5 Fattiest Cuts of Beef Steak: The Best Options

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
November 3, 2022

Contrary to popular belief, some of the most popular cuts of steak are actually quite fatty.

Cuts of steak that have high levels of intramuscular fat (marbling) are typically found on the dorsal area of the steer. Good examples include popular cuts like the Ribeye or New York strip steak.

What is "Fat" Found in Steer?

Animals like cows/steer use fat (adipose tissue) for energy storage as well as for the regulation of bodily temperature.

There are several types of fat found on a steer - subcutaneous, intermuscular, intramuscular, intercostal, etc.

The main types of fat that are worthy of consideration with beef steaks are intramuscular and intermuscular fat.

Intramuscular fat is commonly called "marbling." It's the visible storage of lipids (fat) between muscle fibers. Intermuscular fat is just as it sounds - fat that is quite literally between (inter) muscle groups.

Understanding Beef Grades

Before tackling the different cuts of steak and their perceived "fattiness," this makes for a good transition into beef grading. The fat that's considered for "grading" is the intramuscular fat content.

choice beef steak marbling
Marbling or Intramuscular fat - the white streaks or striations found in lean meat

Different countries have their own way of analyzing the marbling found in meat. The United States uses Human graders to visually and electronically appraise beef.

In the US, inspection for beef for "wholesomeness" is paid for by tax dollars. Grading for "quality" is a service paid for by beef Producers.

The USDA will assign one of three grades to beef. The degree of marbling is the primary determinant for the "quality" grade.

The three grades are as follows:

  • Select - Lowest Tier - Lacks marbling and therefore lacks juiciness and flavor.
  • Choice - Middle Tier - Less marbling than prime, but significantly better than select.
  • Prime - Highest Tier - Abundant marbling.

Different parts of the steer are more prone to developing greater levels of intramuscular fat.

The reason I bring up grading is because it's important in terms of "fat" content. While a ribeye steak will naturally have more fat than say a strip steak, their grading dictates intramuscular fat content.

Meaning, a select grade ribeye will have less fat than a choice or prime grade NY Strip.

Fattiest Cuts of Steak

With all that said, there are a number of cuts of steak that are "fatty" and tender, most of which come from the dorsal area of the steer.

1. Chuck Eye Steak

The chuck eye steak comes from the beef chuck roll and lies beneath the blade bone - it's an extension of the beef rib/ribeye roll.

chuck eye steak
Chuck eye steak

On a beef carcass, the chuck primal is separated from the rib primal at the 5th and 6th rib. Meaning, the 5th rib shares similar qualities to that of the other rib steaks (ribs 6 - 12).

However, as you get closer to the front of the steer (ribs 2-3), these shared qualities start to diminish. On a half carcass, you can extract roughly 1-3 chuck eye steaks (depending on thickness).

Chuck eye steaks contain wonderful marbling that's common in rib steaks, but also contain larger complexus muscles, which are surrounded by swaths of fat.

With that said, the complexus muscle is one of the most tender on the entire animal - it's similar to the ribeye cap or spinalis dorsi that many rave about.

spinalis dorsi rib muscle highlighted
Spinalis dorsi on Ribeye steak highlighted in dotted yellow

A huge benefit of this cut of steak is that it's rather cheap, especially in comparison to typical ribeye steaks. The taste is similar to rib steaks, but with a more beefy flavor mixed in - similar to that of a chuck roast.

2. Ribeye Steak

To start, a true rib "eye" steak is just the longissimus dorsi muscle - this trimmed version is often called a ribeye filet. Today though, rib steaks are collectively called "ribeye" steaks regardless of muscle composition.

Here's a beef rib steak:

ribeye steak muscle composition

The meat highlighted in dotted yellow line below is the "Eye" or longissimus dorsi muscle:

Longissimus dorsi rib eye muscle
Longissimus dorsi - Rib "Eye" muscle

Beef rib steaks are some of the most popular on the entire animal.

