Rib-eye steaks, one of the most common and best types of steak, come from the beef rib primal cut; the corresponding roast is the prime rib. Rib-eye steaks, sometimes called beauty steaks, are tender, juicy and very flavorful, with just the right amount of fat. Fast cooking methods using high heat produce the most delectable results.
What Is Rib-Eye Steak?
Rib-eye steaks can be boneless or bone-in, meaning the steak contains a piece of rib bone. The bone may extend inches beyond the tip of the rib-eye muscle, or be trimmed more or less flush with the meat. You may see a bone-in rib-eye 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 reaches medium-rare, other parts of the steak might be closer to medium. Fortunately, boneless rib-eye steaks are pretty much the norm.
Longissimus: The Rib-eye Muscle
The main muscle in a rib-eye steak is the longissimus dorsi, a long, tender muscle that runs from the cow's 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, 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 rib-eye cap.
How to Cook Rib-Eye Steak
The best way to cook a rib-eye steak is 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.
Brush the steak lightly with oil on both sides and get the grill or pan smoking hot before you add the meat. A 1.5 inch-thick steak takes about 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare; monitor the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer, and pull the steak when it reaches 130 to 135 F. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Increase the cooking time by 1 or 2 minutes per side for each additional degree of doneness.
What Does Rib-Eye Steak Taste Like?
Highly marbled rib-eye steak gets its distinctive beef flavor from the large swath of fat separating the longissimus from the spinalis dorsi. Rib-eye is one of the richest cuts available. The central eye of meat tends to be smooth-textured, with a finer grain than a strip steak. The spinalis dorsi section typically has a looser grain and more fat; this tiny crescent of tender meat is so rich, buttery and juicy, it may become your favorite part of the rib-eye.
The rib primal cut is situated between the chuck (the shoulder) and the loin (farther back toward the rear leg), and you can tell where a rib-eye steak came from just by looking at it. If the eye of the rib-eye is small, about 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 dorsi.
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.
If the rib-eye 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 rib-eye muscle will be slightly less fatty, but both cuts are delicious.
Finally, there's a section of rib-eye 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.
Rib-eye steak is a great choice for a backyard barbecue, deep-frying, a special occasion dinner, or a mouthwatering sandwich.
Where to Buy
You'll find rib-eye steaks at the meat counter in the grocery store, but there are also many high-end retailers boasting the choicest—and some of the priciest—cuts of meat to order. While rib-eye steak is among the most expensive cuts of meat, many cooks say it's worth the extra cost for the juicy, tender meat.
Store rib-eye steaks in the store packing for up to three days in the coldest part of your refrigerator at the back of the bottom shelf. Raw steaks tightly wrapped in plastic generally won't lose quality in your freezer for up to three months; for best results or longer storage, use a vacuum sealer.
Leftover cooked steak should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container and consumed within two or three days.