Top Of The Food Chain: Short Loin

Short Loin

Illustration by Laura Williams

Welcome to Top Of The Food Chain, a column from Eat Me Daily's meatiest columnist, Ryan Adams. Every week we'll attempt to demystify the options available in your supermarket, breaking animals down piece by piece so that the next time you find yourself staring at endless Styrofoam containers, you'll be able to make an informed purchase. This week: Short Loin.

Ah, the Short Loin primal. Maybe it's not as sexy as the Rib primal, but the Short Loin is the workhorse of the primals, accounting for up to eight percent of the carcass's weight while being among the smaller sections of meat on the cow. Home to various steaks that we all know and love — the Delmonico, the Porterhouse, the T-Bone — all of which are among the most tender, popular and expensive cuts of beef, this dense primal is a meat eater's playground.

Cut: Short Loin


Picture by Vidiot

The Short Loin primal is located at the extreme anterior 1/8th end of the tenderloin, and runs outwards to the hide. Muscles in this area aren't worked terribly hard, meaning that the meat is very tender while still packing a decent amount of beefy flavor. The whole primal contains the very last rib of the cow — the thirteenth — and the cow's backbone or spine, which is known by many of us as the T-shaped bone found in two steaks: the Porterhouse and the aptly named T-Bone. Usually, this primal is cut into steaks which, in order from the front of the primal to the end, are: the Delmonico, the T-Bone, and the Porterhouse.

The Delmonico steak (also known as the club steak) has had a bit of an identity crisis over the years. Made world-famous by Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City in the mid 1800s, controversy rages over exactly which cut of beef the restaurant used first, including the top boneless sirloin and a boneless rib-eye. I believe, and most butchers would agree with me, that a true Delmonico steak is the first cut of the top loin next to the rib end.

T-Bone steaks take their name from the letter "T" shaped backbone that the muscles are attached to on both sides. The larger of the two sides can be removed to make New York Strip steaks, whereas the smaller piece of meat comes from the ultra-tender yet mostly flavorless tenderloin.

The Porterhouse's name came a New York tradition from the 1840's. Restaurants would advertise specials on a beef steak served with a flagon of porter, which sounds like my kind of party. The cut houses an excellent amount of top sirloin, and a bigger amount of the aforementioned tenderloin.

There is a healthy debate ongoing about how much tenderloin must be attached to the backbone for a steak to qualify as either a T-Bone or a Porterhouse. I'll quote the exact measurements the US Department of Agriculture states in their Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications Guide in an attempt to not play favorites to either side:

  • "Item No. 1173 - Beef Loin, Porterhouse Steak - The steaks shall be prepared from any IMPS short loin item. The maximum width of the tenderloin shall be at least 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) when measured parallel to the length of the back bone."
  • "Item No. 1174 - Beef Loin, T- Bone Steak - The steaks shall be prepared from any IMPS short loin item. The maximum width of the tenderloin shall be at least 1⁄2-inch (13 mm) when measured parallel to the length of the back bone."



Photograph: NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide

Beef Loin, Short Loin
Here she is in her full glory. This is the front end of the primal, with a Delmonico style steak ready to be sliced off, or a Strip Steak if removed from the bone.

Same primal, but turned around so you can see a Porterhouse style steak, with a big hunk of tenderloin on the right side of the backbone.


Beef Loin, Strip Loin, Bone In
Ladies and gentleman, I give you your New York Strip steak (sometimes called Kansas City steak) with the bone in. The tenderloin and chine bone have been removed completely.


Beef Loin, Strip Loin, Boneless
Same cut as above, but without the bones.


Beef Loin, Porterhouse Steak
Here you can see the maximum and minimum amounts of tenderloin required for Porterhouse steaks.


Beef Loin, T-Bone Steak
And now you can see the maximum and minimum amounts of tenderloin required for T-Bone steaks. The one on the left should be considered a Porterhouse, in my opinion.


Beef Loin, Strip Loin Steak, Bone in
The bone on these steaks have been carved to remove the part of the back bone that housed the spinal cord.


Beef Loin, Strip Loin Steak, Bone in, Center-Cut
A variation on the steaks shown above, these exclude the sirloin butt end of the bone-in strip loin.


Beef Loin, Strip Loin Steak, Boneless
The boneless steaks can be cut from any beef short loin or boneless strip loin item, as long as it meets the requirements of the Beef Loin, Strip Loin, Boneless from above.


Beef Loin, Strip Loin Steak, Boneless, Center-Cut
These are a variation on the steaks shown above. They exclude the sirloin butt end of the bone-in strip loin.


What to look for when buying

Look for a thick cut steak, preferably with the bone in, with as much fat speckled throughout the muscle as you can find. You want the bone in because not only will the piece be cheaper, but it'll usually have more meat as well. It will also add a little extra moisture and protection to keep your steak tender. The meat itself should have a bright, cherry-red color. Check that the muscle is firm to the touch, and that the container doesn't contain excess liquid. If you're looking for a nice porterhouse steak, try to avoid the last slice of the primal. There is a bone between the upper part of the loin and the tail end, with lots of tendon connections that make for poor eats.


Steaks can last for three days max in the refrigerator, but if they're thinly cut, two days would be pushing it. Beef can be frozen in its original packaging for up to two weeks. If you're going for longer storage, you'll want to prevent freezer burn by re-wrapping the flank steak in freezer paper, plastic freezer bags or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Try to remove as much air from the packaging as possible before sealing.

Basic Preparation

Since I've covered grilling in previous columns, this time I'll delve into the wonderful world of broiling. All of the steaks listed above can be broiled with excellent results. Here is an excellent article about the similarities and differences between grilling and broiling.

Broiled Porterhouse Steak

  • 1 Porterhouse steak
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • A knob of butter

Preheat your broiler on high for 15 minutes before cooking the steak. Home ovens usually lack the ability to retain the high heat needed to properly cook a steak, which would leave you with a pan full of juice and a great piece of meat, so preheating is necessary.

Once your oven is good and hot, season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper and place on an oven proof pan or sheet pan. Place the steak right in the center of your oven, on the middle rack, topping it with the knob of butter. If your broiler doesn't shut off with the door open (some do), close the door; otherwise leave it slightly ajar to keep that flame alive. Start checking on the doneness of the meat after five minutes. If you're happy with it, flip the steak over for another five minutes. You want the meat to get to an internal temperature of 130 to 135 degrees F, so make sure you've hit that number before taking the steak out of the oven. Let the meat rest for five to ten minutes before cutting into it to allow for the juices inside to settle back down.

Additional Recipes

Special thanks to Bob del Grosso, Chef and Charcutiere of Hendricks Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pennsylvania, for consulting on this post.

Ryan Adams

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

We welcome and encourage interesting, thoughtful, or amusing comments. First-time comments are held for moderation - think of it as "auditioning." Once your comment is approved, use the same name/email pairing, and your comments will appear instantly. Please follow basic etiquette: don't self-link or spam, don't troll, and don't leave unproductive non-contributions. For an avatar, register your email with Gravatar.

Creative Commons License

©2008-2010 Eat Me Daily