Ribeye Steak – The King of Cut
Why is a Ribeye the best steak?
I’ll make this simple…flavor and tenderness. It is considered the richest, beefiest and most tender of the cuts available. Need I say anything else? Just in case you were wondering here are some other names for a Ribeye steak: Delmonico Steak, Scotch Fillet, Beauty Steak, Market Steak, Spencer Steak, Entrecôte (French), or in my house it goes by STEAK because we wouldn’t dare serve anything else.
Where does that flavor and tenderness come from?
What is the cause of such amazing world changing flavor and tenderness? One word, and to some people it is a scary word, but don’t be afraid: FAT…yes I said it. Just to be clear it is not the fat on the outside of the steak. It is the fat that is woven inside the steak. Say it with me; Fat, Fat, Fat, FAT! Now the more refined term people use to describe the fat is marbling. Why is it called marbling? Because the fat looks like “marble” veins in the steak. The reality is, if it is cooked correctly the fat renders (melts) and creates amazing flavor and tenderness, and the exterior fat gets crispy. Yeah I eat that as well…don’t judge me, it’s really good.
Let’s talk more about marbling and the grades of ribeye steak
The USDA grades ribeye based on the amount of marbling/fat inside the steak and the age of the beef. The younger the beef and the higher the ratio of marbling, the higher the grade, so we pay a premium to get that fat. The best rule of thumb is to look for that marbling because that’s where all of the flavor and tenderness comes from. There are four grades of steak certified by the USDA: Prime, Choice, Select, and standard/commercial. The highest grate is USDA Prime, and less than 2% of all beef produced is certified USDA Prime. Right below Prime is Choice, which is a good option if you cannot get a Prime steak. Never go lower than Choice when possible, it’s not worth it. Most of the time if a store is selling standard or commercial it is goes ungraded. An ungraded or Select graded steak probably won’t taste great, so opt for another protein instead.
More Fat Please!
USDA Prime is not the highest fat content option that exists on the planet. The greatest marbled piece of meat is actually called Wagyu, and it is from Japan. When I say marbled I mean marbled. The highest grade Wagyu steaks have more fat content than meat. Wagyu is not usually consumed in huge portions, thin slices are often cooked hibachi style and enjoyed hot. I’m not saying people don’t eat a big, juicy Wagyu ribeye, but that is a bit overkill for most people due to the cost. [/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The type of cow matters: Which cows produce the best steak?
In America, Black Angus or sometimes just called Angus cows are known for producing the best flavored ribeye steaks. I’m not just saying this because part of my family growing up raised Black Angus cows in East Texas, I’m saying this because it is true. Angus are known for being fast growing, tender and well marbled. And, that my friends is the trifecta! Yes there are a lot of other breeds in the US, but does it matter? They definitely don’t compare to an Angus.
Now, let me talk a little about Wagyu.
To truly be considered Wagyu, which just to remind you produce the most marbled ribeye there is, the cow has to be raised in Japan. These Wagyu cows are raised like they are in a 5 star resort. I kid you not, they get massages listen to soothing music, and they might even get turn down service at night…ok that last part isn’t true. There are 3 popular breeds of Wagyu but the most well known and best quality is Kobe (Produced from the Tajima Gyu breed of Hyogo, Japan). Although sometimes the names are used interchangeably all Kobe beef can be considered Wagyu but not all Wagyu is Kobe. The cost for Wagyu ribeye is ridiculously expensive. However, there is hope. In the US we are starting to see American Wagyu (also known as American Style Kobe) which is a cross breed between Angus and Japanese Wagyu cows.
In this case, old is a good thing: Dry Aging vs. Wet Aging
Creating the best steak doesn’t just end with the grade or the type of cow. When you can increase the flavor profile and make it even more tender, why would you not? This next step is called aging. There are two types of aging: dry aging and wet aging and their names are relatively self explanatory. Many consider dry aging the only way to go. Not only does it create a stronger, more intense beef flavor, but it also creates a more tender ribeye. The down side is you lose more of the actual beef due due to the dry aging process. As a result, dry aged beef is more expensive per ounce. Dry aging must be done in a very climate controlled environment conducive to good enzyme growth. Yes I said enzyme. That is what helps break down the protein in the meat, tenderizing your steak. Wet aging is simpler and easier to manage, as you are simply putting a steak in a vacuumed sealed bag and letting it sit for a certain period of time in a controlled, chilled environment. Enzymes are tenderizing the meat in this instance as well. Dry aged cuts must also be trimmed of their outer layer before cooking. Also, dry aging is primarily done with whole sides of beef or “primal cuts”. Wet aging can be done one steak at a time.
How the cow is raised matters: Grass Fed Steak Vs. Grain Fed Steak
Back to flavor and tenderness, we want marbling. There are several options to look out for and to be honest, these get into personal preferences.
Conventional beef is usually grain or corn fed for most of their lives which fattens them up faster. These cows are raised in what the USDA calls a A CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). In this type of environment, the cows usually have very little room to move around and have to be injected with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Not only do these operations have negative impact on the water and air quality around them due to the waste produced by the cows, this type of feeding operation does not produce good steak. These cows are miserable, and you can taste it.
