Meet the Ribeye Cap, the Tastiest Cut on the Cow

A raw ribeye cap, also called the spinalis, a beef cut.
Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Ribeye cap, light of my life when there's fire in my grill. My steak, my soul. Rib-eye-cap. It's deckle, plain deckle, in the kitchen, sitting one foot four when trimmed. It's calotte in France. It's "Butcher's Butter" in the shop. It's spinalis dorsi in the anatomist's manual. But in my tongs, it is always ribeye cap.

Did it have a precursor? It did, indeed it did. In point of fact, there might have been no ribeye cap at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial ribeye steak-rind. In a backyard in New Jersey. Oh when? About as many years before ribeye cap became a desirable cut as my age was that summer.

I've harbored a secret love for this particular cut of meat for well over a decade, yet our love was so forbidden that it was hidden, even from myself. Whenever I'd order a big ribeye steak (medium rare, please) or throw a big old cowboy chop on the grill to sizzle away, I'd unconsciously start salivating with a singular thought in my mind: give me some of that delicious cap. Did I know what the cut was called? No. Did I know why it was tastier than any other part of the steak? I had an inkling. All I knew for sure was that those few precious bites along the outside edge of the ribeye—those bites that looked as if they were going to be tough and chewy—were the richest, butteriest, tenderest, beefiest bits of steak I'd ever put in my mouth.

Oh, how I longed to have a steak made up entirely of those few precious bites. So what exactly is a ribeye cap? Well if you take a look at a ribeye steak like this one:

There's the bone, then there's the large eye of meat attached to it, then around that eye of meat is the spinalis dorsi, the ribeye cap. If you trim it off from the ribs before cutting them into steaks, you end up with an entire muscle about 16 inches long, 8 inches wide, and an inch thick. This is the gold you are looking for.

We all know that ribeyes are the most flavorful premium steak available, while tenderloin is the most tender. Well, my friends, the ribeye cap has the best of both worlds. All the flavor and juicy fat of a ribeye, with the tenderness of a tenderloin.

It's a boneless cut that is best cooked using high heat methods. That is, either in a screaming hot cast iron skillet or over a grill. Because it's relatively thin, you can cook it all the way through on the hot side of the grill (flipping frequently), without the need to finish it off on the cooler side.


"you will not find a meatier, more tender cut of beef"

It's admittedly pricey at $99. But after having cooked my way through one this weekend, I can guarantee you that you will not find a meatier, more tender cut of beef anywhere. Not in a steakhouse, not in a fancy-pants restaurant, not in the hall of the cow gods themselves. It'll serve two hungry people, or four moderate meat eaters (I used mine to feed my family of 6 after a few big appetizers and nobody complained at the portion size). It's so buttery that you don't really need a big hunk of it to yourself. This is a steak to savor, not gorge.