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Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.
Today: This summer, forget the usual suspects -- rib eye is where it's at.
The rib eye is cut from ribs six through twelve on the cow, between the loin and the shoulder. If you’re getting more than one bone in your ribeye, this cut becomes a rib roast -- you know, those fancy showstoppers you see at holiday parties that cook for hours and hours and leave the host(ess) frazzled and sweaty. However, if you’re just getting one bone, this makes it a rib eye (called a Delmonico when boneless, a Scotch filet in Australia and New Zealand, and a cowboy steak when the rib bone is extra long and frenched). The rib eye is the fattiest of the high-end steaks, which means it has the boldest flavor. It also means that it needs to be handled differently than a porterhouse, T-bone, strip, or filet.
More: If flank steak is more your style, this one is bloody good.
Because of their high fat content, rib eyes do well when cooked in a cast iron skillet. The meat is surrounded by its fat while it cooks, as opposed to losing it through the grates of a grill, which results in ultimate flavor retention. Cooking a fatty steak on the grill can lead to major flare-ups, too, which will leave your super-expensive steak charred in a matter of seconds. That being said, if you’re determined to grill your rib eye, go for it! Just keep your tongs close by, because you might need to grab the steak at a moment’s notice.
Rib eyes are flavorful enough that they don't need anything more than salt and coarse black pepper. Seriously. When you buy barbecue sauce to baste your rib eye, you break my dang heart. Don't be stingy with the salt, either! It will draw out the liquid within the steak, creating tiny beads of moisture on the surface, which then reabsorbs back into the muscle strands. This creates a kind of quick brine that gives your steak incredible flavor and tenderness. Because rib eyes are so huge, they need a good 45 minutes to an hour to come to room temperature, and absorb the salt you seasoned them with, so make sure you allot this time in your meal planning. If you don’t have 45 minutes to an hour, salt your rib eye and cook it right away -- just don’t let it sit out for an in-between amount of time.
More: Did you know you can also brine chicken, turkey, and pork chops? Here's our guide.
When it comes to steak, especially big-boy steaks like the rib eye, people generally like the bravado of eating it super-rare. Hear me out, though: The rib eye is best just shy of medium, or 135° F. A long cooking time gives all that lovely fat an opportunity to render out. Skimp on the cooking time, and you’ll be chewing on gross, rubbery, un-rendered fat. Nobody wants that.
The rib eye also has more connective tissue than other steaks, especially as it gets higher up toward the shoulder, and those tissues also need time to render and break down. A 1 1/2-inch steak should cook for about 5 minutes on each side in a hot skillet or grill. Invest in some grapeseed oil -- it has a higher smoke-point than most neutral oils, which means you can get a better sear on your steak without setting off the fire alarm.
Lastly, remember to let your steak rest after you cook it. Put a pat of butter on it for extra fanciness, tent it with foil to keep the heat in, and give it 10 minutes to reabsorb the juices and relax before slicing it against the grain and serving. You'll be a rib eye fanatic yet.
What other cuts of meat do you want to know more about? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by Mark Weinberg