Ribeye vs Chuck Eye Steak: What's the Difference?

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
November 3, 2022

In the world of steak, most people have heard of the ribeye steak - so much so that most people are apt to say their favorite steak from a beef carcass is the Ribeye.

However, a cut of steak that's often overlooked is the chuck eye steak. This cut is taken from where the chuck ends and the ribeye begins. Meaning, it shares similar qualities to beef rib steaks.

The main difference between a chuck eye steak and a ribeye steak is in the muscle composition and which muscles are maximized and minimized in the cut.

This factor has a direct effect on the tenderness, juiciness, and overall flavor of these cuts of beef.

Understanding Muscle Composition of Rib and Chuck Eye Steak

ribeye steak muscle composition

To preface this article, I wanted to first break down several muscles that make up both rib steaks and chuck eye steaks.

This information is useful because these names (both their scientific name and colloquial name) will be repeated throughout this article.

Seeing as muscle composition is the primary differentiator, they're rather important to understand.

The main muscles that make up these steaks are:

Longissimus Dorsi or "Eye" of Ribeye

All ribeye steaks have an eye. It is the meatiest portion of the steak.

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

Surrounding this muscle is the spinalis dorsi, complexus, and longissimus costarum.

Spinalis Dorsi or Ribeye "Cap"

Every ribeye steak features a cap. This muscle wraps around the eye - hence why it's called a ribeye "cap."

spinalis dorsi rib muscle highlighted
Spinalis dorsi or ribeye "cap" muscle highlighted in yellow

This piece of meat is heavily marbled is supremely tender and is widely considered to be the best muscle on the entire steer.

Complexus

The complexus muscle is the smallest muscle on the ribeye. In some cases it may not even be present on the steak (however, it's maximized on the chuck steak - more on that below).

complexus rib muscle highlighted
Complexus muscle highlighted in yellow

The complexus is similar to that of the spinalis, only it's surrounded by swaths of fat, which can be off-putting to some.

Longissimus Costarum or Lip/Nose

In bone-in rib steaks you'll also find the Longissimus Costarum muscle, which is typically removed on boneless and frenched varieties.

longissimus costarum highlighted in yellow
Longissimus costarum or "Lip" highlighted in yellow

It's similar to the complexus but is often removed.

What is a Ribeye Steak?

To start, a true rib eye steak is just the longissimus dorsi muscle - this steak can sometimes be called a ribeye filet. Today, rib steaks are now collectively called ribeye steaks regardless of muscle composition.

The beef ribeye steak comes from the beef rib primal. When a butcher is separating the eight primal cuts of beef, the rib primal is separated from the chuck primal at the 5th/6th rib bone.

rib primal where the ribeye steak is located

Bones 6-12 are then in the rib primal and the 13th rib is left in the loin.

The reason the separation occurs at ribs 5/6 is because the bones are rather small and don't work well for steaks.

This is also why chuck "short" ribs are named the way they are - they are quite literally short rib bones.

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

ribeye steak muscle composition
Ribeye Steak - Roughly Rib Steak #6 Based on Muscle Composition

At the 12th/13th rib where the rib primal is separated from the loin primal, the cross-section of the ribeye is used to analyze the quality of the meat.

From there, the intramuscular fat found in the longissimus dorsi is used to give the meat a Prime, Choice, or Select grade rating.

What is a Chuck Eye Steak?

The chuck eye steak comes from a portion of the Beef chuck/chuck roll and lies beneath the scapula/blade bone; It is an extension of the beef rib/ribeye roll.

To reiterate, the chuck is separated from the rib primal at the 5th and 6th rib, meaning the 5th rib shares similar qualities to that of other rib steaks (ribs 6 through 12). This also means that the chuck eye steak has some of the same muscles as beef rib steaks.

chuck primal where the eye steak is found

In the chuck, the ribeye muscle tapers towards the front - so these shared qualities start to diminish towards ribs 2-3.

Meaning, you only get 1-3 chuck eye steaks per half carcass. The number of steaks also depends on how thick the butcher cuts them (usually 1.25 - 2" thick).

With chuck eye steaks, we get a decent sized spinalis dorsi, kernals of fat/lean meat or the complexus, and then a smaller ribeye muscle.

chuck eye steak
Chuck Eye Steak - Roughly Rib Steak #2 or 3 Based on Muscle Composition

This muscle composition and the size of the respective muscles is the main reason this cut isn't as popular with consumers. The people who don't like this steak will cite the fat content as the primary reason.

For people who know steak and what these muscles mean though, they just see it as an opportunity to pay less for a good steak.'

To better understand what I mean by muscle composition, scroll down to the beef fabrication section.

