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The world of steaks can be an exciting, albeit overwhelming place to explore. All it takes is a brief stroll through the meat department at a local grocery store to get but a glimpse of the options at our fingertips – and to come across a ribeye vs filet staring right back at you.
There are so many cuts of meat, each with their own unique characteristics. Some are best known for their juiciness and flavor, while others are known more for their tenderness. Some cuts of meat showcase higher grades of marbling, and other cuts, not so much.
In this article, we’ll go over the differences, similarities, and everything you need to know in the ribeye vs filet conversation. By the end, you’ll be an expert at these two incredibly delicious cuts of meat!
Ribeye vs Filet – What’s the Difference?
Knowing such things takes a lot of research and time, and the local butcher or meat department employee is not always available to answer questions. None of us want to wind up being the confused restaurant patron who, upon being asked what kind of steak he would like, or how he’d like it prepared, offers a blank stare and an audible “uhhhh.”
This can be an unsettling occurrence, and since steak can be pricey, it’s important to know exactly what one is paying for and how the steak should be prepared.
We could spend days discussing the different cuts of steak, the various breeds of cattle, what makes certain cuts more prone to marbling (streaks of fat that run throughout the meat), how best to serve the steak, and whether or not seasoning and sauces are an enhancement or a detriment.
These things and more are cause for a lengthy dialogue about something we really just want to enjoy: that tender, juicy cut of meat that is oh so divine! Today’s discussion is centered around two cuts of meat that most are familiar with, whether from enjoying one (or both) before, or from seeing them at a local grocery store or steakhouse. Behold, the ribeye and the filet.
This cut of meat is wildly popular, and for good reason. Oftentimes described with terms such as “bold” and “rich,” the flavor profile of this cut is heavenly. The ribeye comes from the portion of the cow that is known as the beef rib.
This part of the cow is located between the chuck (or shoulder) and the loin. Due to its position on the animal, this piece of meat ends up collecting a good amount of fat which, in turn, imparts a marvelous flavor to the meat.
Speaking of fat, let’s take a brief timeout and discuss marbling; that is, the overall fat content of a piece of meat that is visibly shown as the white streaks running throughout the cut of meat.
The fat content of any given cut varies on where it’s located and, therefore, how much or how little that muscle is used by the animal itself. High amounts of marbling yield meat that’s juicier and more tender, while less marbling yields a more mild, nuanced piece of meat (more on this later).
This flavor profile imparted by the fat is introduced to the meat as it melts throughout the cooking process. As noted earlier the ribeye is a very popular piece of meat and one of the reasons for this is because of the marbling.
Anatomy of a Ribeye
The ribeye is a serious piece of meat that consists of three unique parts. The portion of the ribeye that is the meatiest is the Longissimus Dorsi (or the Eye of Ribeye), which is the center cut of the ribeye that contains a good amount of marbling.
However, the most tender portion of the cut is the Spinalis (or cap) which contains arguably the highest concentration of marbling, thus yielding a juicy, flavorful piece of the cut. Finally, we have the Complexus which only makes up a small portion of the cut.
All three of these muscles constitute the ribeye, and you can purchase a ribeye with all or some of these muscles present. Ribeyes can also be purchased in bone-in or boneless style cuts.
How to Prepare a Ribeye
Now that we know a little bit about the anatomy of the ribeye – where it comes from and what muscles it’s made of – we can now discuss preparation, and preparation is just one step closer to consumption: everyone’s favorite part!
Even though the preparation technique one personally opts for is purely up to his own unique situation – that is to say, how much time is available, what kind of equipment is accessible, and what kind of occasion the cooking is for, to name a few – my personal favorite is to fire up my kamado grill for ribeye.
There is something about grilling a nice, juicy steak in a backyard, or on a deck, in a communal gathering space, or even at a tailgate. The social aspect of grilling in the great outdoors is certainly worth considering when thinking through how to prepare a steak.
If, however, one is less interested in the social aspect of cooking and would rather focus on what yields truly exceptional results, then try pan-searing the steak on the stove top.
Cooking a ribeye in a good ol’ fashioned cast-iron skillet (or heavy duty nonstick) is a great way to give a steak a restaurant-grade sear, and that’s half the battle when it comes to preparing a quality steak.
Regarding doneness, even though the individual consumer’s preferences ought to be considered, it’s generally recommended that a ribeye be cooked no more than Medium, with Medium-Rare being ideal.
If a ribeye is cooked too long then the highly-desirable qualities it possesses – the tenderness, fat content and, therefore, juiciness – will be diminished. So, for those who don’t typically order Medium or Medium-Rare steaks, go ahead and commit to being adventurous and let the juices flow!
Best Wine With Ribeye
What’s a good steak without some excellent red wine? We simply cannot talk about a ribeye vs filet without also briefly discussing an appropriate wine pairing. Steak yearns for big, voluptuous, complex red wine, such as some high-caliber Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, and so that’s what I’ll suggest.
Pay attention, though, because I’ve also thrown in a few red blends, as well. While blends can sometimes lack the backbone (or structure) and purity of expression that a wine dominant in one varietal can achieve, given the right conditions and the right talent, a red blend can hold its own with a juicy, flavorful hunk of meat.