To reiterate, the rib primal is separated from the chuck primal at ribs 5 and 6. It's also separated from the loin primal at ribs 12 and 13.

Rib bones 6-12 can be shortened, removed, frenched, etc. to create a number of different styles of rib steaks.

Steaks taken from this section have varying degrees of different muscles - namely the rib eye, the cap, and complexus.

The main muscles that people pay attention to are the "cap" or spinalis dorsi muscle and the "eye" or longissimus dorsi muscle.

For example, here's a rib steak that's roughly rib number 9:

rib steak number 9

Notice how the complexus is non-existent.

Steaks from ribs 6, 7, and 8 will have large caps and steaks 9, 10, 11, and 12 with have larger eyes; Similarly, the complexus muscle will diminish as you move towards the latter half.

Regardless, the cap and the eye will have significant marbling that aids in adding tenderness and succulence to the steak.

3. Skirt Steak

Skirt steak used to be considered offal (refuse/waste) or organ meat. Today, this cut of beef is considered one of the best on the entire animal.

skirt steak

From a single steer, there are two inside skirt steaks and two outside skirt steaks. Both are long (20-24 inches) and thin (2-4 inches across).

The inside and outside skirt steaks are boneless, trimmed cuts from the diaphragm muscle and are attached to ribs 6-12 on the underside of the short plate.

Unlike the other beef steaks discussed in this article, skirt steak isn't naturally tender - it's a tough cut of meat with large muscle fibers.

To combat this, the meat is typically marinated with a fruit that can tenderize meat. For example, pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain that can degrade collagen (connective tissue) that makes skirt steak tough.

Due to the loose grain structure, the meat will also readily absorb the marinade and be further tenderized via the ingredients.

Unlike flank steak, which is rather lean, skirt steak is quite fatty.

Skirt steak is also rather thin and must be cooked by searing over high heat and served to rare/medium rare; Doing so will develop flavor on the outside, while keeping the inside moist; Cooking above medium-rare will cause the cut to become tough and dry.

Slicing the meat into smaller strips and against the grain results in a tender cut of meat.

4. New York Strip Steak

NY Strip Steak comes from the loin primal, more specifically, the short loin sub-primal.

ny strip steak

Similar to the ribeye steak, the NY Strip Steak features the longissimus dorsi muscle; As we learned above, this is the "eye" of the ribeye steak.

While the New York Strip features the same muscles as a rib eye steak, there are differences based how the steer uses these muscles.

For instance, while the NY Strip features some marbling and external fat, it's still not as marbled as a ribeye steak. This is simply because the short loin primal is used more often than the rib.

Due to this fact, the NY Strip is less tender or more chewy than the ribeye. This also means that NY Strip will be more "beefy" as apposed to "rich" tasting due to fat.

It should also be noted that due to the butchering process, the New York Strip will typically have a band of back fat on it; This back fat isn't meant to be eaten, rather it aids in adding flavor during the cooking process.

5. T-Bone Steak

T-bone steak is probably the most recognizable cut of steak - it quite literally features a T-shaped bone within the lean meat.

t-bone steak

The t-bone steak comes from the short loin sub-primal - at the front of the loin primal. The t-bone steak is actually comprised of two muscles that can be further broken down into two steaks - the New York Strip and the tenderloin.

The New York strip is on the long side (discussed above) and the tenderloin is on short side.

When the tenderloin is removed, at the narrow end is the filet mignon or "small cut" (roughly 1-2 steaks). What remains after the filet mignon is removed is the beef tenderloin.

The above separation is common in French butchery where-as in American butchery we create T-bone and Porterhouse steaks.

Meaning, on a t-bone steak, you're getting tenderloin meat - which is fairly lean - as well as strip steak - which is somewhat fatty.

On a t-bone, the tenderloin side is less beefy but supremely tender. Where-as the strip side is more beefy, but less tender.

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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