What Cut of Beef is Butter Steak? An In-Depth Look at this Tender and Flavorful Steak

Butter steak is a term that often causes confusion among steak lovers. While some use it to refer to incredibly tender cuts like tenderloin, butter steak is actually a specific cut of beef from the chuck primal. Known more commonly as flat iron steak, understanding exactly what cut “butter steak” comes from can help you locate and best cook this underrated cut.

Why the Confusion on Butter Steak?

The term “butter steak” generates confusion for a couple key reasons:

  • It’s an uncommon name that’s not widely used today. Most butchers and cooks call this cut flat iron steak instead.

  • Some people use “butter steak” to refer to any extremely tender cut of beef that can be cut with a butter knife. However it’s not an official name for tenderloin or other tender cuts.

  • There are multiple nicknames for the cut actually known as butter steak, including shoulder top blade steak and top blade steak. This contributes to the lack of clarity on the exact cut

While the naming may be perplexing, digging into the details reveals that butter steak has a precise definition as a particular beef cut.

The Official Definition of Butter Steak

The cut of beef formally known as butter steak or flat iron steak comes from the shoulder (chuck) primal of the cow.

Specifically, it is cut from the top blade muscle that runs along the shoulder blade of the animal. This thin, flat muscle does little work compared to other chuck muscles, which contributes to the tenderness of the butter steak.

The flat iron steak is taken from the top blade muscle after it has been “butterflied” – split horizontally to remove the tough, gristly connective tissue that runs through the middle. Removing this connective tissue is what transforms it into an exceptionally tender cut for being located in the hard-working chuck primal.

Key Characteristics of Butter Steak

Butter steak has the following distinguishing characteristics:

  • Cut from the top blade muscle in the chuck primal

  • Has a prominent longitudinal grain from muscle fibers

  • Tender and flexible when raw

  • Abundant marbling provides flavor and moisture

  • Distinctive rich “beefiness” in flavor

  • Excels when cooked no more than medium rare

  • Typically sold as boneless steak approximately 6-8 ounces

  • Lower cost than loin or rib primal cuts

Knowing these qualities helps identify butter steak and understand why it can be a superb choice for grilling or pan-searing.

How Does Butter Steak Taste?

Thanks to its abundant marbling and location in the well-exercised chuck primal, butter steak offers a rich, satisfying beefiness in its flavor. While not as tender as cuts from the loin or rib, it has a pleasantly chewy texture while remaining tender enough to be cut with a knife.

When cooked properly to no more than medium rare, butter steak remains juicy and flavorful. It’s perhaps closest in character to a petite tender or tri-tip steak. The mouthfeel is firm but not tough. Well-marbled slices have a buttery smoothness that melt on the tongue.

Butter steak is very versatile for serving. It can be the star of the show grilled or pan seared on its own, thinly sliced for salads or sandwiches, or diced up for appetizers like kabobs. The full beefy flavor stands up well to a variety of seasonings and sauces too.

How to Cook Butter Steak (Flat Iron Steak)

To enjoy butter steak at its best, keep these tips in mind:

  • Pat the steaks dry and allow to come up to room temperature before cooking

  • Season generously with salt, pepper and any other spices desired

  • Use high heat – cast iron or grill set to at least 450°F

  • Cook for 4-5 minutes per side for medium rare

  • Don’t overcook! Shoot for 130°F internal temperature at most

  • Let rest for 5+ minutes before slicing across the grain

  • Add a dollop of garlic herb butter on top after cooking for extra richness

Taking care not to overcook this naturally tender cut keeps it at its peak juiciness and flavor. Served with a roasted vegetable and potato, butter steak makes a supremely satisfying meal.

Butter Steak vs. Other “Butter-Named” Cuts

To avoid confusion, it helps to understand how butter steak differs from other steaks sometimes associated with the term “butter”:

Tenderloin – Often called “butter steak” due to its tenderness, but an entirely different cut from the loin primal.

Wagyu – Expensive heavily marbled Wagyu beef steaks are sometimes dubbed “butter steak” for their rich mouthfeel. Not an actual cut.

Ribeye cap – The deckle fat cap on a ribeye causes some to liken it to butter. Not the same as butter steak.

Aged steak – Well-aged beef develops a smooth, velvety texture that people associate with butter. Unrelated to the butter steak cut.

The key takeaway is that in professional steak-cutting terms, “butter steak” refers specifically to flat iron steak. Don’t let the casual use of the term butter steak for tender or marbled steaks confuse things.

Where to Buy Butter Steak (Flat Iron Steak)

Unfortunately, butter steak remains less common than steaks like ribeye and New York strip at regular grocery stores. However, you can find it at:

  • Specialty butcher shops – great option to get expertly cut butter steaks

  • Meat markets – may have to ask/special order it

  • Club stores like Costco – fresh choice steaks sometimes include butter steak

  • Online retailers like Snake River Farms – order individual steaks or packs

  • Direct from ranches – check with local ranches selling beef

Seeking out this flavorful, affordable steak is worth the effort for a special meal. Its unique qualities make butter steak a stellar choice.

Is Butter Steak Worth Trying?

For steak connoisseurs interested in discovering new cuts, butter steak is absolutely worth sampling. The intersection of tenderness and rich chuck flavor it offers is impossible to duplicate with other steaks.

While often overlooked, butter steak deserves appreciation for its delicious merits. Now that you understand exactly what cut it comes from, seek out some flat iron steaks and enjoy this buttery smooth, beefy tasting steak. Pan-seared or grilled butter steak is sure to become a regular in your steak rotation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Butter Steak

What other names is butter steak called besides flat iron?

Top blade steak, shoulder top blade steak, and boneless top chuck steak are other common names for butter steak.

What primal does butter steak come from?

Butter steak is cut from the top shoulder blade muscle in the chuck primal.

Is butter steak tender like a filet mignon?

It’s very tender for a chuck steak but not quite as tender as tenderloin. Still, it’s impressively tender and flexible.

What is the ideal doneness for cooking butter steak?

Cook no higher than medium rare, around 130°F internal temp. This prevents it from becoming tough.

Can you grill, pan sear, or broil butter steak?

Yes, butter steak excels with all high heat quick cooking methods. Just don’t cook it for too long.

What is a good thickness for butter steak?

Look for 3/4″ to 1″ thick steaks. Thinner cuts can overcook too quickly.

Is butter steak expensive or budget-friendly?

It’s considerably less expensive than loin and rib cuts, making it a great value steak choice.

The Complete Guide to Cooking the Perfect Steak

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