Top 10 Cuts for Grilling

The meat counter can be confusing. It’s usually heavy on choice but light on actual information. Here’s the scoop on our favourite grilling beef cuts—all delicious, and fit for every budget.

The Classic Cuts



Other Names: The French term filet mignon is widely used. It can also be referred to as filet steak, medallions or chateaubriand (especially in France).

Characteristics: The tenderloin is by far the most tender beef cut and because it is very lean, its flavour is quite delicate. The texture is almost buttery and very uniform, as it contains little connective tissue or fat. If you’re buying a chateaubriand, make sure that the meat actually comes from the filet. Also, be careful not to confuse tournedos with filet. The term tournedos can refer to any cut that has been tied with string into a round shape. They are typically made with inside or outside round steak from the thigh. Definitely less tender than tenderloin!

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare. This steak is prone to drying out, so be careful not to overcook it.



Other Names: Top sirloin butt, rump steak.

Characteristics: The top sirloin is less tender than the strip loin and rib-eye, but more affordable and just as delicious. And although it sounds similar to top sirloin, sirloin tip is cut closer to the animal’s thigh and is a much tougher cut of beef.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare.



Other Names: Contre-filet. On menus and in the U.S., it is often called New York strip, or Kansas strip (if the bone is left in).

Characteristics: The strip loin is a similar cut to the filet, but not quite as tender. It does, however, have much more marbling, so it’s juicy and flavourful. It also has a fairly fine and uniform grain.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare.



Other Names:  On menus in the U.S., they are often referred to as Cowboy (for the rib steak) or Delmonico (for the rib-eye).

Characteristics: A rib-eye is the term for a de-boned rib steak. Grill enthusiasts favour these cuts because they deliver bold beef aromas. The reason? They are well-marbled with a characteristic chunk of fat called a fat plug, which is where the flavour, tenderness and juiciness all come from. The size of the fat plug decreases from the front to the back of the animal. If you prefer something leaner, ask the butcher for steaks cut from the lower rib cage.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare.



Other Names: Porterhouse is the term for cuts with a greater amount of tenderloin.

Characteristics: With a T-bone steak, you have the best of both worlds: A bit of tenderloin and a generous portion of strip loin. The porterhouse is cut from the bottom of the loin (closer to the hip) and offers more filet meat than a T-bone, which is cut from the middle. Both are tender and delicious.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare.

The Up-and-comers



Other Names: Triangle, rump tail. In the U.S., it’s often called Santa Maria steak.

Characteristics: The tri-tip is a relatively unknown cut quickly gaining popularity. It’s lean, tender and offers great value. This muscle features a fine, uniform grain, little fat and no bone—so minimal trimming is required. The cut can be bought whole and cooked as a roast or sliced into steaks. As a roast, its uneven shape allows for two different levels of doneness: Rare in the thickest part and medium rare in the thinner portion.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare. Avoid overcooking, which will dry out the meat. Must be sliced thinly against the grain. Leftovers are perfect in sandwiches.



Characteristics: This flat and oblong muscle is easy to recognize because of its visible grain, formed by long muscle fibres running in parallel bands. It has a beautiful beefy flavour and is actually very tender—contrary to popular belief—as long as it is sliced thinly against the grain.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare. Flank steak can be cooked whole or in thin strips. It is ideal for skewers, satays, fajitas and warm salads.



Other Names : In France and Quebec, it is referred to as bavette.

Characteristics: This flavourful cut was popularized in French bistros with the classic Bavette à l’échalote, a seared flap steak served with a shallot sauce. Think of it as flank steak’s sophisticated cousin, with a slightly coarser grain. It is also more tender than flank (thanks to all the marbling) and just as tasty.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare. It must be sliced against the grain. It is delicious as a steak, but also in strips in fajitas or warm salads.

