Ribeye is the ideal cut of steak -- a perfect balance of tenderness and flavor.
A ribeye steak comes from the back of a steer toward the steer's head. It is made up of two muscles: the spinalis dorsi and the longissimus dorsi. These muscles run along the steer's spine and on top of the ribs.
Because the animal doesn't use these muscles much while moving around, they stay tender. The spinalis, in particular, is highly-marbled -- that is, speckled with fat, which means more flavor in every bite.
Ribeye is usually available at the supermarket, but not always. A specialty butcher is more likely to have ribeye on hand. In either case, you can always call ahead and special order the cut that you want.
If you're at the store and deciding what to buy, these are the key things to consider.
Marbling refers to the specks of white you'll see in a steak. Those specks are fat, and fat = flavor. So the more little white specks there are, the more flavor the meat will have. Large streaks or hunks of fat are less desirable —these may not cook as nicely.
Beef labeled as "USDA Choice" is supposed to have more marbling than beef labeled as "USDA Select" but this isn't always the case. Trust your eyes, not the label.
As you're looking at a ribeye in the store, the longissimus dorsi muscle is the circular section that makes up the majority of the steak. The spinalis dorsi muscle is an elongated section that surrounds one side of the longissimus.
The spinalis has the finest marbling of any cut. To some beef lovers, it's the very best piece of meat on the entire animal. So if you're choosing a cut at the store, go for the one with the larger spinalis.
Whether you choose bone-in or bone-out is totally a personal preference. Bone-in meat is no more flavorful than boneless meat. The difference is really in how the two types cook differently.
When the bone is left in, it protects the section of meat it surrounds, and helps that section cook more evenly.
On the other hand, the bone can be a little unwieldy, making the steak uneven and hard to cook. Also, when you buy bone-in, you're paying for the weight of that bone.
Some cooks like to buy bone-in, but remove the bone for other uses and cook without it. Others buy bone-in because they love gnawing the meat off the bone.
There's no wrong answer, you're getting a tasty ribeye either way.
If you like your steak on the rare side, it's much easier to achieve a good cook with a thick ribeye than a thin one. With a thin ribeye (1.5 inches or less) you'll have a hard time getting the surface of the steak properly browned before the inside of the steak cooks to well done. A thick ribeye buys you time. You're able to get that surface nice and browned before the interior of the steak gets too much heat.
If you prefer your steak well done, go with a thinner cut. If you choose a thick cut, the surface of the steak may burn before you're able to get the interior cooked. Most experts prefer their steak cooked medium rare. For this reason, they typically choose a steak that's about 2 inches thick.
To prepare a ribeye steak for seasoning, trim away any large hunks of fat on the edges of the meat. A good butcher will have done this for you.
Plain old salt and pepper is a perfectly good seasoning for a ribeye steak. The cut itself is so flavorful (thanks to the deep marbling of fat) that those two basic flavors of salt and pepper may be all you need.
Of course if you want to add more flavors, there's nothing wrong with that. Traeger's garlic and chili pepper Traeger Rub would be a nice option.
The real key to seasoning a ribeye is the timing. The best method is to season the steak liberally and let it sit for 1 to 3 days. Then put it in the fridge, uncovered, until you're ready to cook. Seasoning early gives the salt time to work its way into the meat. Although not necessary, it gives the steak more flavor.
If you're buying and cooking on the same day, salt the steak at least 45 minutes before cooking, or right before you put it on the grill. Salt draws moisture out to the surface of the steak, and moisture is the enemy of high-temperature grilling.
When you put a steak on the grill, any moisture on the surface must evaporate before the surface actually starts to cook. Salting well in advance -- and patting the steak dry before it goes on the grill -- will eliminate that moisture and help your cook go better.
You don't need to marinate a ribeye -- it has plenty of beef flavor on its own -- but you can.
Make sure you marinate at least 4 hours (and up to 3 days) in advance to give the flavors time to soak in. Also, be sure to pat the steak dry before cooking so the grill doesn't have to work harder to steam off the moisture on the steak.
