Top of the Food Chain: Sirloin


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: Sirloin.

I'd like to thank the Mr. Wizard of food, Alton Brown, for introducing me to the sirloin steak a few years back. In an episode of his show called, "Raising the Steaks" (heh) Mr. Brown extolled the virtues of this cut of meat: "The top sirloin, what a bargain. Full of flavor, and very juicy, if cooked properly." Now that's an endorsement!

Cut: Sirloin

There are two varieties of sirloin steak available, both from the sirloin primal, which is sandwiched between the short loin primal (behind the ribs) and round primal (the rump). Think mid-back area. The steak that Alton gushed over comes from the top sirloin, a section of meat found under the tenderloin. The bottom sirloin is right under the top sirloin, and is a much tougher cut of meat with little in the way of fat. Most butchers like to use the bottom sirloin for ground meat, or cut it into chunks for stewing or braising. 

The bottom sirloin is not a bad piece of meat by anyone's standards, but you won't ever find me picking it over the top sirloin. This part of the cow can be quite large, so various kinds of steak can be cut from it.  Other labels for top sirloin are top butt steak, center cut sirloin, or hip sirloin steak. The meat itself is intensely flavorful, with a deep beefy taste. The muscle is tender, but not quite as tender as cuts like filet mignon or prime rib. You can cut nice thick steaks out of the top sirloin, or cube it for kabobs.  It also lends itself well to soups, sandwiches and some ethnic dishes.  Rubs work excellently with sirloin steaks, as do marinades.



Photograph: NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide

Top Sirloin Butt, Boneless
This is the whole top sirloin butt, free from bones, cartilage, tenderloin, and the sacrosciatic ligament.

Top Sirloin Butt Steak, Boneless
These boneless cuts show how steaks can be prepared from any part of the top sirloin.  It's best to cut steaks that are reasonably parallel to the backbone line to accommodate the cutting of specified portion-sized steaks.


Top Sirloin Butt Steak, Center Cut

These steaks are very similar to the ones above, but are only cut from the gluteus medius muscle.

What to look for when buying

If you want tender, go with smaller sirloin steaks.  The larger ones have been cut closer to the rump, and they can be a good deal tougher.  Meat cut closer to other side (the short loin end) will be tastier with better texture. There is a bone between the upper part of the loin and the tail end where lots of tendons connect, so try to skip that first slice between porterhouse and sirloin steaks. Also stay away from cuts labeled, "tri-tip," "ball-tip," or "butt," unless it's top butt. The meat itself should have a bright, cherry-red color with fat speckled throughout the muscle. Check that the meat is firm to the touch, and that the container doesn't contain excess liquid. Plan on eight to twelve ounces per person.


Like all beef that is free of bone (or filleted) you can keep sirloin steaks in the refrigerator for up to three days, four days if you're marinating. If you have chunks, don't let them sit for more than two days.  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.


Photograph: ne*

Basic Preparation

An excellent way to cook top sirloin steaks is as Steak au Poivre, which involves seasoning the piece of meat heavily with pepper and making a pan sauce. (Recipe from Jack Ubaldi's Meat Book: A Butcher's Guide to Buying, Cutting, and Cooking Meat by Jack Ubaldi, out of print.)

  • 1 top sirloin steak, 12 ounces per serving, 1 inch thick
  • Whole black and white peppercorns
  • Salt
  • 5 tablespoons of butter (Two 1 tablespoon knobs, one 3 tablespoon hunk)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • Splash of cognac

Crush the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, or a rolling pin over a paper towel. Place half of the peppercorns on one side of the steak and push them into the meat with the palm of your hand. Repeat with the other side. Rest the steak in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Get a heavy bottomed pan nice and hot, and add some oil and one of the tablespoons of butter. Season the steaks with some salt and add them to the pan to brown. Medium-rare will take about four minutes on each side. Remove the steak and keep warm while you make the following sauce.

Remove the fat from your pan. Add the other tablespoon of butter to the pan along with the chopped shallots.  Cook the shallots for two minutes, then deglaze the pan with the beef stock, making sure to scrape all of the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add cognac and reduce the liquid by half.  Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the left over butter a little at a time.  Check the seasoning and pour the sauce over the steak.  Serve with french fries or an endive and watercress salad.

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

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Comment Feed

  1. This is great...I like this column. Can't wait to read more about the different cuts...

  2. Karen T-S

    I bought some top sirloin today on sale and am so grateful for Ryan Adams' guidance. This is a terrific column for Eat Me Daily to run regularly -- and I say that as a vegetarian! In fact, people like me (I'm someone who was born hating the taste/texture of meat but have never had any qualms about cooking it for family & friends) really need & value such advice. Thank you!

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