The Two to Discover

There are treasures waiting to be discovered behind your butcher’s counter. You probably won’t find these cuts in large supermarket chains. Instead, visit a butcher shop that still cuts meat from half carcasses or order them ahead of time from any meat counter. Price and availability will vary. Because of relatively low demand, they’re slightly less expensive than the classic cuts—for now.



Other Names: In France and Quebec, this is referred to as onglet.

Characteristics: The hanger connects the animal’s diaphragm to the area behind the last rib, near the kidneys. It is made up of two oblong muscles held together with elastic connective tissue. (A good butcher will separate the two muscles before selling them.) The hanger steak has a coarse, visible grain made of short transversal muscle fibres. It offers deep flavour and lovely tenderness (even better than bottom sirloin flap), making it a favourite among those in the know—including butchers, who often keep it for themselves. This is perhaps why it is sometimes nicknamed butcher’s steak.

Best Cooked: Medium rare. Must be sliced thinly against the grain. Excellent enjoyed as a steak.



Other Names : Plate steak in Western Canada.

Characteristics : This long, flat muscle surrounds the animal’s abdominal cavity. There are two skirts: inside and outside. Skirt steaks are fatty and have a very coarse grain with an obvious direction, giving them hearty flavour and a texture similar to that of the bottom sirloin flap.

Best Cooked: Rare or medium rare. Must be sliced thinly against the grain. Commonly used in fajitas (and sometimes called fajita steak). To serve as a steak, choose an outside piece, which tends to be thicker with a more intense flavour.

Tender vs. Tough

Whether a steak is tender or tough all comes down to exercise. The more a muscle is used, the more firmly it is attached to the animal’s skeleton by tough and stretchy interwoven fibres called connective tissue (which supports and connects muscles together). The more tissue there is, the tougher the meat. Thus, tender cuts come from areas where the muscles are rarely exercised (like ribs, loin and sirloin).

Another important factor when it comes to taste and tenderness is marbling, a term that refers to the presence of thin strands of intramuscular fat that lend the meat a marble pattern. This is what gives red meat its succulent flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Always choose a cut of beef with plenty of marbling. The more, the better! Note that the layer of the fat surrounding a piece of meat isn’t a factor in its tenderness.

In Canada and the U.S., one of four quality grades is assigned to beef depending on the amount of marbling: A (the least marbled), AA or AAA (the most marbled) and prime, which is even more marbled than AAA and primarily sold to restaurants. Less than 3% of all the beef sold in Canada earns the prime grade. Current regulations require that quality grades appear next to beef cuts advertised in sales flyers, but unfortunately, they aren’t always marked right on the packaging in the store.

Large supermarket chains stock mostly A and AA beef in the regular meat display, but will carry AAA beef at a separate butcher counter or package them with special logos or brands highlighting the grade. Confused? Just ask the butcher for help.





How it’s Done: Cutting Against the Grain

Cuts like bottom sirloin flap, hanger, tri-tip and flank must always be sliced against the grain. This cuts their long bundles of muscle fibres into small, easy-to-chew pieces. Here’s the technique.

  • Determine the direction of the fibres and position the piece of meat on the cutting board so they run horizontally.


  • Slice across the grain, at a right angle.


Name That Meat

To keep things simple, we have used the standardized names recommended by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Our kitchen team even went on a recon mission and found that although most major grocery stores abide by the same vernacular, that’s not always the case with independent shops. Your best bet? Learn the lingo, know what you want and strike up a conversation with the butcher.

Christina Blais

For Christina Blais, explaining food chemistry to the masses is as simple as making a good omelet. Holding a Bachelor and Master degree in Nutrition, she has been a part-time lecturer for over 30 years in the Department of Nutrition at the Université de Montréal, where she teaches food science courses. She has been sharing the fruits of her experience with Ricardo since 2001, during his daily show broadcast on ICI Radio-Canada Télé. And diehards can also read her Food Chemistry on our website. You can follow her on Facebook at @Encuisineavecchristinablais.