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Here’s the secret to understanding beef cuts:
There are 8 main cuts of beef:
The USDA divides a cow into eight regions. They are called the primal cuts, or the main cuts.
These eight are important. You need to learn them. If you do, everything will become clear.
Here are the eight primal cuts:
Loin (short loin and sirloin)
After the primal cuts, beef gets divided into subprimal cuts — a cut of meat larger than a steak, roast or other single cut, but smaller than a side of beef. A butcher often times starts with a sub-primal cut, and they cut it into the individual sizes we’re used to seeing in the butcher case.
You buy and eat portion cuts. When you purchase from WYO BEEF, you get individually wrapped, portion cut steaks, roasts, ribs, and more.
The most expensive cuts are in the center:
Now that you have the regions, all you need to remember is that the more expensive steaks are cut from the center of the steer, which is the loin or rib section.
Why the center? Because beef gets more tender as the distance from horn and hoof increases.
A steer’s legs and neck muscles do most of the work, so the muscles there are firmer. That makes these areas the toughest. The loin and ribs are at the center of the animal, and compared to a neck muscle, they don’t work much so they’re tender cuts.
Different Cuts of Beef:
Chuck meat comes from the cow’s shoulder. Cows use their shoulder a lot, so it’s a tougher cut of beef. However, it’s also a very flavorful cut, and butchers cut it in a variety of ways so you have lots of options at the grocery store.
Types of cuts you’ll see for chuck are ground chuck (hamburger), flat-iron steak, chuck short ribs, shoulder tender medallions, chuck pot roast, blade roast, boneless chuck short ribs, stew meat, country style ribs, and top blade steak, just to name a few.
You should choose chuck beef when you want lots of flavor, but need to be cost conscious too.
The brisket is the steer’s breast. Brisket is usually tough and contains a substantial amount of fat. But don’t let that fool you! Chefs know that if you tenderize it with a marinade or rub, and cook it low and slow, it’ll melt in your mouth. Brisket is primarily used for barbecue, corned beef or pastrami.
Cook a brisket when you want to cook low and slow.
The shank is located at the animal’s forearm in front of the brisket. It is one of the toughest cuts. One of the most famous dishes that comes from the shank is Osso Buco, which requires braising to make the meat more tender. Make stews and soups with the shank.
The cow’s ribs and backbone make up the ribs. There are 13 pairs of ribs, but only the last section (6-12) are in the primal section of the ribs. The others are in the chuck cut.
Ribs have lots of flavor and marbling. Types of cuts you’ll see for ribs are Delmonico steak, boneless ribeye roast, cowboy steak, ribeye steaks and beef short ribs.
Choose ribs when you want a tender cut of beef with extra marbling.
The plate, or short plate, is the other source of short ribs and it’s found near the abdomen. It is fattier. Make fajitas, pastrami, skirt
steak, Philadelphia steak and short ribs with this cut and you’ll be happy with the results.
The most popular types of steak cuts are in the Loin section
The loin is where the most expensive cuts of beef come from. It is located at the top of the steer directly behind the rib, and since it’s not a heavily used muscle, it’s very tender.
The loin has two parts: shortloin and sirloin.
Popular cuts from the shortloin are filet mignon, tenderloin steak, T-bone, Porterhouse steaks, strip steak, New York Strip, and KC Strip.
Earlier we talked about how one cut of beef often has several different names. The shortloin is a great example of this.
A T-Bone and Porterhouse are from the shortloin. They’re the same steak. The only small difference is a Porterhouse is a larger version of the T-Bone.
Then, when you cut the beef out around the “T” bone, you get two unique cuts – a filet and a strip steak. A strip steak has lots of difference names too like New York Strip, Kansas City Strip, and hotel steak, just to name a few.
The sirloin area is a little less tender than the shortloin, but it’s also more flavorful. Common cuts from the sirloin area are sirloin steak, center cut sirloin steak, top sirloin, bottom sirloin, ball tip steak, Tri-Tip Roast and Tri-Tip Steak.
Cook a cut from the loin when you’re hungry for a flavorful and tender cut of beef.
The round is a lean and inexpensive cut. It’s found at the cow’s rump and hind legs, so it’s sometimes tough.
When you’re at the grocery store, you’ll often see round sold as ground beef. Other common cuts are round steak, eye of round, tip steak, tip roast, top round and bottom round roasts.
The flank is located below the loin. It has no bones, and is very flavorful but also very tough.
It used to be less expensive at the grocery store, but this has started to change. Why? Flank steaks are known for being lean. Since consumers want lean meat more than ever before, it’s increased flank steak’s popularity and price.
Popular flank cuts are flank steak and London broil.
Please note, these are some of the most common cuts and terms, but they can vary from region to region.