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I’ll get my bias out of the way first: my money always goes to the porterhouse. However, the real answer is always going to be a little more complicated than that. Both types of steak have their own reasons you might prefer them, so it might be handier to first break down what exactly each type of steak is in the first place before getting down to determining which (if either) is the higher quality steak.
1. T-Bone Steaks
T-bones are an interesting beast that are, as you may expect, named for the T shaped bone that runs through the meat.
These steaks are cut from the short loin, but are essentially two different steaks in truth. The larger side of the steak is a New York Strip, while the smaller side is a beef tenderloin. This makes for a unique eating experience as the two sides of the steak have vastly different tastes and textures. This can make cooking a T-bone to perfection a bit tricky as well, since the meats have slightly different optimal cooking times. In either case though, the bone aids the meat in evenly cooking.
T-bone steaks are great, but relatively expensive compared to other (and in my opinion, better) steaks like the top sirloin and ribeye. However, there’s almost no beating it in terms of appearance; the T-bone is the classic, iconic steak in most cartoons and media for a reason after all.
2. Porterhouse Steaks
You may be surprised to learn that a porterhouse comes from the exact same cut of steak as a T-bone steak, the short loin.
However, porterhouses are in general larger, and have a much larger portion of the tenderloin alongside it. This makes a porterhouse the classic “sharing steak”, as you sort of get two steaks for the price of one; a fairly large cut of strip, and a similarly large cut of tenderloin.
A bit of a fun fact about the name: they were first named by English pubs, where they were often served alongside a porter; a very dark beer similar to a stout (think Guinness or similar beers for the latter). This is still an exceptionally good pairing today, with the juicy, savory nature of the meat being very well complimented by the deep bitterness of a darker beer.
As I mentioned up top, in my opinion it has to go to the porterhouse, for a few reasons.
The biggest one is that you get a whole lot more bang for your buck with the porterhouse steak. It’s larger, has more of the “good” steak (your mileage may vary on this), and comes out to about the same price per pound from most stores (though, being larger, each individual steak will cost a bit more).
The porterhouse is the perfect compromise steak for two choosy eaters; if you’re splitting a meal with your date or a child, it’s great to have two different types of meat on tap for different tastes. It’s kind of like ordering a sampler platter, but for steak.
When cooking at home, I also find the porterhouse to be a lot more forgiving than the T-bone. More meat means a longer overall cooking time, which means it’s harder to overshoot your mark when cooking to a specific temperature.
This also, coincidentally, makes them an excellent steak to order from a steak house, as it’s a lot harder for the kitchen to screw up your order accidentally (I’m sure we all know the pain of ordering a small sirloin medium rare and getting it medium well instead).
Now, you might think to yourself: “Doesn’t the T-bone also have most of these advantages?”. And the answer there is yes. It is also two distinct cuts of meat, with the bone there to ensure it cooks more evenly, and they’re usually going to be found at identical prices.
But what really sways me here is a matter of preference you may not agree with: I do not like the New York Strip steak. It’s always boggled my mind how expensive a NY Strip can be given how, in my opinion, it’s one of the worst cuts of steak you could possibly buy. Particularly given its aforementioned high price point.
While considerably healthier in some respects, the New York Strip is a tougher, less tasty version of the ribeye (my favorite steak). This makes the higher proportion of Strip in the T-bone much to its detriment in my books, while the added tenderloin of the porterhouse elevates it.
This is, of course, a matter of opinion, and one many may find blasphemous. The New York Strip is a popular steak, which I imagine is part of why it commands such a high price per pound compared to the less popular Flat Iron, which it otherwise bears a lot of resemblance to when cooked (though the Flat Iron costs about 40% less per pound).
So if you like a good Strip, the T-bone might be a bit more to your taste, since it has a high proportion (though not amount) of Strip.
However, there is one other consideration here: the porterhouse is kind of an egregiously large steak. Too much for any one person to eat, at least without it being some kind of challenge.
While definitely a higher quality steak in my book, unless you’re planning to share it (or save some for later), the T-bone is a better steak; it’s simply properly portioned for one person to eat as part of a meal.
So if you’re a big fan of both steak cuts, and are ordering a steak just for yourself…yes, by all means, grab the T-bone. You’re probably not going to miss the extra tenderloin anyway.
Essentially, I think the porterhouse is a better cut, and definitely better for when you’re cooking at home or sharing a meal at a restaurant, it must be said that it’s a bit too large and expensive to really justify ordering one for just yourself.