There is more to picking out a great steak than just grabbing the thickest steaks you can find –but finding steaks that are the right thickness for your meal is actually important. The ideal thickness of the steak depends on the type of cut and the method you plan on cooking the meat. There is a time for thick steaks and a time for thin steaks, and knowing the difference will help you select the best thickness of steak for your next meal with confidence.
Thin Steak vs Thick Steak
Some steaks are naturally thin cuts like flank steak and flap meat. Other cuts are supposed to be thicker steaks. Ribeye steaks, New York, and T-bone steaks are supposed to be thick steak cuts.
The main difference is in the way these cuts are cooked.
Thin steaks are cooked slower to allow the tough meat to render and become tender. Thicker steaks are better cooked quickly -just enough to get past the raw point while searing the outside.
Why the Thickness of the Steak Matters
Thicker steaks take longer to cook than thinner steaks. This means that it is more difficult to get the perfect medium rare internal doneness when cooking a ribeye steak that is cut thin.
A thicker cut takes longer to cook all the way through, so they can be cooked on higher heat. Thicker steaks will be more juicy and tender when they are properly grilled or seared on direct heat.
How to Cook a Thin Steak
Cooking thin steaks quickly will result in tough, dry meat that is difficult to eat. Heat penetrates quickly through the thin muscle and easily overcooks it. Cooking thinner cuts slower at a lower temperature, particularly in a cast iron skillet with a good amount of liquid, will give you tender and delicious meat.
Thinner steaks are ideal for Asian food, Mexican meals, and lots of other dishes. The ideal steak thickness for thin steaks is about one-quarter of an inch thick.
How to Cook a Thick Steak
Thick steaks are ideal for grilling. You can use a reverse sear technique to get the steak cooked to the perfect internal temperature, then turn up the heat to give the meat the final appearance. The reverse sear method is a simple way to consistently get perfectly cooked steaks.
Thicker steak cuts are most often served whole or sliced after cooking for sandwiches. Steak thickness matters and getting a perfectly cooked steak from a thicker cut means you will aim for a medium-rare desired doneness. The ideal steak thickness for thick steaks is anything more than three-quarters of an inch. The ideal thickness is about one and one-half inches thick.
The Perfect Thickness of Steak
The right thickness for steak that you intend to grill is around 1.5 inches thick and consistent. This thickness for steak allows the optimal amount of cooking time to get a perfect internal temperature while searing the outside for a perfect look and flavor. While a great steak starts with choosing an ideal thickness, that isn't the only thing to consider.
Most of the cuts of steak that are intended to be thicker cuts are also supposed to have a higher degree of marbling. Marbling is the little swirls of fat you see in the red part of the steak. Marbling is different from thicker and harder gristle that isn't really edible. You can get an idea of the fattiness of a steak by gently pressing it with your fingers. It should yield gently like the ball of your palm. Even a thick-cut steak won't be a good steak if it has no marbling and lots of gristle.
Sometimes you'll find thin cuts of otherwise thick-cut steaks. Things like ribeyes, New York, and larger cuts like tri-tip and prime rib are frequently found thin-sliced. These cuts can make excellent breakfast steaks but make sure to lower the heat and add liquid as needed to prevent overcooking and drying out the meat. In fact, one of our favorite uses of leftover prime rib is to thin-slice it and marinate it in spices, then saute it for tacos.
Most of the intentionally thin cuts of meat like flank and flat iron steak will typically be about 1/4-inch thick and have very little fat. That is why it is important to slow-cook very thin steaks, braise them, or saute them. You'll also find cuts like pork chops that are similarly cooked.
Can a Steak be Too Thick?
You've probably seen Instagram photos of giant steaks sitting four inches tall. These monsters are awesome but also need to be carefully cooked.
It is very difficult to keep an extra thick steak from overcooking on the outside while not cooking through in the middle. These steaks have to be cooked at a very low temperature over a long period of time.
Extra thick steaks can be slow-cooked in the oven or even in a smoker to bring the internal temperature up to the right spot and then it is simple to sear the steaks for a picture-perfect meal.
Can a Thin Steak be Grilled?
The trick to grilling thin steak is to keep the meat moving and don't let it sit on the grill for too long. This is a common way to cook flank steak for Mexican dishes where the meat is typically cooked in a whole steak and then chopped with a cleaver before serving. Cooking thin steak is a very fast process so don't walk away when you are cooking thin steak.
One of the best ways to cook thick or thin steaks is on a griddle. A griddle allows the meat to sear well and is a good way to evenly cook a piece of meat. A griddle plate can be heated on the stovetop or on the grill to make cooking steaks, veggies, and lots of other food easy and fast.
Is There Really a Best Thickness for Steak?
Choosing a great steak involves more than just finding the thickest steak possible. A steak that has a one-inch thickness might be a more flavorful and tasty steak than one with a thickness over 1.5 inches. It all comes down to the amount of marbling, the amount of fat, and the cooking method.