Oct 23

Be Your Own Butcher, How to Cut and Package a Rib Eye Steak Primal

In my opinion, a Rib Eye is the best steak. Sure, there are more than a couple dozen of cuts of beef available from the nine to thirteen primary cuts (primal) in the United States and Canada with a new cut of beef being marketed every few years; i.e. Flat Iron Steak. However, when I consider what defines a good steak by American standards, the Rib Eye reigns supreme in the balance between flavor, texture and tenderness.

Prime Grade Grilled Rib Eye Steak

Hand Cut Prime Grade Rib Eye Steak Grilled on a Plate

My reasoning is simple. When a side of beef is being graded by the USDA; it is only the Rib that is being inspected for marbling (content and distribution of fat) within the rib muscle. This single inspection, traditionally done visually, but now being performed more often with a camera and image recognition software defines the grade; Prime, Choice, Select and Standard with Choice and Select most often being available in grocery stores. Combined with this sole inspection for marbling, the Rib and Short Loin cuts being positioned in the center of the cattle are not as tough as the Chuck, Round and Sirloin. No one can argue that the Tenderloin is the most tender cut of beef, but with little to no marbling, the overall flavor profile when grilled or broiled is lacking.

Raw Hand Cut Prime Grade Rib Eye Steak

Hand Cut Prime Grade Rib Eye Steak Raw on a Plate to be Seasoned

Here is the problem; even the cheapest cut of beef is becoming more and more expensive in the grocery store. It is becoming more and more difficult to find steak at an affordable price, yet alone purchasing Choice grade Rib Eye Steaks at a price per pound that is affordable. However, there are times when quality is more important than price and the experience is more important than just eating. Instead of purchasing individual prepackaged steaks, ask the butcher at the meat counter if you can purchase an entire Rib Eye Steak Primal also known as a Boneless Rib Eye. A sale is a sale and more often than not, because you are purchasing an entire primal you will be sold the entire Rib Eye Steak at a price per pound that is less than the price marked on the individual packages.

Why is it important to ask for a Boneless Rib Eye / Rib Eye Steak versus a Rib Eye?

The answer is that very few of us own a band saw that is clean enough to cut through the bone and muscle of a Bone-In Rib Eye Primal. You can however ask the butcher to cut the Bone-In Rib Eye for you and then package the steaks for the freezer yourself at home.

About a year ago I was able to purchase five whole USDA Prime Grade Rib Eye Steaks vacuumed packed and frozen that each weighed between 10 – 14 pounds. I gave two away to friends, immediately sliced one into steaks and later in the year sliced the second one into steaks. A year has passed and I was craving Rib Eye Steak.

Did the whole Rib Eye suffer from freezer burn in the freezer?

It did not, for the simple reason that since it was vacuumed packed with little to no air inside the packaging there was no means for the oxygen to “burn” the meat. My point in explaining this is that if you have the opportunity to purchase a whole primal and the freezer space to store the meat, then there is no need to rush and immediately cut the primal into individual steaks.

Frozen Whole Boneless Rib Eye Steak

Frozen Vacuumed Packaged Rib Eye Steak Primal

About 36 hours before I was planning to slice the Rib Eye Steak primal, I took the primal out of the freezer and placed it in the refrigerator to thaw.

Thawed Packaged Whole Boneless Rib Eye Steak

Thawed Vacuumed Packaged Rib Eye Steak Primal

After the primal had thawed, I removed the heavy gauge plastic packaging and then sharpened the two heavy kitchen knives I was going to use to break down the primal into steaks.

Whole Rib Eye Steak Primal , Fat Side Up

Whole Rib Eye Steak, Fat Side Up

  1. Place the Rib Eye Steak primal on a large cutting board, place the primal rib side down and slice through the primal in the middle, perpendicular to the cutting board to produce a straight cut creating two equal halves of the primal.

    Whole Rib Eye Steak Cut In Half

    USDA Prime Grade Rib Eye Steak Primal Cut In Half

  2. Place one half to the side and with the remaining half; remove a small portion of the rounded end so that both sides of the half primal are nicely squared. Put aside this removed rounded end of the primal.

