What Is the Beef Short Loin?

Hint: It's where T-Bone, Porterhouse and Strip steaks come from

Beef short loin
A whole beef short loin, showing the sirloin end where the porterhouse steak is visible. Photo courtesy the Beef Checkoff

The beef short loin is all about steaks. If you have a favorite steak, chances are good that it comes from the short loin.

The lone exception would be if you happen to favor ribeye steaks, which come from the beef rib primal cut.

Otherwise, we're talking about strip loin steaks (sometimes called New York strip or Kansas City strip), T-bone steaks, and porterhouse steaks.

The short loin also features the beef tenderloin, which is where filet mignon comes from.

Beef Short Loin: Tender Muscles, Tender Steaks

The short loin is subprimal made up of the front part of the loin primal cut, which runs from the 13th (and last) rib, all the way back to the very top of the femur, or leg bone, where it joins the hip bone.

The rear part of the loin is called the sirloin, which is separated from the short loin by making a straight cut through the 6th (and last) lumbar vertebra. That means the short loin has none of the hip bone, and the sirloin has all of it.

The reason steaks from the short loin are so desirable is that they're made from muscles that don't get much exercise, so they're tender, and they have superb flavor and juiciness.

They're also the most expensive steaks. Having said that, every steak from the short loin is not necessarily equal to every other. The difference has to do with whether it comes from the front part of the short loin or the back part.

That's because of the further back we go, the tougher the meat gets because as the muscles approach the rear leg, they get more and more exercise.

Now, an inch or two one way or the other might not make a huge difference. But if you're paying, say, 20 bucks a pound for a porterhouse steak, you definitely want to get the best steak for your money.

Tenderloin: The Most Tender Cut of Beef

In many ways, the key to the short loin is the tenderloin. The tenderloin is a pencil-shaped muscle called the psoas major, which happens to be the most tender muscle on the beef carcass.

It's about 18 to 24 inches long, and it runs almost all the way through the loin, across both the short loin and the sirloin, with the pointy end towards the front.

There are two ways to use the tenderloin, and the decision will determine what kind of steaks you can get from the short loin.

The tenderloin is a very popular item since it's where we get filet mignon and chateaubriand.

To sell a whole tenderloin (or tenderloin steaks and roasts), it has to be removed from the carcass before separating the short loin from the sirloin. Separating the short loin from the sirloin would otherwise cut the tenderloin in half.

On the other hand, removing the tenderloin prevents the butcher from making T-bone or porterhouse steaks from that short loin. That's because T-bone steaks and porterhouse steaks both have part of the tenderloin muscle in them. No tenderloin means no porterhouse or T-bones.

So the choice is this: Remove the whole tenderloin and sell it separately (either whole or as individual steaks and roasts), or leave it in to make T-bone and porterhouse steaks.

Short Loin Steaks: Strip, T-Bone, and Porterhouse

The main muscle of the short loin is the longissimus dorsi, which is the same muscle that constitutes the ribeye part of the rib primal cut. It actually runs from the chuck section all the way back into the sirloin.

So every steak from the short loin will feature the longissimus muscle, which we can refer to as the strip loin.

The short loin itself is usually 16 to 18 inches long, and it will yield anywhere from 11 to 14 steaks, depending on how thickly they're cut. The ideal thickness is 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches, but sometimes you'll see them cut as thin as an inch.

Let's just say that there's a very warm place that awaits anyone who cuts steaks from the short loin thinner than an inch.

With that said, a typical short loin will have (starting from the front and working toward the back) maybe two club steaks (or bone-in strip steaks), six to seven T-bones, and two to three porterhouse steaks.

Or, if the tenderloin is removed, the short loin will most likely end up as boneless strip steaks.

So what a butcher chooses to do with the tenderloin determines what happens to the rest of the short loin.