What Part of the Cow Is the Steak, Exactly?

There’s hardly anything more satisfying than a thick, juicy steak that’s been seared to perfection. But no matter what kind of steak you like, it all seems very expensive.

cooking steak with rosemary in a non stick pan

Naturally, I think it’s safe to assume that you don’t get very many of them from a single cow, but then that begs another important question: just what part of the cow is steak?

Steaks can come from different parts of the cow, such as the loin and rib. For instance, sirloin steak comes from the loin or lower back of the cow, while ribeye comes from the area around the ribs.

In actuality, a steak is more of a type of cut than a specific part of a cow or other animal. But don’t let that confuse you, because there are many common cuts of steak that you’ll see referred to again and again at the grocery store or the butcher.

So naturally, it pays to learn more about the different cuts of steak, where they come from on the cow and how many steaks you can expect to get from a carcass. I’ll tell you about all that and a lot more below.

What Defines Steak, Exactly?

It might be helpful to define what stake is precisely before we go further. A steak doesn’t refer to a particular cut of meat, the way it’s prepared, or even its shape.

Technically, it doesn’t even refer to the part of the cow that it comes from. A steak is properly defined as any cut of beef that is cut across the grain of the muscle, not with it.

In that regard, so long as it is cut accordingly, steak could come from any part of the cow although practically speaking, there are several standard cuts that you see again and again.

A Visual Guide to the Cuts of a Cow: Learn Where Every Beef Cut Comes From!

Does Steak Always Come from One Part of the Cow?

No. If you’re going by the strict definition of steak as described above, a steak can come from any part of the cow.

But again, we see standard cuts come from only a few specific places of the cow: this is because different primal cuts yield meat of superior quality that is suitable for being cut as steak.

Steak taken from the locations we’ll learn about in the next section tend to be more flavorful, better suited for roasting, grilling or frying, and just make for a better meal overall.

But it’s also worth pointing out that relatively few steaks can be taken from the total of these cuts, and that is why steak tends to be significantly more expensive.

What are Some of the Most Common Steak Cuts?

As mentioned, technically you could just start cutting across the grain of the meat anywhere on a cow and start producing “steaks,” but chances are they would not be too good.

Accordingly, we know that the best steaks come from several different locations on the cow, and each of these has a specific name detailed below.

1. Sirloin 

Sirloin has several variations depending on the exact cut, but it’s always taken from the loin, or lower back, area of the cow as the name suggests. Sirloin is a versatile, flavorful, and popular cut of steak.

2. Tenderloin

Taken from a group of muscles at the top of a cow’s hips close to the spine, tenderloin steak is, as the name suggests, very tender and it is also a very lean cut.

Tenderloin also produces several other specialized steaks like filet mignon, and its general scarcity and high quality means it is a more expensive steak…

3. Strip

Strip steaks are come from the upper middle back of a cow, usually referred to as the short loin and so technically this is a subset of other loin steaks, broadly.

This is a flavorful cut, and is usually tender and lean, and is also easy to prepare in a variety of ways for different dishes.

4. Ribeye

In case the name didn’t tip you off, the ribeye steak is cut from meat near the cow’s ribs.

Ribeye steaks tend to be very fatty which can turn some people off but also contribute to a rich flavor if prepared with care. This is one of the cheaper steak cuts on a cow but not the cheapest.

5. Rump

A rump steak is taken from a cow’s backside, specifically near the top of the legs at the back around the tail area. This isn’t the most common steak cut, but it is quite popular for roasts.

This part of the cow is also notable for producing a cut that has lots of fat on the outside, but very little marbling on the inside.

6. Flap

Typically derided as a low-quality cut, flap steak is taken from the internal oblique abdominal muscles. It’s a subcategory of bottom sirloin, taken from the bottom-most part of that cut.

You’ll rarely find this sold directly as steaks; it’s much more commonly used for other beef products.

7. Porterhouse

The porterhouse is a legendary steak, created from both the tenderloin and top loin of the cow. In essence, it is part tenderloin and part top loin in one cut, and remember that tenderloin is always expensive.

Combining two very flavorful cuts with different textures always makes this a satisfying steak, but you’re going to pay a big premium for it.

As you can see, there are many varieties of steak that can be taken from a cow, and they come from all over the carcass. There are other steak cuts, but these are the most common and popular.

What is a Tomahawk Steak?

The tomahawk steak, named for its resemblance for the primitive hatchet-type weapon of the same name, is nothing more than a ribeye that still has a part of the rib attached to it.

This rib protrudes from the steak like a handle, with the meat forming the rough shape of an axe head. You can easily imagine how it came by the name!

And this isn’t just a flashy way to serve a steak as the bone actually serves a purpose: the presence of the bone in the steak helps prevent the ribeye from drying out.

Normally that is a common problem when preparing this cut of steak.

How Many Steaks Can You Get Out of a Cow?

This depends on the weight of the cow, but generally you can get anywhere from 200 to 220 pounds of steak from a whole cow carcass.

The standard weight of a cow that’s sent to slaughter is between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds.

As such, variations in the weight of the animal will play a part in the yield of the steak, as will the skill of the butcher and precisely what kinds of cuts the purchaser wishes to be taken from the carcass.

Similarly, if you’re counting portions of steak instead of yield by weight, cutting them thicker means you’ll get fewer individual steaks.

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