What is a Rib Eye Steak?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A rib eye steak gets its name from the location of the cut, the cow's upper rib cage, and the fact that it is boneless, which makes it an "eye" in meat cutting terminology. Also known as a Delmonico or beauty steak, this steak is generally considered to be one of the most desirable cuts of beef. It can also be one of the more expensive cuts to purchase from a meat department or butcher shop. Many steakhouse customers order rib eye steaks because of their exceptional tenderness, strong beef flavor and reputation as the best choice on the menu. A quality rib eye has ribbons of fat which run between the muscle tissue, a desirable condition known as marbling.

Rib eye steak may be prepared on a backyard grill.
Rib eye steak may be prepared on a backyard grill.

While the beef cow is still alive, different parts of its body perform more work or bear more weight than other parts. All of this strain and exercise can make those areas more lean and tough. The more tender cuts of meat are located in sections of the cow that didn't perform as much work or bear as much weight, such as the upper rib cage. This is the section of beef rib which provides such popular cuts as prime rib, standing rib roast, bone-in rib steaks and the boneless rib eye steak. When the rib section is trimmed but not separated, it is sold as a standing rib roast. If the rib section is separated into individual ribs but not deboned, it is sold as rib steak. Only when the rib bone is removed and other undesirable tail pieces are trimmed away can it be sold as a rib eye.

Rib eye steaks should be at room temperature prior to grilling on a barbecue grill.
Rib eye steaks should be at room temperature prior to grilling on a barbecue grill.

Because a ribeye steak contains significant ribbons of saturated fat or marbling, it become especially tender during the cooking process. The fat between the muscle tissue slowly melts into the meat, creating a very smooth and satisfying texture. This is why rib eye steaks are ideal for direct heat cooking methods such as grilling, broiling or pan frying. Slow roasting a rib eye steak would only cause the fat to render out of the meat, leaving a very tough and dry piece of beef in its wake. Most ribeye steak recipes call for at least a two step cooking process; a quick hot sear, followed by a slower direct heating method. Steakhouse cooks typically grill ribeyes on a grate over hot coals or gas burners.

Some steak cooks prefer to soak raw ribeye steaks in a seasoned marinade in order to infuse more flavor into the beef and tenderize it slightly. Others believe the rib eye steak is already so flavorful that all it requires is minimal seasoning and careful supervision as it cooks to the desired level of doneness. Many high-end steakhouses use a method called dry aging in order to bring out the best flavors of a ribeye steak. Exposure to the air in a cool room causes the outer surface of the meat to lose some moisture and some of the natural juices of the steak to essentially ferment before they are sent to the kitchen for preparation. A ribeye steak destined for a backyard grill or home kitchen does not have to be aged in this manner, but it should be allowed to reach room temperature just before cooking.

When shopping for a rib eye steak, a consumer should look for a substantial number of white flecks scattered throughout the meat. This is a sign of good marbling, an essential element of a quality ribeye. The meat should be a definite red, not a dull brownish-red color which indicates an undesirable aging. If a ribeye steak is marked down for quick sale, it should be prepared that same day. A good rib eye steak should also be cut fairly thick, at least one half to one inch. A thinner ribeye will be much harder to cook accurately. While the thought of a juicy two-inch-thick ribeye steak has its appeal, a home cook may want to practice with thinner cuts until he or she feels comfortable with the proper techniques of grilling and steak cooking.

Rib eye steak is known for its tender, flavorful meat.
Rib eye steak is known for its tender, flavorful meat.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I do much the same as above but I use my Charbroil H2O smoker. I tenderize the meat and put it on a hot grill and cook it rare to medium rare. A minute or so before I take it off the grill, I put a moist chunk of oak on the coals to create smoke. That smoke really adds to the flavor. Also, I never use my gas grill when cooking a steak.


Olive oil, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper on each side is all I do usually. If I'm pan-frying I'll use olive oil and sometimes add some fresh garlic and parsley -- as a tribute to how my Italian grandfather would pan fry steak.

You can even saute the garlic and parsley in olive oil while the steak cools and pour them over before serving. Very tasty!


When making a beef rib eye steak; here's your best tip:

Do not, not, not overcook it. When in doubt, less is more. Much more.

The worst thing you can do to a rib eye steak is to over-do it, because you'll lose so much of the flavor and juiciness that rib eye is known for.

The less is more philosophy stands for flavoring too. I've always found that the best rib eyes are seasoned with a little oil, salt, and pepper -- nothing else.

If you've got a good cut, like most rib eyes are, that's all you need.


What are the best tips for marinating a BBQ rib eye steak?


I'm glad that you talked about how hard grilling a rib eye steak can be -- I learned that one the hard way as a college student when I tried to barbecue a rib eye steak for a first "at home" date.

I ran around trying to make this the best steak ever, I even bought the "Barbeque Rib Eye Steak Marinade" which I thought would be fancier since it was spelled with a "q" rather than a "c".

Well, it may have been fancier, but you couldn't taste it, much less the rib eye steak seasoning I combined it with it after I charred that sucker. Though that flavor was on absolutely everything else I cooked for the rest of the year.

Luckily my date was understanding, but it was a long time before I tried a rib eye steak recipe again.

So, good point to make about not trying a rib eye steak if you're a first time steak griller -- it can really turn out very poorly.

Post your comments
Forgot password?