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You love steak. We got that. And yet, this simple statement won’t go unchallenged in today’s growing dichotomy of BBQ enthusiasts. Rather, at your next grill session, you’ll likely be called on to pick a side in the important debate of our times: bone-in vs boneless steak. Which is better? Do you know? Just what is the difference anyway?

As always, your personal preference is your own; there are no wrong answers here. You can have your steak however you want. And yet, to help you determine your steak preferences, it’s important to note that there are some distinct differences between bone-in and boneless steak.

Check out these vital differences in cooking techniques that can greatly change the food you eat!

Bone-In Steak: An Advantage in Flavor?

A long-standing belief in BBQ culture is that bone-in steak has a flavor advantage over its boneless variety. Basically, the explanation goes that a bone-in steak tastes better than a boneless steak because flavors from the bone get transferred to the meat of the steak. 

The key to this flavor advantage has to do with marrow found in the bones, particularly yellow marrow (known as prairie butter in cowboy culture). By infusing into the meat during the cooking process, a bone-in steak provides a smoother, more buttery flavor than the boneless variety.

This explanation seems to make sense, but is there any truth to it?

Bone-In vs Boneless: Blind Taste Test

Our own Brand Ambassador Lauren put this myth to the test by performing a blind taste test. Lauren took 2 bone-in steaks, removed the bone in one, and cooked them identically.

As Lauren discovered, there is no noticeable difference between the two. 

“The fact is, when dry cooking on a grill, oven, or skillet,” said Lauren, “there is no flavor transfer between meat and bone.”

And she’s not alone. The Meat Science team at Texas A&M was unable to find any significant difference between steaks that had bones removed and those that didn’t.

What’s more, as it’s been pointed out, it’s nearly impossible for steak marrow to seep into adjoining meat due to the barrier of collagen between bone and meat.

But there remains a kernel of truth to this myth. As it turns out, there is a difference between boneless and bone-in steaks, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

READ: Bone-In vs Boneless: Which is the Best Chicken Wing

Bone-In Steak: Take the Heat Off

Bones make up a substantial part of bone-in steaks like T-bone steaks. They add a lot of extra weight that can have a noticeable impact on the cooked food item. 

Specifically, the extra mass of the bone makes it harder to heat up the steak as well as making it take longer to cool down. By acting as an insulator, the bone of the steak can cause the meat located next to it to cook at a different rate than the rest of the steak. The end result is meat that is anywhere from 5°F–10°F cooler than the rest of the steak. 

 

For this reason, bone-in steaks will often include bone-adjacent meat that has a softer texture and is more juicy. However, this feature only applies to steaks cooked to a medium level of doneness; bone-in steak cooked rare or medium-rare will feature meat next to the bone that is more chewy and raw,

 Further to this point is that bone-in steaks may be juicier because their bones require them to take longer to cook. Not only that, steak bones can help protect fatty and connective tissues that may lead to more naturalized marbled flavors.

 

Bone-In vs Boneless Steak: Which is Better

These explanations aren’t to say that one is better than another. Both bone-in and boneless steak have their unique specialties that can shape our individual preferences. What’s more, diners can prefer bone-in steaks for the experience of eating meat with bones in it. In the end, what’s most important is that you choose good steaks, cook them well, and enjoy the experience.

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