and will have many of them in USDA Prime (and sometimes even the highest grade, Wagyu, if you’re feeling fancy). Plus, if you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for just ask the butcher. Chances are they’ll cut it for you right then.
At your local butcher shop, you’ll get more personalized service, they can help you select great steaks with plenty of marbling, and you’ll be supporting a small business as well.
If you don’t have a local butcher shop, you can also order online from some of the great American cattle farms and ranches like Snake River Farms / Double R Ranch. Then you’ll have great quality steak cuts shipped straight to your door.
Another important factor of cooking competition-worthy steak is making sure you’ve got a good thickness in your steak cut. A thinner steak will quickly dry and out and become tough on a hot grill. The optimal thickness for grilled steak is 1 ⅛” to 2”.
Again, it may be hard to find steaks of this thickness in the grocery store so this is another reason your local butcher shop is a good bet.
Now that you know what to look for in the quality of beef and thickness of your cuts, let’s take a look at the specific options for the best steak cuts for grilling. Some of these you may recognize but you may find some new favorites as well:
Section cut from: Rib primal (ribs 6 through 12)
The Ribeye steak is often one of the first choices for many grillmasters and is the required cut in Steak Cookoff Association (SCA) steak competitions. This cut is known for being very well-marbled evenly throughout, tender, and can be purchased bone off or bone-in. Just make sure to avoid Ribeye cuts with large chunks of fat in the middle.
A bone-in Ribeye that has 5 or more inches of a “frenched” bone left in is what is known as a Tomahawk steak.
Ribeye steaks are often closer to 2 inches thick and cook very well using a reverse sear method on a two-zone grill setup.
Section cut from: Short Loin
Another favorite steak cut for grilling is the New York Strip. With a nice beefy flavor, these steaks are also very tender and well-marbled. Again, make sure to look for nice, even marbling throughout the cut.
New York Strips do well on the grill when they are at least 1 ⅛” thick.
Section cut from: Closer towards the front of the Short Loin
If you are looking for one of the larger steak cuts, a T-Bone is a great option. This is because this bone-in steak actually contains two types of steaks in one. It will have a Striploin on one side of the signature “T”-shaped bone, and Tenderloin on the other side of the bone.
The key to cooking a T-Bone properly is keeping an eye on internal temperatures on either side of the bone. It is not uncommon for one side to cook faster than the other because of the different levels of connective tissue and marbling on each side.
A reverse sear method works great for T-Bone steaks.
Section cut from: Closer towards the rear of the Short Loin
Porterhouse and T-Bone steaks are often confused as being the same cut of steak but they are in fact different. Since a Porterhouse is cut closer towards the rear of the Short Loin, it will include more of the Tenderloin on one side of the bone along with the large Striploin. Because of this, Porterhouse steaks are often even larger than a T-Bone.
A Porterhouse is another steak that should be cut thick, usually around 2 inches.
When cooking a Porterhouse, just like the T-Bone, keep an eye on the temperature on either side of the bone.
Section cut from: Smaller end of the Tenderloin in the center of the Short Loin
Because it contains very little connective tissue, a Filet Mignon is one of the most tender steak cuts available. It is also cut from one of the smallest beef sections, with most steers having only 1 lb of Filet Mignon.
For these two reasons, a Filet Mignon is going to be one of the most expensive steak cuts. But, this cut can definitely result in a very nice grilled steak.
A Filet Mignon is easily recognizable by its smaller diameter, almost round shape and is often 2 to 3 inches in thickness.
Section cut from: Sirloin
Even though it is one of the more affordable cuts of steak, a Top Sirloin is still a very flavorful steak. With more connective tissue, it will not be as tender as some of the other steak cuts.
You still want to try and select a Top Sirloin steak that is 1 ⅛” thick at a minimum. These steaks can be cooked over direct heat for the majority of the time. Just make sure to keep an eye on it and check the internal temperature frequently to avoid overcooking it.
Even if you are fairly new to grilling, you can still cook a perfectly grilled steak that’ll impress. It just comes down to knowing what to look for. This includes the quality of the meat, the amount of marbling, the thickness, and that it’s one of the best steak cuts for grilling.
If you take all of these things into account, you have a much higher chance of cooking a tender, juicy steak every time and mastering how to cook competition steak. Step out of your comfort zone and try a different steak cut than you are used to. You never know, you may discover a new favorite.
Make sure to also check out our article here on tips for grilling steak like the pro Grillmasters.
The insider tips on grilling steak don’t stop here. With online steak grilling classes straight from champion Grillmasters like Allen Newton and John Lindsey, BBQ Champs Academy can help you take your grilling game to the next level. Don’t miss out on all of the step-by-step instructions, tips, and secrets and master how to cook competition steak. Learn how to grill steak straight from the pros!
Before you actually start cooking your BBQ beef or grilled steaks, it’s important to make sure you start with a great cut of beef. Knowing how to select beef is just as much one of the critical BBQ techniques as cooking the meat is.
Whether you are grilling or smoking, making sure you have the proper cut and type of meat can make the difference in “ok” BBQ beef and competition-worthy beef. In this article, we’ll break down more BBQ secrets and explain exactly what to look for when buying beef and which cuts are often the best options.
