If you’re a meat lover, then chances are that beef is one of your favorite types of meat.
It’s juicy, flavorful, and when consumed in moderate amounts (about once or twice per week), it can be a great source of protein and Vitamin B6. It is also incredibly versatile and can be used in stews, sandwiches, cutlets, steaks (obviously), and even meat pies.
However, loving beef and knowing how to go about it in the kitchen are two entirely different things. Even if you consider yourself capable of grilling a mean stake or baking the perfect beef wellington, you might not really know how different cuts of beef affect your dishes and why some may be better for a steak, whereas others will work extremely well in stews.
All of the beef cuts have their distinct characteristics, and knowing them will make you a better cook. You’ll be able to woo your guests with the exquisite flavors of your meat dishes.
What Are the Different Cuts of Beef?
Different beef cuts come from different parts of the cow. It is commonly agreed upon that the cow’s body is divided into eight main “regions,” each one of which carries a different name, varies in flavor, as well as tenderness. These eight parts of the animal are known as “primal cuts,” and they include the following:
- Short Plate.
If you want to see where each cut of beef can be found on a live cow, take a look at the image below.
Eight Primal Cuts
As we already mentioned earlier, there are eight primal cuts of beef you need to know about. Each one is unique, and they can be further separated into sub-primal cuts. Sub-primal cuts are what you usually get from the butcher when shopping for meat. Let’s get down to the meat of it, then!
The ribs come from the cows’ ribs and their backbones. The rib meat is very tender and can be used in a pot roast or stews. The famous ribeye steak also comes from the rib cut. However, in our opinion, the best dish you can get from this part of the cow is plain, oven-baked ribs coated in barbecue sauce. We’ll explain this dish later in detail later on in this article.
All in all, ribs are fantastic for family gatherings and open-air barbecue parties. You can make them in a variety of different ways, but nothing beats biting off a juicy chunk of meat straight from the rib bone held in your hand.
Loin parts are usually the most expensive beef cuts. They are located directly behind the ribs, and since the loin isn’t a frequently used muscle, loin cuts of beef are usually the most tender, juicy parts you could have. We differentiate between two different cuts of loin: the sirloin and short loin.
From the short loin, you can get the New York Strip steak, KC strip steak, as well as filet mignon or T-bone steak. Tenderloin and Porterhouse steaks are also made from the short loin.
When it comes to the sirloin, it is less tender than the short loin, but it packs a greater flavor punch than its counterpart. Of course, the sirloin steak is perhaps the most popular type of dish from this cut, but the Tri-Tip steak is also worth mentioning. Out of the two, the Tri-Tip is our personal favorite.
The chuck meat is taken from the shoulders of the cow, meaning that it might not be as tender as some of the other primal cuts, considering how frequently shoulders are used during any given cow’s lifespan. Nonetheless, it is still a very flavorful cut, and it’s particularly good for all sorts of roasts and stews.
Ground chuck is also frequently used in hamburger patties at burger joints all across the country. As far as chuck steaks are concerned, we’re not too crazy about them, but a decent top-blade steak is not the worst option for a Friday night dinner, especially if you’re on a budget (chuck is significantly cheaper than sirloin cuts).
This is a cheap, lean cut. The round has developed a reputation for being a second-class cut of beef, but it’s not exactly the truth. There is still plenty you can do with the round, and considering its relatively low price, you can feed an entire family for a fraction of what you would pay for the same amount of rib or loin, for example.
Considering that it originates at the cow’s legs, the round comes in quite tough cuts, which is why most stores and butchers will ask you if you want them to grind it up for you. However, if you know how to make it right, you’ll be able to release the full richness of a round cut’s flavor by preparing a stew or pot roast with it.
Located right underneath the loin, flank beef cuts are known for their rich flavor. However, just like round cuts, the flank is very tough to bite into, and not nearly as tender as loin or rib meat.