The classic method of grilling a ribeye is direct grilling. The exterior of the steak gets an appetizing char, and the interior gets to a tender and juicy medium rare.
Set your Traeger to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and preheat for 15 minutes with the lid closed.
Place the steaks on the grill and cook for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, flipping occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees (medium rare).
The best way to smoke a ribeye is on a Traeger grill. A Traeger gives you even temperature and flavor from natural wood pellets, and high heat to give your ribeye the perfect char.
This reverse-sear method maximizes the smoke flavor and still gives you those delicious grill marks. It works to perfection on a Traeger.
Set your Traeger to 225 degrees Fahrenheit and preheat for 15 minutes with the lid closed.
Place your steaks on the grill and smoke until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees, about 45 minutes.
Remove the steaks and set aside. Increase the temperature to 500 degrees and preheat for 15 minutes with the lid closed.
Return the steaks to the grill and cook until desired doneness (135 degrees for medium rare), approximately 6 minutes (3 to 5 minutes on one side, 1 to 2 minutes on the other side).
The best cooking temperature for a ribeye steak is 135 degrees Fahrenheit, or medium rare. At this temperature, the meat is tender and juicy, with an attractive pink color. When a ribeye is cooked to higher temperatures, the meat dries out and becomes a gray color.
A ribeye is one of the most tender cuts of steaks you can buy. Instead of making it tender, you're trying to keep it tender. You do that by cooking it properly to medium rare, or 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overcooking a ribeye will dry out the meat, making it less tender. Ribeye steak cooked to 145 or above will look gray, not pink. At higher temperatures the meat will be tough to the touch and to the teeth. We strongly recommend using an instant-read meat thermometer to check the temperature as you cook. There's no better way to ensure you cook ribeye to maximum tenderness.
Once your ribeye is cooked, cutting the steak across the grain will break down muscle fibers and result in a more tender bite.
Cooked over high heat, a thick ribeye steak (1.5 to 2 inches thick) will cook in approximately 10 minutes, about 5 minutes on each side. A thin ribeye steak (1.5 inches or less) will cook in approximately 6 minutes, about 3 minutes on each side. The exact cooking time will depend on many factors, so we highly recommend that you cook to temperature, not time.
Use a reliable meat thermometer to check the temperature as you cook. No matter what the clock says, remove your ribeye once the temperature reaches 135 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare.
How does ribeye compare to other steak cuts? Here are a few other popular cuts of meat that often get compared to ribeye.
Ribeye steaks are cut from the prime rib. You can think of the prime rib as a loaf of bread, and ribeye steaks as the slices. Of course, it's a little more complicated than that. The slices of ribeye that are closest to the head of the steer will have more of the flavorful muscle.
You can "make" ribeye steaks yourself by ordering a prime rib and cutting the steaks to your desired thickness.
A New York strip is tender, but also has a fair amount of fat marbling (flavor) so it has similar qualities to a ribeye. The ribeye typically has more fat, resulting in more flavor. There's usually less obvious marbling in a New York strip, but the fat is better distributed throughout the steak.Also, because of the more even distribution of marbling, each bite of a New York strip has more consistent flavor.
The term sirloin is used to refer to many different cuts that come from the rear of the steer along its back and ribs. Some of these cuts lack fat and aren't very tender, so they are better for stir-fries or stews than grilling. Top sirloin is the best of the sirloin cuts for grilling. A top sirloin may have marbling that's as good as a ribeye, but it’s unlikely to be as tender.
The porterhouse is a mega cut that actually consists of two different steaks: the New York strip and the tenderloin (aka filet mignon). This cut is typically at least 2 inches thick. A ribeye will usually have more fat marbling than a porterhouse. A porterhouse, especially the filet mignon part, will be more tender.
A tomahawk steak is a ribeye! It's just cut a little differently than you usually see in the store. The rib bone is left in, giving the steak that distinctive handle shape. A tomahawk is usually cut very thick as well, which makes it more challenging to cook through. The flavor and tenderness of the meat is the same as a ribeye — because, again, it is a ribeye — only the presentation that's different.
This fantastic grilled ribeye recipe comes from BBQ world champion Doug Scheiding.