T-Bone vs Ribeye Steak: The Differences Explained

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
January 22, 2023

The most obvious difference between a T-bone and Ribeye steak is the central bone found within the t-bone.

Aside from that, the ribeye steak is sourced from the beef rib (rib bones 6-12) and the t-bone is taken from the forward end of the short loin. While they both contain the longissimus dorsi, they still differ in overall muscle composition.

They both taste and are priced similarly.

What is the T-bone Steak?

Unlike most other cuts of steak, the T-bone is universally recognized. This is primarily due to the central bone that is quite literally "T-shaped."

t-bone steak

Scientifically speaking, the T-shaped bone is a result of the lumbar vertebra being sawed in half through the vertebral column. Anatomically, the center line of the T is a transverse process of the vertebra. The void semi-circle atop the T is half the vertebral foramen.

I realize the above sounds super complicated. Rather, visually that simply looks like this:

tbone halved

The T-bone steak is sourced from the short loin primal, pictured below:

t-bone in relation to ribeye

What Muscles Make up the T-bone Steak?

In general, there are are two muscles that make up the T-bone steak, the Longissimus dorsi and the Psoas muscle.

The longissimus dorsi muscle:

new york strip on t-bone

The psoas muscle:

psoas muscle on t-bone steak

These muscles are commonly called the NY strip (short loin) and the tenderloin; Sold separately, these steaks are both prized cuts.

Note: You might be familiar with the longissimus dorsi muscle as it's the center "eye" of the ribeye steak.

On a cow, the t-bone is found at the forward end of the short loin primal. Since the tenderloin will taper towards the front of the cow, t-bones will tend to have smaller psoas muscles.

What is a Ribeye Steak?

On a beef carcass, the rib steaks are taken from the beef rib primal. The rib primal is found at the forequarter of the cow, behind the chuck and in front of the loin.

ribeye in relation to t-bone

Ribeye steaks are essentially the meat from ribs 6-12.

Butcher's can fabricate rib steaks any number of ways. They can be:

  • Thin (less than 1 inch)
  • Thick (1.5 - 2 inches)
  • Bone-in/Frenched - like Cowboy or Tomahawk steaks
  • Boneless

What Muscles Make up the Ribeye Steak?

The ribeye steak itself is comprised of several muscles. The amount of each muscle present in your steak will entirely depend on which part of the rib primal it came from.

what is ribeye steak

A typical ribeye steak is comprised of the following muscles:

  1. Longissimus Dorsi - Eye of Ribeye
  2. Spinalis Dorsi - Ribeye Cap
  3. Complexus
  4. Longissimus Costarum - Lip or Nose

A true rib "eye" steak is just the longissimus dorsi muscle. Sometimes this muscle is actually separated from the others and it's sold/marketed as a ribeye "filet."

If you're after a more nuanced breakdown of the muscle composition of the ribeye steak, be sure to check out my other article.

The Importance of Beef Fabrication in the Sales of Meat

A topic that is unfairly brushed over in the world of meat is the fabrication of a beef carcass into retail cuts of meat - like steaks.

For a butcher, the goal is to profile the muscles and find the most optimal way to enhance the carcass' value.

Put simply: Consumers buy what looks good and Butchers cut what sells.

There's lot of effort that goes into the psychology of meat sales.

With something like Rib steaks or T-bone steaks, rather than consideration for the muscles and their own intrinsic characteristics (like tenderness, fat content, etc.), people may be apt to buy the steak simply due to the inclusion of a bone or the thickness of the meat.

Rib steaks can be fabricated to include a bone or be boneless. They can also be cut thin (less than 1") or thick (1.5-2+ inches).

Rib steaks that are thick and bone-in can then be further fabricated so that the bone is frenched.

These styles of steak are then marketed to consumers via names like "Tomahawk" or "Cowboy" to further drive up the price of the meat to the consumer.

Side note: I always find it funny that people complain that with bone-in ribeye steaks that they're paying for the weight of the bone - like with a cowboy or tomahawk steak.

Yet when it comes to T-bone steaks, that complaint is non-existent.

You could argue that they're smaller in a t-bone but either way, they add to the eating experience.

