The last day of our 30 Cuts in 30 Days series brings us to the t-bone steak. Some people might just think of t-bone steaks as the porterhouse’s little brother. A good t-bone, however, can definitely stand on its own. Don’t think of it as an inferior porterhouse like I did for so many years. Enjoy the t-bone for what it is and you will fall in love with a new steak.
Where does the t-bone steak come from?
The t-bone steaks come from the front of the short loin. As you can see in the picture above the tenderloin gets a bit narrower at the front of the short loin. Porterhouse steaks are cut from the rear of the short loin where the tenderloin is thicker. The amount of tenderloin is the primary difference between the two steaks. Technically on a porterhouse the tenderloin must be 1 1/4 inches thick at its widest. From what I have seen, however, most butchers won’t call a steak a porterhouse unless the tenderloin is well over 2 inches.
Along with the tenderloin side of the t-bone steak you also have the New York strip side. This is where I think a t-bone stands above a porterhouse. The main muscle in a ribeye steak is the longissimus muscle and this muscle continues back and becomes the the New York strip. Since the t-bones are cut closer to the rib primal the New York strip side of the steak is a bit more similar to a ribeye than what you would get on the porterhouse. The strip side of a porterhouse also tends to have a couple veins of connective tissue that run through it.
Basically if you want more of the tenderloin side go for a porterhouse. If you want a better strip side go for a t-bone. The two steaks below are about as good as a t-bone steak gets. They are prime t-bones with some excellent marbling. The tenderloin side of them measured about 2 inches so they had a larger tenderloin than most t-bones but still had the high quality strip side.
These were also the biggest t-bone steaks I have seen. Most t-bones are cut a bit thinner than the porterhouse and weigh in around pound or less. These monsters were about 1.8 pounds a piece. Nice and thick. A big thank you to Snake River Farms for sending them.
How to cook a t-bone steak
In my opinion a t-bone steak is the toughest steak to cook. Cooking a New York strip is easy. Cooking a tenderloin is easy. But when you put them both together and try to cook both sides to the same temperature you can run into problems.
Like I mentioned earlier the tenderloin portions of these steaks were about 2 inches wide at their widest. The strip side measured in at about 4 inches. The muscle structure in the two cuts varies quite a bit also. Those two factors make cooking each side to the proper temperature very difficult. If you get the tenderloin side to the right temperature the strip side will tend to be underdone. If the strip is the right temperature you have probably overcooked the tenderloin.
A sous-vide machine of some sort would probably be the best way to cook a steak like this. Both sides of the steak would hit the right temperature without going over. But since most people (including me) don’t have a sous-vide cooker let’s keep looking for options.
The reverse sear method could be a good way to go since you cook the steak in a low oven to start and you aren’t as susceptible to overcooking. The problem comes when you try to sear. Since the cooked meat has shrunk a bit you will have trouble getting good contact on the pan and getting a good sear.
This leads us to the grill. With the grill you can cook the steaks over a low fire and then crank everything up and get a good sear. Here is the setup:
I lit about 50 briquettes in my chimney. When the got nice and grey I dumped most of them on one side of the grill. About 10 were left in the chimney and I filled the chimney on top of them. This second chimney of coals will come into play when we sear the steaks. Notice how I have the tenderloin portion of the steaks away from the heat. This will help protect them a bit. I have my probe thermometer in the strip side and I am looking for ~105 degrees.
One thing to keep in mind (and some of this is just theory and I need to do more testing): If you put the lid on and the vents are over the steaks you will be pulling heat over towards the steaks and more specifically over towards the precious tenderloin. Like I said, I need to do some tests and measure some temperatures to be sure of this. I made the mistake of starting these with the vent over the steaks. About 20 minutes in to the cook here were my temperature readings:
The thermometer on the left is from the probe on the strip side and the thermometer on the right is from the tenderloin. Yeah, they are two different thermometers measuring two different densities of meats and there will be some variation but the 12 degree difference was a bit concerning. After this I moved the vents over the coals and by the time the strip was at 105 the tenderloin was only at 110 which is definitely acceptable.
Put your vents over the coals and damper them down. I usually close the bottom vent about 3/4s of the way and the top vent about half way during this cooking portion. That gives me about a 300 degree dome temperature which should be a bit less at the grill level.
When the strip got to 105 degrees I pulled the steaks off and let them rest. You will get more carryover heat on the strip side since it is a bigger piece of meat so after about a 5 minute rest both sides were temping right around 115 degrees.
Remember that extra chimney of coals? If the grilling gods have smiled on you they will be grey and ready to go right about now. Dump them in the grill, open your vents all the way, and put the lid on for 5 minutes or so to get everything as hot as you can. Put the steaks on the grill for about a minute per side (again, try to keep the tenderloin over a bit cooler part of the grill) and you will have a nicely seared steak that should be right about 125 degrees internal temperature.
And now for the money shot:
If you do have thinner t-bones you can probably get away with just cooking them over the coals without starting them on the lower heat. They will be thin enough that once you have a good sear the inside will be just about perfect. Once you get over an inch or an inch and a half you will want to use the two zone cooking method.
Where to buy T-bone steaks
Most grocery stores sell t-bone steaks. The problem with getting them at a grocery store is they are usually thin. Most t-bones I see at my local stores are under 3/4 inch thick. That just won’t do.
A local butcher shop will be a better option. If they don’t have some thick t-bones in the case they can probably cut some for you on the spot. If you call the butcher in the morning and tell them what you want they will be happier with you though.
At the grocery store or butcher you will probably pay around $10 per pound for t-bone steaks. On sale they can get down to $7 and I have seen them in the $13 range also. About on par with any other good steak like a ribeye or New York strip.
The steaks I featured above were prime t-bones from Snake River Farms. If you buy one it will cost you $54 but if you buy 8 or more the price drops to $47 each and you can get free shipping if you use code FREEAFF during checkout. Is $50 a lot to pay for a steak? Of course it is. But the quality of these prime steaks is above and beyond anything you will get at your local grocery store. The marbling on these prime t-bones is excellent and that results in an awesome texture and flavor.
A $50 steak isn’t something you will eat every day or even every week. For a special occasion though? Not a bad thing to splurge on. You can’t get a steak like this for less than that in a steakhouse. And once you add in wine, dessert, babysitters, etc. you will easily drop $200 on a dinner for two. Why not cook your own t-bone steak and eat at home for half that price? Order your prime t-bone steaks today.
Like what you read? Be sure to share it with your friends and come back tomorrow to learn about another cut of beef.