The Importance of Beef Fabrication in Meat Sales

A topic that I think it is unfairly brushed over is the fabrication of a beef carcass into retail cuts.

Granted, it also doesn't help that most other resources simply repeat each other and don't think about these concepts in a meaningful way.

For starters, the biggest thing to realize is that butchers are both fabricating cuts to maximize their profits and to benefit consumers.

Simply put, People buy what looks good and Butchers cut what sells.

There is more to the psychology of meat sales than most people realize.

For instance:

  • The color of meat is controlled via packaging. Vacuum seals prevent oxygen penetration and modified atmospheric packaging (MAP) controls oxygen levels (among others) to stabilize the cherry red color of meat (myoglobin).
  • In the case of the beef chuck and the beef rib, the separation point of these primals is done on purpose in order to maximize the size of certain muscles; Namely, the Longissimus Dorsi or the rib eye muscle. Consumers are more apt to buy beef rib steaks than they are chuck eye steaks because the latter contains larger kernels of fat (complexus muscles).

The reason I bring the above up is because most consumers don't like buying fat, regardless of what the beef looks like.

The complexus muscle is one that is overlooked because it's a super small muscle that's surrounded by swaths of fat. However its tenderness is comparable to the more desirable spinalis dorsi muscle.

Depending on where the rib steak is taken from, the complexus muscle may not even be present (like cuts towards the loin). Where-as on a chuck eye steak, this muscle makes up a large portion of the steak.

Differences in Price

Due to the factors above, a rib steak or ribeye steak costs more on a per pound basis than a chuck eye steak; The cut is simply more desirable by Consumers.

The biggest issue though is that you can't really find chuck eye steak in a lot of places. Where I'm from in New Hampshire, I can find Ribeye steaks at BJ's wholesale club, Walmart supercenters, and my grocery store.

In years of barbecuing, I've never seen a chuck eye steak at any of these places.

Even online, the only place I've bought it from is Porter Road.

To compare Porter Road's pricing:

  • Chuck Eye Steak: Estimated weight (0.69 - 0.81 lbs) for $22 or a per pound price between $27.16 - $31.88/lb.
  • Boneless Ribeye Steak: Estimated weight (0.94 - 1.06 lbs) for $36 or $33.96 - $38.29/lb.

Keep in mind, Porter Road is an online butchery (also a physical butchery in Nashville) that's selling dry-aged beef. However, it demonstrates my point, chuck eye steak is still cheaper.

If you live somewhere where the butchers distribute both of these cuts, you'll find the same price difference; Chuck eye being cheaper.

Differences in Taste

It's really hard to describe a sensation like taste over the internet but in my opinion, the chuck eye steak is comparable to a rib steak.

ribeye steak sliced
Ribeye Steak cooked to medium-rare

Again, they're in close proximity to each other so this isn't an unrealistic comparison.

The chuck section is known for its forward "beefy" flavors. If you've ever eaten a pot roast/chuck roast, you'd know what I mean in regards to "beefy."

chuck eye steak sliced up
Chuck eye steak cooked to medium

The "steak community" is one that is pretty relentless in terms of assessing steak pictures on the internet.

Something I wanted to say is to always serve steak how You like it or how your Guests like it; Especially chuck eye, which is rather forgiving due to the fat content.

The ribeye steak above was just for Me; I like my steak medium-rare, so I cooked it to medium rare. The chuck eye steak was for Me and My Mom; She likes her steak medium, so I cooked it to medium.

Difference in Tenderness

I'd wager to say that most folks would actually find the chuck steak to be more tender than a ribeye steak. This is mainly due to the muscle composition I described above.

  • The spinalis dorsi muscle is the best cut on the entire animal (in my opinion). When sliced against the grain you barely need to chew.
  • The complexus muscle is also comparable to that of the spinalis dorsi and is similarly tender, regardless of the way you slice it.
  • The chuck eye steak also features a smaller longissimus dorsi muscle (if any) which makes up the majority of a rib steak.

The swaths of fat that separate the complexus can be off-putting to some. In my opinion, it's beneficial as it melts and drips onto charcoal or melts in your pan, further aiding in overall flavor.

The fat also isn't an amount that's excessive. If anything it can even help with cutting/slicing the steak as it can show you where these muscles articulate themselves.

muscle articulation
As fat renders, the muscles articulate themselves

The steak itself is also quite forgiving because of these muscles. Meaning, a beginner would likely have an easier time cooking a chuck eye steak.

Even if they go over medium rare, these muscles will still be tender in the mouth and easy to separate.

The same can be said for a ribeye steak, where the ribeye cap and complexus are tender regardless of internal temperate. Where-as the longissimus dorsi will only become drier and 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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