One of the reasons I love T-bone steaks is gnawing the meat off the bone. That same sort of experience is lost with boneless ribeye steaks.

With a T-bone steak these marketing measures aren't necessary because the cut sells itself. That "t-bone" is a consequence of splitting the beef carcass in half and then the steaks are cut to size accordingly.

The only real way the T-bone is marketed in a different way is when the tenderloin muscle is thicker - which naturally happens towards the posterior end of the short loin - allowing the steak to be sold as a Porterhouse.

Technically non-frenched, bone-in, ribeye steaks are the same cost per pound as their boneless counterparts too.

Differences in Price

The above information is important to understand when looking at something like the price of steak, especially on a per pound basis.

The short of it - Ribeye and T-bone steaks are usually around the same price point +/- $1/lb for each.

They're also fabricated into roughly the same weights/thicknesses:

  • T-bone steaks are usually 3/4 - 1" thick and 1.5 lbs.
  • Ribeye steaks are usually 3/4 - 1" thick and 1.5 lbs.

Aside from tenderness and fat content increasing the price of steak, another factor that drives the price of steak up is the number of steaks you can pull from a beef carcass.

Assuming 3/4 - 1" thick (which is pretty standard).

We get:

  • 10-20 T-bone steaks
  • 10-20 Rib steaks

These numbers are fairly typical but it really depends on the size of the beef being butchered.

It also depends on how the Butcher decided to cut the t-bone steaks. As per USDA guidelines a T-bone must have a tenderloin that is 0.5" thick. After cutting five or six, 0.75-1" t-bones, the tenderloin will naturally become 1.25" thick.

It's up to the butcher to decide how many t-bones and porterhouse steaks they want.

To help further drive this point home in regards to the number of steaks affecting price, we can look at the Flank steak and the filet mignon:

Flank Steak - On a cow we get 2 flank steaks. While most people wouldn't deem the flank steak to be a super desirable cut, the price per pound is still more than ribeye and t-bone steaks because they're scarce - usually at around $13-15 per pound.

Filet Mignon - On a cow we get 2 filet mignons. Unlike the flank steak, it's desirable because it's tender, yet due to being scarce, the price per pound goes up - usually at around $30+ per pound.

Differences in Tenderness

In terms of being "tender" likely folks would naively assume the T-bone steak is more tender due to the inclusion of the tenderloin.

However if you were to look at the muscles holistically, I'd wager to say people would say the ribeye steak is more tender than the New York Strip (the main portion of the t-bone).

The reason for this has everything to do with how these muscles are used - or - not used on the animal.

Also not to mention the fact that the tenderloin is a smaller part of the t-bone, where-as it's larger on the Porterhouse.

Overall, the steak contains far more strip steak than it does tenderloin.

Ribeye steaks are also taken from one of the most distal points on the entire animal. Typically, the further a cut is from the legs and the hooves, the more tender it is.

Muscles that aren't used for movement are also more tender than those that are.

That stands to reason that since the ribeye is in the center, the further the caudal (posterior) cuts, the less tender the meat; Meaning, ribeye steaks are more tender than T-bone steaks.

Differences in Taste

It's really hard to describe what something tastes like over the internet and it's even more complicated to tell people what tastes "better" because I'm not you.

With that said, my Personal opinion is that Ribeye steaks taste better - they're beefy, tender, and rich - all qualities you want in a good steak.

In my opinion, a T-bone is everything a ribeye steak wants to be. The longissimus dorsi in a ribeye steak is more tender than in a t-bone.

While the psoas muscle (tenderloin) is tender, the spinalis dorsi is just as tender and it's more flavorful due to the fat content. Ribeye steaks also aren't separated from each other like t-bones and porterhouses in terms of spinalis size.

Here's the ribeye cap or spinalis dorsi on a ribeye steak. I'd estimate this as being Rib steak #6 based on cap size:

spinalis dorsi rib muscle highlighted

Where-as, this is likely around rib steak #9 based on cap size and eye size:

rib steak number 9

Meaning, you can pick ribeye steaks that have better muscle composition without having to pay more money for it.

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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