Meat cuts heard around the world
Slip of the tongue: regional and international terminology for some of our favorite cuts of meat
I was thumbing through Instagram the other day (shameless plug: @meatchris), as I'm known to do from time to time (much of the time) and saw a post of a NY Strip Steak, grilled very nicely with beautiful color. And the caption noted the sizzling, glistening beef steak as a #porterhouse. I was like "whaaa?" Turns out, not everyone in the world calls a New York Strip Steak a "New York Strip Steak". I mean, we invented it, right? Not only does terminology differ across the world, but even within America's borders not all of us can agree on meat labels.
Porterhouse Steak and its alternative names
In the US, a porterhouse steak comes from the short loin, is bone-in, and contains both the New York strip steak and the "filet mignon," or tenderloin steak separated by a thin piece of bone. The porterhouse is technically a T-bone steak which, according to the USDA, has a piece of tenderloin measuring at least 1.25" at its thickest diameter. Any less than 1.25" and you must call it a T-bone.
In Australia, and other countries heavily influenced by the UK, a porterhouse steak is simply what we in the US term a boneless NY strip steak. So if you head down under and order a porterhouse expecting a nice thick bone with a tenderloin, you'll be disappointed when you only receive a NY strip.
Ribeye, Delmonico, and Spencer steaks
The king of steak, the ribeye, doesn't always appear on menus and in stores under that name. Some prefer to spice things up with the term Delmonico, or if you're overseas (or in a part of the US that's heavily influenced by Euro culture) you may even see Spencer steak pop up. These are all the same steak, folks. Buttery, tender, and with all the prime rib glory packed into a steak, this is by far the biggest seller with the steak enthusiast community.
The origin of the term "Delmonico" comes from a steak house in NYC, called, well, Delmonico's. The owner wanted to put a twist on the ribeye on their menu to draw more people to his restaurant. So, instead of coming up with a new steak, he just told his GM to change the item on the menu from ribeye to Delmonico. So good at marketing, this guy.
But, the USDA actually recognizes another steak as a "Delmonico" - and it's not a ribeye. It's the first two steaks that come off the chuck eye on the ribeye end. When a beef carcass is broken between the 5th and 6th rib, the chuck is broken from the rib primal. Right where the chuck primal is detached from the rib primal, there is a continuation of the muscle group that makes up the Ribeye Steak. If you follow that muscle group into the chuck, you can cut two steaks from there and call those Delmonicos, according to the USDA. I've also heard some butchers call a bone-in NY Strip Steak a Delmonico, which I disagree with completely, but to each their own!
Filet mignon, tenderloin steak, and the Château cut
The most tender of all beef cuts, the tenderloin, this cut is highly sought after for its versatility and tenderness. Although it doesn't pack a lot of flavor on its own, many diners are willing to pay for the fork tender texture. Plus, as a chef, you can smother it with a variety of types of sauces to take on the flavor you're looking for.
It seems almost every restaurant that has beef on the menu has some variation of the tenderloin, and you may see a steak labeled as filet mignon, or Château cut.
Culotte, sirloin cap steak, and picanha
On the top sirloin butt, there are three primary muscles. Two of them are called the center cut top butt (we'll discuss that a bit later), but one of them is a cap on top of the top butt - the top top butt... :) This is the Top Sirloin Cap and is the most tender of the three muscles. It is nicely marbled, has a good cap of fat attached, and is free of connective tissue making it ideal for cutting steaks. Using the most technical term, beef steak top sirloin butt cap, is most definitely a mouthful. So we've come up with a couple of creative terms for this steak, one by the Spanish, and one by the Brazilians.
Culotte is a term that describes this steak in a much more beautiful way, IMHO. It is recognized by USDA and will sell a lot more steaks than anything with the word "butt" in it. In some shops, sirloin cap steak is used to describe a fat-on culotte, and the term culotte is used to describe the same steak, fat-off.
Picanha is a term some of you may have heard before, as Brazilian BBQ restaurants are all the rage in many parts of the US. This is the same cut we're discussing, but it's skewered on a sword (so sweet) and grilled over open fire (so so sweet). It is then sliced thinly onto the diner's plate to enjoy, fat cap and all. It's a highly sought after beef cut in South America, and they like it grass fed and with a large fat cap - see #picanha on your favorite social media platform.
Many people from around the world know this noble cut of beef - Sir Loin's is a particularly bad pun for a restaurant name that can be found all over America, where people just can't help themselves from terrible business names. There are many parts of the sirloin, top and bottom, which includes the steaks we just detailed above, along with tri tip, flap meat, and ball tip.
Here in America, we use the term sirloin for any part of the beef between the short loin (where you get strip loin and tenderloin from) and the hip/round. In fact, the Sirloin includes part of the hip of the beeve. But, in other parts of the world, and even in some really old school places in the US, the term sirloin is used in this fashion: "sirloin strip steak", or "New York sirloin steak".
Very confusing for some, but hey, that's why I'm writing about this now. Back in the day, butchers used the term "sirloin" for the entire short loin, called simply the loin primal now. Therefore, a strip steak as we know it today, is called a sirloin strip by some. It's a regal term, and you don't see it a lot anymore.
Steak tips vs. flap meat - East vs. West - Biggie vs. Pac - Celtics vs. Lakers
Growing up on the east coast, I had never in my life heard the term flap meat. In fact, I still think this is the grossest term I've heard for any cut of beef, outside of the oyster. I had eaten many steak tips in my life though. So, when I moved to Colorado and learned about what people were making their Carne Asada with, I had to laugh.
"People actually call this 'flap meat'?", I chuckled. Looks like steak tips, I noted as I looked at the whole piece, untrimmed. And, that's because it is steak tips - same cut, sliced differently. Beef, bottom sirloin flap meat is the USDA recognized term for this cut, and when sliced thinly with the grain, marinated and grilled, it is awesome! However, if you slice the flap meat into strips against the grain, marinate in Italian dressing, the marinade of choice for New Englanders, and grill it off, you have an east coast staple known as steak tips - also great.
Pork loin vs. pork tenderloin
I began working in a slaughterhouse in a very rural part of VA a few years ago. One day one of our pork customers came into the shop with a large, older sow that they wanted butchered. "Save the tenderloins, and grind the rest into sausage" they told me.
I wrote up their cut instructions and we slaughtered the pig that day. After the carcass had chilled a few days, we cut it up, saving the tenderloins, and grinding the rest of the 350 lbs carcass into sausage, just as instructed. We packaged, labeled, and froze the meat, as was our standard procedure, and I called the customer to let them know it was all ready for pickup.
When the customer arrived, their face fell as I brought them their meat. "Where's my tenderloins?" they asked, a small panic in their voice. "Right here", I said, holding a 5 lb. package containing two small pieces of pork, labeled 'Pork Tenderloin'. "That's it?!?"
I turned to one of my employees, who was local to the area, and asked what the trouble was. "That's the fish", the employee told me, everyone knowing by now I had really screwed this up.
Turns out, in their neck of the woods, they refer to pork loin (the whole boneless loin) as tenderloin, and the actual tenderloin is called the 'fish'. I apologized to the customer and gave them a discount for the trouble.
That was a hard lesson to learn, but one that I will always remember. Don't assume you know what all the cuts are called in all places, because everyone's glossary of meat cuts is different!