    Squaring the The Rib Eye Primal for Hand Cutting into Steaks

    Removing the Rounded End of the Whole Rib Eye Steak

  3. Depending on the preferred thickness of the steaks you are prepared to slice, use the following rule. The thickness of your thumb will typically result in a steak between 10 – 12 ounces. Now I have fat thumbs, so I have to compensate and slice thinner than the thickness of my thumb unless of course I was 13 ounce or heavier steaks.

    Deciding the Thickness of the Hand Cut Rib Eye Steak

    How to Determine the Desired Thickness of the Hand Cut Rib Eye Steak

  4. Once you have decided the desired thickness of the steak, with a steady hand begin to slice the steaks away from the primal with long strokes of the knife applied with pressure with your other hand grasping the primal so it does not move. I prefer not to trim any of the excess fat from the edges of the steak, however this is a personal preference of the kitchen butcher. For me, every little amount of fat on the Rib Eye Steak as it melts on the grill helps produce that unique flavor of the Rib Eye.

    Hand Cut the Rib Eye Primal with Firm Pressure and Long Slicing Motion

    Hand Cutting Individual Steaks from the Rib Eye Primal

  5. Repeat this activity until the entire half of the primal has been sliced into hand cut steaks. Perform steps 2 to 4 for the second half of the primal until you have a stack of Rib Eye Steaks waiting to be individually packaged. The number of steaks generated will depend on the thickness of each hand cut steak, however, you can expect to slice more than 16 steaks from the primal.

    Stack of Hand Cut Rib Eye Steaks

    Stack of Hand Cut Rib Eye Steaks

  6. With a kitchen scale I weigh each steak individually. I do this so when it is time to pull the steaks out of the freezer, I know the weight so I can match the right steak with the individual that is going to be eating the steak.

    Hand Cut Rib Eye Steaks Being Weighed Individually on a Kitchen Scale

    Hand Cut Rib Eye Steaks Being Weighed Individually on a Kitchen Scale

  7. Stretch out a section on saran wrap on the kitchen counter and place the hand cut Rib Eye Steak on the saran wrap.

    Hand Cut Rib Eye Steak on Saran Wrap

    Rib Eye Steak on Saran Wrap

  8. Fold the saran wrap over the steak doing your best to remove any air pockets. As mentioned earlier, the less air in the packaging, the less opportunity for the steak to experience freezer burn.

    Tightly Warapped Rib Eye Steak in Saran Wrap

    Rib Eye Steak Wrapped in Saran Wrap

  9. Then lay out a section of aluminum foil and tightly wrap the saran wrapped steak in the aluminum foil.

    Saran Wrapped Rib Eye Steak on Aluminum Foil

    Saran Wrapped Rib Eye Steak on Aluminum Foil

  10. Securely fold the aluminum foil over the saran wrapped steak

    Rib Eye Steak Wrapped in Aluminum Foil

  11. With a permanent marker, record the weight, type of steak and date that the steak was hand cut and wrapped. Then with shipping tape, I tape down the ends of the aluminum foil to make a secure package for the freezer.

    Hand Cut Rib Eye Steak Packaged and Labelled Ready for the Freezer

    Hand Cut Rib Eye Steak Packaged and Labelled Ready for the Freezer

Once all of the Rib Eye Steaks have been packaged including the two end pieces for they are great as kabobs or as diced meat for steak and eggs, place all of the packaged steaks in the freezer. You now have individually hand cut Rib Eye Steaks for any time of the year or occasion whether for one person or an entire group.

Packaged Hand Cut Rib Eye Steaks Ready for the Freezer

Hand Cut Rib Eye Steaks Packaged for the Freezer

I have found that by wrapping each steak in saran wrap and then aluminum for with careful attention to removing all possible air pockets, the steaks will last in the freezer for an additional 6 months with no noticeable impact on flavor or texture.

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  1. Gary Breshears

    Do you have any idea where I might buy something like the rib-eye primal you highlighted in your article?

    1. Stuart

      Your best bet it probably speak to a local butcher, or a wholesaler like Sam’s Club or Costco.

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