Grass fed beef tends to be more expensive and the cows take longer to raise, but this process produces superior marbling and flavor. These cows spend their lives in a much more natural state out in the pasture chomping on grass and hay. To split hairs even further there is grass fed and grass finished vs. grass fed and corn finished. Finishing with corn shortens the process and keeps costs down, but some would argue this is not best due to the fact that grains are not a part of a cow’s natural diet. Both of these are good options as far as taste is concerned and it comes down to personal preference. Just like wine, the flavor of beef changes based on location, climate and surroundings. So, I challenge you to try ribeyes from all over to find your favorite.
What are the parts of a Ribeye?
Most people may not know this but there are three parts to the ribeye cut. The best parts are the cap and the tail. Some purveyors get tricky and remove these pieces leaving you high and dry.
- The most succulent part of the ribeye is called the Cap (Spinalis dorsi section). This is the top part and it basically covers the top portion of the steak.
- The Eye is the center part of the steak and can be split in two parts depending on the marbling.
- The bottom piece is called the Tip, Lip, or End. This little piece is the perfect bite, and if you are lucky… two bites, but often times becomes the chef’s snack… wink wink.
My picture perfect ribeye has a large cap, good sized tip, and a drool worthy marbled eye.
Different Cuts of Ribeye
Now that we talked grade and type of cow, let’s talk about the different cuts of Ribeye. I’m going to start with my preference, which is boneless. Boneless is exactly how it sounds, the bone has been removed. I prefer boneless because I can get more charing on the surface of the steak, and to be honest, I don’t want to pay for the bone, which increases the cost in most cases. People will say the bone adds more flavor, and truthfully, the meat that is attached to the bone is dam good. If you get a bone in ribeye and you don’t pick up the bone and naw on it you’re not doing it right. But, to me the pros of the bone don’t outweigh the cons as I really like that charred, crispy exterior and a medium rare center.
There are three bone-in options.
I will say the look of a bone-in ribeye is very dramatic and it’s definitely aesthetically appealing than a boneless steak when plated.
- Option one is called a Bone-in Ribeye and it is a standard cut ribeye thickness with a bone attached. Standard cut is between 1-1.5 inches.
- The second option is called Cowboy steak or some folks call it the Primal Cut. This is a really thick bone-in ribeye steak and it is THICK! This cut is able to feed multiple people or one hungry big guy like me.
- The last is called Tomahawk. This is the ribeye attached to the long rib bone. This is definitely the most dramatic and primal looking of all the cuts, but you pay big bucks for that look.
Let me touch on Prime Rib: Ribeye Steak Vs. Prime Rib
Yes, prime rib and ribeye come from the same primal cut of meat. But, that is where the similarities end. “Prime Rib” is the product of is slow roasting of the whole prime rib roast, also called standing rib roast. There are so many flavor options when roasting prime rib, but I will personally tell you I just like a lot of salt and pepper on mine.
There are really only three ways to cook a prime rib: a rotisserie, slow oven roasted and then sear at the end, or brown in the beginning in the oven and then reduce the temperature to finish. Prime rib is normally served rare. One quick note,the funny thing about prime rib is not everyone who likes prime rib likes ribeye and not everyone who likes ribeyes like prime rib. It is a very different approach, and a different flavor experience. I happen to love prime rib, and I tend to reverse sear in a pan or finished on a grill if I’m cooking it at home.
Tip: Reverse sear is the process of cooking is slowly at low temperature and then finishing it off at high temperature to crisp up the outside and provide color.
I will say a prime rib served at holiday time can be very beautiful and is still considered a special treat as it is a very expensive to purchase a whole standing rib roast. Prime rib is usually served with some sort of horseradish sauce and the pan drippings, also called au jus. Nothing else needed
Here is a secret of mine
This is just between you and me… don’t tell anyone. Maybe I got this as a result of my great grandfather being a butcher in England (Yes, he really owned his own butcher shop called Hamley’s). Or, it’s just because I like to save a buck or two where possible. I’ll go with the later, but it is a cool story…
I will sometimes buy a whole rib roast and cut my own ribeye steaks out of it, and freeze the ones I’m not using for future devourment. I do this for two reasons: First of all I can control how thick I make the steaks and secondly, if I was to pay for cut steaks that equal the total weight of the rib roast it would cost more. For some reason people have not caught on to this and that is why it has to remain our secret. The only downside is the upfront cost is greater than buying a few steaks, but the total cost can be significantly less in the end
Where should I buy my ribeyes from?
There are actually a lot of options and you don’t always need to buy super expensive cuts to really enjoy ribeye steak. I personally avoid grocery stores when possible as it can be hard to find good steaks there. Here are my personal go to places:
- My local butcher for special occasions
- Central Market because of their selection and ease of getting to the store. (This is a Texas based supermarket chain)
- Costco when I’m buying a whole rib roast to cut up.
