Contrary to the popular misconception, T-Bone and the Porterhouse are not different names for the same steak.
Learn how to tell these two popular steaks apart.
What is a Porterhouse steak?
Both the Porterhouse and the T-Bone are cut from the short loin of the carcass. This, and the fact that they look basically the same, can make it difficult to distinguish one from the other.
The trick to remember which is which comes down to the iconic T-shaped bone in the middle of each steak. That bone separates the sirloin and tenderloin portions of both composite steaks.
The Porterhouse is cut from the rear of the short loin and contains a larger section of tenderloin. According to the USDA, the fillet of a Porterhouse must be at least 1.25-inches thick, making it a hefty steak indeed. This is why you’ll generally see it advertised as a meal for two.
Check out our recipe for grilled porterhouse steak with whiskey compound butter.
What is a T-bone steak?
Like the Porterhouse, the T-bone steak is cut from the short loin, and the bone in the middle separates the sirloin and tenderloin. The T-bone is taken from the front end of the short loin and is a smaller steak than the Porterhouse.
As per USDA Guidelines, the fillet of a T-bone has to be 0.25-inches thick, anything smaller than that can only be sold as a bone-in New York Strip or a Club steak.
In essence, the difference between the two is one of size. A Porterhouse is a much larger T-bone, often weighing more than 24-ounces, and a T-bone is a smaller Porterhouse with a thinner fillet.
All Porterhouses are T-bones, but not all T-bones are Porterhouses. Simple, right?
While this might seem like they are basically the same steak, the size difference, as well as the difficulties of cooking two different types of meat on one steak, means cooking the perfect Porterhouse requires a different method from grilling a perfect T-bone.
Which is better – T-bone steak or Porterhouse steak?
Better is, of course, difficult to quantify when it comes to steak. Any USDA Prime steak is going to be better than one that is graded lower. However, given their differences, the T-bone and the Porterhouse suit different preparation methods and different meals.
If you’re struggling to choose between a T-bone steak or Porterhouse, we’ve broken down the differences into price, source, size, preparation, and other considerations to give you all the info you need to make an informed decision.
When it comes to price, there are a couple of factors that affect how much you’re paying for your steak.
- Firstly, since the Porterhouse is a larger steak, it’s going to cost more. A 24-ounce steak with a 1.25-inch thick fillet is a lot of meat and can easily feed two people. If you’re cooking for one, then a T-bone might be a better choice.
- Secondly, the grading of the meat is going to influence the cost. USDA Prime is always going to be more expensive than USDA Choice.
- Thirdly, additional factors like whether your steak is organic, grass-fed, imported Wagyu, etc, can significantly change the price you’ll pay. A USDA Prime grass-fed organic T-bone might cost more than a USDA Choice Porterhouse that is twice the size.
That being said, when it comes to steak, you very much get what you pay for.
Source of meat
While they are both taken from the short loin, the T-bone and Porterhouse are significantly different in the amount of sirloin and tenderloin they contain.
The Porterhouse has a more substantial amount of the tenderloin filet, so if the Filet Mignon is your idea of steak heaven, then the Porterhouse will give you more of the cut you love.
The T-bone has a much more even distribution of the tenderloin and the strip portion. The New York Strip is famous for its rich depth of flavor and the T-bone pairs that equally with the tenderness of the Filet Mignon.
Size and proportions
There is a reason that a steakhouse Porterhouse is served with the tenderloin and the strip portions removed from the bone and pre-sliced.
The amount of meat you get on a 24-ounce steak is more than enough to feed two hungry people, and the Porterhouse shines as a single steak that can feed a small group. Ideal if you don’t want the hassle of cooking multiple expensive steaks.
The T-bone’s smaller size and thinner fillet make it a better choice for an individual portion and also make it a better candidate for grilling over an open flame. Lacking the sheer size of a Porterhouse means the T-bone can be grilled quickly over a high heat without burning the outside or leaving the center raw.
What’s on the label
As we mentioned earlier, all Porterhouses are T-bones, but not all T-bones are Porterhouses. This isn’t going to be a problem if you’re ordering in a steakhouse or buying from a butcher, but mislabeling in common in the supermarket meat aisle.
Thankfully, the USDA adds an Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) number to all USDA-certified meat labels. So, regardless of what the label says, code 1173 means that the steak you’re looking at has passed all the USDA criteria for a Porterhouse, while code 1174 means you’ve picked up a T-bone.
Method of preparation
The principle difference between the Porterhouse and the T-bone is one of size, and the size difference between them means they require different cooking methods.
The smaller T-bone, with its more even distribution of tenderloin and strip sections, is well suited to hot and fast cooking. This means using a heavy-bottomed pan or a scorching grill to quickly sear your T-bone on each side for maybe two or three minutes at the most.
What you’re looking for is a nice crisp brown crust with the meat inside cooked to just medium-rare.
The reverse sear method, which uses a two-zone cooking method to cook the meat through indirect heat before searing it to finish, also works well with a T-bone steak.
The larger, leaner, and more delicate tenderloin sections of the Porterhouse take a little more effort to cook correctly.
The large tenderloin section benefits from being served medium rare and can lose its signature melt-in-the-mouth texture when overcooked. This can be a problem on a larger steak where its sheer thickness can make it challenging to get a consistent temperature across the whole cut.
Cooking your Porterhouse sous vide is a great way to solve this issue. The sous vide water bath allows you to bring the entire steak up to a consistent medium-rare, giving you a beautiful pink blush from edge to edge, with no chance of overcooking it.
Once your steak is cooked, you simply let it rest to bring the temperature back down and then sear it in a cast-iron pan or over a screaming hot grill to finish.
Cooking your larger Porterhouse steak sous vide means you can get that perfect medium-rare and preserve the tenderness of your tenderloin with minimal effort.
Wrapping it all up
While, on paper, the Porterhouse and the T-bone are very similar; in reality, the difference in size and composition makes them quite different.
The Porterhouse is a massive piece of meat, easily enough to feed two, that suits a sous vide bath to get it medium-rare all the way through and preserve the tenderness of its Filet Mignon section.
The T-bone makes an excellent individual portion, combining the best parts of the Filet Mignon, and the New York Strip and well-executed reverse sear will give you a crispy flavorsome crust over melt-in-the-mouth meat.
Which is your favorite, the T-bone or the Porterhouse, and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.