While the prices on these suggestions are higher than I normally gravitate toward, I’ve chosen to highlight some real knockout selections spanning a wide range of elevated price points to truly compliment a piece of meat that’s been worked hard on to get just right.
Wine Suggestions for Ribeye:
- Groth, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Flora Springs, “Trilogy” Red Blend
- Lewis Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Amici, “Spring Mountain” Cabernet Sauvignon
- Tuck Beckstoffer, “Dancing Hares” Red Blend
Steakhouses are one of the most popular eating establishments for celebrating special occasions. They boast white tablecloths, professional waitstaff, exclusive ambiance and elegant décor, extensive wine lists and, of course, a litany of amazing cuts of meat.
However, if steakhouses are one of the most common places to celebrate special occasions, then I’d argue it’s the filet that most folks eat when celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, or work promotions.
The filet offers diners just the right amount of tenderness and just the right amount of juiciness, while being well-suited for add-ons and dress-ups, whether it be a simple house-blend of seasonings or something more special like jumbo lump crab meat, asparagus and béarnaise sauce (known as Oscar Style).
Or, if one is feeling particularly excited about a promotion – or a recently closed deal – then adding a lobster tail to a filet is quite simply the perfect accompaniment.
The filet comes from the tenderloin and represents a relatively small percentage of the whole animal. One reason why the filet is so popular is because of its tenderness, which is due to the tenderloin being a non-weight bearing muscle.
A filet prepared perfectly will be soft and buttery to the knife, sometimes even allowing diners to use a butter knife in lieu of a steak knife. Now that’s tender! Where the filet excels in tenderness it can sometimes come up short in flavor, as it is quite mild compared to other more robust cuts.
This is due to a limited amount of marbling, thus yielding a more delicate flavor profile. This is precisely while a filet can truly shine when it’s treated with seasonings or drizzled with some flavorful sauces, or even prepared wrapped in bacon for added flavor.
Alas, a quality filet that is served by itself is a remarkable piece of meat and is a delicacy to behold! While the ribeye we discussed earlier is generally best cooked to a Medium or Medium-Rare doneness, the filet is best served either Medium-Rare or Rare.
How to Prepare a Filet
Speaking of the appropriate doneness of a filet, let’s discuss a few excellent ways to prepare one at home.
One of the best ways to achieve a divine filet is to apply a favorite blend of seasoning and then give it a quality stovetop sear using a cast-iron skillet. There are few things as satisfying as a filet that has discernable crust, and this is how that is attained.
Giving both sides of the filet ample exposure to the hot surface of the skillet allows for the crust to build, and once that’s accomplished, into the oven it goes to finish the cooking process via baking.
Finishing the steak off in the oven is a slower cooking that benefits the steak by allowing for a more even distribution of heat. This not only compliments the inherent tenderness of the cut but also allows for a bit more control when it comes to cooking to the preferred doneness.
Of course, an alternative to the cooking method highlighted above is to get outside and grill! Like any steak, the grill can be one of a filet’s best friends. What better excuse to gather good friends together and have a grill session?
Best Wine With Filet
As we wrap up our brief discussion on ribeye vs filet I’d like to finish with some wine pairing suggestions. Due to the filet’s inherent tenderness and its mild flavor profile we’re going to stick within the realm of red wines but are going to delve into some more delicate expressions whose elegance and finesse will best compliment the milder flavors found in the steak.
Whereas ribeye can handle most rich, robust wines the filet will need a more discerning companion. A filet is even more happy when your wine has a little bit of age on it! A quality Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, will have softened over the years, thus exuding a more mature, feminine profile.
Wine Suggestions for Filet:
- Textbook, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- Venge Vineyards, “Silencieux” Cabernet Sauvignon
- Tuck Beckstoffer, “Mad Hatter” Red Blend
- Duckhorn, “Three Palms” Merlot
- Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, “Fay Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
Ribeye vs Filet – Final Thoughts
It’s my hope that you now have a better understanding of what makes the ribeye vs filet conversation such a special one, and what makes them both so wildly popular. Whether it’s the rich flavor and juiciness of the ribeye, or the tenderness and milder flavor of a filet, both are some of the best steaks around.
Due to how easy it can be to find any one of these cuts at your local grocery store or purveyor of meats, challenge yourself to perfect the art of preparing and cooking these steaks, not only for your own personal enrichment and enjoyment but, more importantly, so you can share your creations with those you love.
Go ahead, develop your own proprietary blend of seasonings; experiment with cooking techniques that yield the best flavor profile, and compare which you think is better between ribeye vs filet. Decide whether you like your steaks served by themselves or if sauces & seafood are the crown your steak deserves.
Finally, when you’re confident you’ve found the perfect rhythm for preparing your steaks, focus your sights on the final chapter: wine. Using some of our suggestions can help paint a roadmap that will lead to happier taste buds, happier family and friends, and a happier you – no matter which cut of steak you go with.
So, with that said, fire up the grill (or pre-heat the oven) and get cookin’!
Looking for more steak knowledge? Check out our comparison of NY Strip vs Ribeye steaks next.