Source: Butcher Box
When it comes to shopping for good quality BBQ beef, one of the most important factors is the grade of beef. This is true for any type of cut and should always be considered. There are several different grades of beef available for purchase in the US.
As many Champion pitmasters and grillmasters, including Mark Lambert, recommend, an ideal grade of beef you want to get is USDA Prime. Prime beef cuts will be more expensive but will be significantly more tender and create more flavorful meat.
If you are planning on cooking BBQ or grilling a lot and don’t want to spend the money on Prime beef all the time, your next best bet is upper two-thirds USDA Choice beef.
One of the biggest reasons either Prime or higher Choice beef is recommended is because of the level of marbling throughout the meat.
Source:Clover Meadows Beef
Along with the age of the animal, the amount of fat mixed in with the muscle is what the USDA judges to determine grades of beef. Marbling is the white spider web-like intramuscular fat that runs throughout the interior of the meat. It was initially, in 1926 when the USDA first started grading beef, named “Marbling” because of the weblike striations that look similar to the filigrees that run throughout a slab of marble. The marbling is different than the exterior muscle fat that runs along the outside edges of the beef.
This marbling that runs throughout the interior of the meat is what will make the meat juicier and hold more flavor during and after cooking. This is crucial to cooking great BBQ beef. The USDA Prime grade beef will have a high amount of marbling (around 13%) thus making it one of the first choices for many of the top grillmasters and pitmasters. Higher-level USDA Choice will still have a good amount of marbling throughout (around 9-10%), more than the Standard grade you’ll most often see in a normal grocery store.
If you want to spend money on what many consider the “best” or are looking to do really knock it out of the park on a special occasion, American Wagyu beef is a great choice. This is one of the highest grades of beef available and will have the most amount of marbling. Higher than USDA Prime.
Wagyu beef cattle have Japanese bloodlines and often have around 30% fat. Creating some of the juiciest and flavorful meat you will ever taste. As with any beef cut, your best bet for the most tender Wagyu cuts are a ribeye, strip loin, or brisket.
To cook great BBQ beef, certain cuts are better than others. Overall, no matter what kind of cut it is, it is important to look for a good even cut. If you have a piece of meat that has one end significantly thinner than the other, it will not cook evenly and you’ll end up with parts of the meat either undercooked or overcooked.
For a great steak, a favored cut is often a Ribeye. A Ribeye cut steak will be a thicker cut, allowing for a much more tender, juicier, and flavorful steak compared to thinner cuts. Ideally, you want to go for a Ribeye that is cut 1 ⅛” to 1 ¼” thick. This will allow the steak to hold moisture better and give you a much juicier final result.
Another thing to look for in a good Ribeye steak is what is called the Spinalis muscle. This is the crescent-shaped wraparound muscle towards one end of the Ribeye that goes around the “eye” of Ribeye. Grillmaster Allen Newton refers to this is the “money muscle” and is often the most tender part. A good Spinalis will give you a great-tasting and juicy steak.
Source: Snake River Farms
When it comes to larger cuts of beef often used for smoking, an overall favorite is a Brisket. A good quality Brisket cut is going to be around 17 lbs. When buying a Brisket cut, make sure the cut is pretty even from one end to another. It should taper slightly towards one end but you don’t want it to drastically taper down to a very thin end.
Many Champion pitmasters, like Corey Mikes, opt for a high-quality American Wagyu Brisket to create their award-winning BBQ beef.
Now that you have a better idea of what kind of beef to buy, going to the local grocery stores should not be your first place to buy beef. Most supermarkets or grocery stores will not have USDA Prime cuts. You may get lucky and find upper USDA Choice cuts but not very often.
Your best bet when buying good quality beef is to go to your local butcher shop. A good butcher will provide more personalized service and expertise on exactly what types of beef they have, the age of the cattle, etc. Plus, if you don’t see exactly what you're looking for when you walk in, don’t be afraid to ask the butcher. More than likely he or she can provide exactly what you want. Also, ask if the meat has been aged. Quality meat can be stored, or aged, at a low temperature for several weeks. This helps break down the tissues and creates even more tender meat.
Another great option, if you have some time, is high-quality American meat suppliers that only deal with the best options of beef. This will guarantee that you can get some of the best quality beef shipped straight to your door from farm to table. One example, also used by many World Champion pitmasters and grillmasters, is Snake River Farms. Along with their partner Double R Ranch, they provide some of the highest quality Wagyu, Prime, and Choice beef available.
Whether you buy from a local butcher or an American meat supplier, you can be confident knowing you are getting fresh, quality beef. Always buy fresh and never frozen beef.
Hopefully, now you have a clearer understanding of how to select good quality beef, why it is important, and which cuts make for great BBQ beef. You’ll be able to confidently say “that’s a beautiful piece of meat” every time. By starting with a favored cut of great quality beef, you’ll have everyone from competition judges to family and friends easily impressed.
You can’t expect to have outstanding BBQ without starting with quality ingredients. BBQ secrets and techniques like the ones covered above, combined with what you’ll learn in the first-of-its-kind online BBQ cooking school from us here at BBQ Champs Academy, will have you cooking and grilling competition-worthy BBQ in no time.
Have you perfected selecting great steaks and BBQ beef? Do you have any tips we may have missed? Leave a comment below. We want to hear from you!