The topic of bone-in vs. bone-out (boneless) steaks is an intensely debated argument amongst steak-lovers. Is the T-Bone in your T-Bone steak really imparting flavor into the meat? Would you dare argue that a bone-in tomahawk steak is better than a boneless slab of ribeye? We know that fat imparts a buttery flavor profile and texture to your steak, but did you know yellow bone marrow is also fat? Also, not all marrow is the same.
Well, the truth is that a bone-in steak tastes no different from a boneless steak. That T-Bone or rib isn’t imparting any flavor into the meat because bones aren’t pourous, and the marrow found within these bones are red marrow (blood cells). You’ll need to cut open long femur (shank) bones if you want any of that buttery yellow marrow. However, the bone alters the distribution of heat and may produce a different steak.
One of the most popular pieces of knowledge that chefs, pit-masters, and carnivores will tell you is that steaks taste better with the bone-in. They’ll tell you that your T-Bone, tomahawk, or bone-in strip steaks will taste better because bone imparts flavor. The truth is that bones do not impart any flavor. Bones are solid and impermeable unless bifurcated or cut. It doesn’t matter if you cook a steak in a pan, in an oven, on the grill, through sous-vide, reverse-sear, etc. Your bone-in steak will taste identical to a boneless steak.
The bone is unique from muscle in that it’s dense and heats up/cools down slowly. This means that the meat near a bone will cook less. For the novice, this can mean good news as you’re less likely to overcook the meat around the bone. The meat around the T-bone or rib will come out slightly less cooked than the rest of your steak, which can be good if you manage to overshoot your target temperature. For rarer cooks, the meat in this area can come out undercooked or even raw.
Additionally, bone does not shrink when it is cooked. Muscle tends to shrink and pull away from the bone. This makes cooking a bone-in steak on a solid surface (e.g. a pan) extremely difficult, as it results in an uneven sear/cook. Bone-in steaks are meant for grilling.
I personally find that the bone only serves as something for me to chew on after eating the steak. Even then, it’s not worth the mess and hassle, so I tend to avoid bone-in steaks.
When it comes to taste, boneless steaks are indistinguishable from bone-in steaks. You aren’t going to miss that T-bone or rib. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that boneless steaks are superior to bone-in steaks. While they taste the same, I believe that boneless steaks offer a more even cook and better textures than their bone-in counterparts.
As I’ve mentioned before, muscles will shrink when cooked. This isn’t an issue with boneless steaks as there is no solid mass preventing full-contact of your steak with the cooking surface. Thus, you can cook a boneless steak using any method you so desire. Boneless steaks will always achieve full-contact with the cooking surface which results in an even, precise sear/cook.
Additionally, boneless steaks lack the connective tissue that bone-in steaks have. If you know your anatomy, then you may also know that muscles are attached to bones via tendons. Tendons are made of collagen, which renders out only at high temperatures (about 150°F or more). Given that bone heats up slower than the rest of the steak, you’ll likely scrap the meat around your T-bone or rib.
Bone Marrow Argument
I mentioned earlier that there are two different types of bone marrow; yellow and red. As you may have guessed, yellow marrow is fatty marrow and red marrow is bloody marrow. What does this mean, exactly?
Yellow marrow, otherwise known as “meat butter”, is involved in the storage of fats, which is why it tastes so good. You can only find yellow marrow in the shaft of long bones such as the femur (shank). Shank cuts cannot be eaten as steaks, as they are full of connective tissue. They are tough and must be cooked low-and-slow. Unfortunately, yellow marrow still looks smooth and red until you soak it or cook it, which will turn it a pale yellow.
Red marrow is known as “myeloid tissue” and is full of hematopoietic stem cells. When cooked, this marrow is dry and tastes slightly of iron. As you may have guessed, you can find red bone marrow in your T-Bone, ribs, or any other bones that you normally find in bone-in steaks. Red marrow appears deep red and almost “grainy”. Therefore, the red bone marrow from T-bones and ribs is dry and flavorless when compared to the yellow marrow found in the shank.
- Boneless steaks are identical to bone-in steaks
- Variables Measured
- Taste rating (1 = poor, 5 = excellent)
- Texture rating (1 = poor, 5 = excellent)
- Methods (done by me)
- Both steaks were about 1 inch thick
- The steaks were seasoned with 1% of their weight in kosher salt per side
- Steaks were cooked sous-vide at 130°F for 2 hours
- Both steaks were seared on the charcoal grill for 1 minute per side
- The strip of the T-bone was removed, and the cut edge was quickly seared on the grill
- Both steaks were rested for 3 minutes under foil and finished with flake salt (0.4% of steak weight)
- Procedure (done by a pescatarian)
- The steaks were cut to 0.5-inch thick strips against the grain
- Steaks placed on respective plates marked with identities on the bottom
- Plates were given to me (the experimenter) randomly
- The experimenter did not know the identities of the steaks
- I served the steaks to 7 guests and myself
- The steaks were served alongside each other for rapid comparison
- Results (average scores)
- Strip Steak from T-Bone
- Flavor: 4.13/5.00
- Texture: 4.13/5.00
- Boneless Strip Steak
- Flavor: 4.13/5.00
- Texture: 4.25/5.00
- Strip Steak from T-Bone
- Both bone-in and boneless steaks tasted the same
- The difference in texture when cooked this way is negligible
- Needs more participants and different cooking methods, but you get the idea
Remember that I’m only really here to educate you on steaks. It all comes down to personal preference, and I won’t stop you from buying another T-bone or tomahawk. I personally find bone-in steaks less appetizing and more of a hassle to prepare, but to each their own.
If you’re interested in learning more, I would suggest you check out J. Kenji-Lopez (a food scientist) and his experiment on bone-in vs. bone-out steaks. He came to the same conclusion.
If you enjoyed reading about bone-in vs. bone-out steaks, please consider leaving a comment or question below! If you disagree with any of my findings, please let me know.