- Online vendors – Here is a link to the top online ribeye purveyors and my personal favorites. Sometimes this is just the easiest option because of time. Especially if I’m sending Ribeyes as gifts which is always the perfect gift to give and receive (hint, hint).
OK…a quick mention on ribeye steak cooking methods and doneness
Here is a quick rundown on cooking options because there are 9 methods to cook a ribeye that I’ll quickly touch on.
- Grill – Gas/Propane, Wood, or Charcoal
- Caveman – This is directly laying the ribeye on the charcoal/wood or hot rocks. This can be really fun to try when you’re on a camping trip.
- Sous Vide with reverse sear – Sous Vide is vacuum sealing the ribeye in a bag and heating it in a water bath with an immersion circulator. This allows you to get the exact temperature throughout the ribeye as well as cook it in whatever seasoning or sauce you might want.
- Oven with reverse sear – This can be a good method for really thick cuts of ribeye to get an even temperature throughout and then reverse sear the outside for that caramelization after the desired internal temperature is reached.
- Smoke with reverse sear – Low and slow in the beginning…
- Deep Fry – This deserves a long conversation about deep frying because some people say a ribeye is too good of a cut of meat to deep fry. Maybe that is that Texan in me, but I say hogwash…but ribeye makes an amazing chicken fried steak with cream gravy. When I do it I don’t do it as one big fried steak, I cut the steak into a few pieces for better cooking and more crispiness.
- Saute – I personally prefer sauteing in cast iron with lots of butter, and maybe some garlic and herbs. The cast iron pan helps you achieve a better crust on the steak.
- Rotisserie – Think Brazilian steak…slow pit roasted on a rotisserie slowly turning and basting the steak in its own fat as it cooks over an open flame. Sounds amazing just thinking about it.
- Broil – Super hot temps. This method is used in many high end steak houses. They can have ovens that are getting temperatures close to 2,000 degrees… Now that is hot.
My three go to’s for seasoning: 1. Salt and Pepper, 2. Lawry’s Garlic Salt, or 3. Montreal Steak Seasoning. Also, don’t be shy when applying the seasonings. Cooking a ribeye is not set it and forget it. It is only a few minutes on each side and then lest it rest for 5 mins. Some people might say up to 10 mins, but I can’t wait that long. In fact, before I let the ribeyes rest I might spread a little butter on top. Why you might ask? Taste, and because I’m to old for my mom to stop me. Letting a steak rest basically helps to keep it from drying after you cut it. But I’ll be honest I always cut the tip off and eat it right away. Don’t tell anyone…I cut the tip off someone else’s ribeye before I bring the steaks inside because I can’t wait and because they’re not smart enough to know what they are missing.
Here is another thing I’ve learned over time: If you cook your steak when it is room temperature it takes less time which means it is better for direct high heat cooking. If you’re cooking a steak that is either directly out of the refrigerator you need to make sure you have an indirect heat option on your grill so you don’t burn it while it cooks. Or better yet, prepare ahead of time and let your steaks sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.
Ribeye Steak Doneness Temperatures
- 125° degrees for rare (cool red center)
- 135° for medium rare (warm red center)
- 145° for medium (warm pink center)
But, remember the steak will keep cooking after you pull it off the heat…and if your reverse searing it you’re going to be adding a lot of quick heat so pull it off 5 degrees before your desired temp is reached. It is important to not over cook a ribeye. Why? Because a key benefit of the ribeye is the tenderness, which when overcooked, loses that benefit.
Most people will say medium to medium rare is the only way to go with a ribeye. I prefer medium rare myself, but to be clear not rare. My mom would be fine with rare, but I don’t think you get the optimal tenderness and flavor at rare. We want the fat to render and not just have huge uncooked pieces of fat sitting in our meat.
What wine or alcohol should I serve or more importantly consume with a ribeye steak?
Let me get this out before I say what the smart people would tell you. Drink what you like and forget what the experts say. So if you like margaritas – drink them. If you like white wine – drink that. If you like rum & coke – knock yourself out. If you like lite beer – go for it. I can personally remember going to the Mansion on Turtle Creek with my Aunt and Uncle when I was 23, and they were so upset with me when I ordered a lite beer with my steak and turned down a very nice bottle of red wine they were drinking. They just couldn’t understand why. Here is why: at 23 I didn’t like red wine and I preferred lite beer.
Now to what do the experts say?
Lets touch on wines. The experts say the higher the fat and richer the steak the bolder, more robust, and higher in tannin the wine should be. We have already established that ribeyes are high in fat content and super rich, therefore we need some bold options. So, the expected route would be to go for a Barolo, Cabernet, Malbec, Bordeaux, Zinfandel or Rhône Red. There are 100’s if not 1000’s of options, and some of the fun for you should be to try and figure out which ones you like. Beyond wine they say drink whisky and dark beer with ribeyes. I will say there are a ton of great whisky drinks that taste awesome with steak, and with the rise micro brews you have an endless options for some some dark beers. So drink up and enjoy that ribeye
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