What Is a Ribeye Steak?

Learn all about this juicy, tender cut of meat

Ribeye steaks
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One of the most common and best types of steak is the ribeye. Ribeye steaks are cut from the beef rib primal cut and when kept as a whole roast, is a prime rib. Ribeye steaks, also called Delmonico steaks, are tender and juicy and very flavorful, with just the right amount of fat.

The best way to cook a ribeye steak is very quickly, over high heat, either on the grill, under the broiler, or in a cast-iron skillet. Cooking it this way produces a flavorful brown crust on the outside of the steak while leaving the interior tender and juicy.

As ribeye can be a bit pricy, it is important that you know what to look for at the meat counter to make sure you are getting the best piece of meat.

Boneless Ribeye Vs. Bone-In

Ribeye steaks can be boneless or bone-in, meaning it still has the rib bone. Depending on how the beef rib is fabricated, the bone can extend inches beyond the tip of the ribeye muscle, or it can be trimmed more or less flush. You may see a bone-in ribeye labeled as "rib steak."

The bone adds flavor and moisture, but it can make cooking the steak more difficult. The meat next to the rib cooks more slowly, so by the time that meat is medium-rare, other parts of the steak might be closer to medium.

Fortunately, boneless ribeye steaks are pretty much the norm. If you go to a butcher and ask for ribeye steaks, 9 times out of 10 you're going to get the boneless version.

Longissimus: The Ribeye Muscle

The main muscle in a ribeye steak is the longissimus dorsi, a long, tender muscle that runs all the way from the hip bone to the shoulder blade. It's tender because it doesn't get much exercise. It's also a muscle where a good amount of intramuscular fat tends to deposit; this fat, also known as marbling, adds tons of moisture and flavor to a steak. (The longissimus is also the primary muscle in strip steaks.)

There is another strip of muscle at the top of the steak called the spinalis dorsi, or ribeye cap. This tiny crescent of tender meat is so rich and buttery and juicy it may become your favorite part of the ribeye.

Different Ribeye Cuts

The rib primal cut is situated between the chuck (the shoulder) and the loin (further back toward the rear leg), and you can tell where a ribeye steak came from just by looking at it. If the eye of the ribeye is small, like 3 to 4 inches across, and surrounded by a few other little blobs of muscles, it's from the chuck end. One of those muscles will be the cap, only it won't be crescent-shaped this far forward. Another is the complexus, and another is the multifidus.

Both the complexus and the multifidus get progressively smaller toward the rear of the rib primal, and the complexus actually disappears before it gets to the short loin.

On the other hand, if the ribeye muscle is bigger, closer to 6 or 7 inches across, with the crescent-shaped cap muscle at the top, that steak is from the center or loin end of the rib. The steak with the bigger ribeye muscle will be slightly less fatty, but both cuts are absolutely delicious.

Finally, there's a section of ribeye steak called the lip, which is a long, roughly triangular strip of muscle (serratus dorsalis and longissimus costarum) that sits underneath the rib bones. Sometimes the lip is removed, but usually not—mainly because once it's off, there's not much it can be used for other than making ground beef.