On the other hand, it is by far the leanest cut of beef and is increasing in popularity amongst diet-conscious crowds who want to consume less fat without giving up their steak. Aside from flank steak, this cut also works magnificently well in all sorts of stews and roasts.
Brisket comes from the cow’s breast and is generally used in processed meat products such as corn beef or pastrami. Another popular use for the brisket is the barbecue – seasoned with the right rub, and grilled with patience for a long period of time, this originally fatty, tough cut of meat will turn into the juiciest, most aromatic piece of beef you’ll have ever eaten.
If you don’t have immediate access to a grill, you can achieve the same effect by baking your brisket in the oven.
The toughest cut of beef you can get. It requires a lot of braising to make it tender enough to eat and is generally known as the cheapest stew meat you can get. Ossobuco, a famous Italian dish, is made out of shank cuts. If you want a more tender shank cut, look out for a veal shank.
Much like brisket, this is a rather fatty cut of beef. You can get short ribs from the short plate, but it has more than that to offer. Skirt steak, fajitas, and Philadelphia steak are among the dishes you can make with the short plate. You can also use it for making deli meats, especially pastrami.
The Best Dinner Ideas for Each Primal Cut
Now that we’ve got the basics of primal beef cuts out of the way, it’s time to move on to the fun part: dinner ideas!
Beef is the perfect meat for dinner – it’s delicious, full of protein, and, most importantly, it’s incredibly versatile! Whether you want to make a heavy roast or throw a barbecue cookout to feed your entire extended family, or stage a light, date night candlelit dinner, beef dishes have got your back.
Below are some of our favorite dinner ideas with beef in the center stage.
Rib: Oven-Baked Barbecue Ribs
While many people will swear that the only right cooking method for barbecue ribs is a proper grill, an oven actually works just as well for those, if not better.
The reason why we prefer it for this dish is because it is much easier to control the temperature and tenderness of the ribs, allowing you to measure out the cooking time perfectly to get the slide-off-the-bone effect you want.
The hardest part about this dish is getting the flavor right. You can use your favorite rub, or create one by yourself out of the spices in your pantry, but be sure to coat the beef chunk with a decent amount of barbecue sauce for that juicy, smokey flavor. After that, all that’s left to do is heating up the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and sitting back for 2-3 hours.
Once you pass the 2-hour mark, make sure to check on your ribs every couple of minutes. You don’t want to overcook them!
Loin: Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Tenderloin with Truffled Wine Sauce
This tenderloin is the perfect dinner party meal. It looks very fancy, so it’s bound to impress your guests, but it’s also very easy to make. Just as in the case of the ribs described above, most of the work for this dish is going to be done by the oven.
You need to make the stuffing in the skillet out of bacon, spinach, mushrooms, and shallots fried over medium-to-low heat, sauteed in beef broth. For baking, we recommend using a thermometer and taking out the stuffed tenderloin once the temperature is registered as 125 degrees (baking for about an hour in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit).
Chuck: Smoked Chuck Roast
It is a great dish if all you’ve got in your freezer is a chuck cut, and you want to make something resembling a brisket. All you need to do with it to get the best flavor out is season it heavily with salt and pepper, and leave it in the fridge (uncovered) for 24 hours.
It will make the meat more tender and allow it to absorb the salt better. Then, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and throw it in a smoker preheated to 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 3.5 hours.
Round: Round Steak Stroganoff
Stroganoff is a hearty, flavorful stew. It works really well as a spicy dish, but it packs a lot of flavor even in the mild version. The classic stroganoff recipe entails using a lot of mushrooms, paprika, and onions, but you can add more of your favorite vegetables to it if you want. We found that it works exceptionally well with some carrots thrown into the mix!
Flank: Balsamic & Garlic Flank Steak
This super-easy steak recipe might just become your next favorite steak. All it takes is creating a balsamic-garlic emulsion and coating the meat in it. This lean meat is a perfect option for date night as a light meal you’ll both enjoy. Make sure to also season it well with kosher salt and pepper.
Brisket: Baked Brisket with Apricot & Prunes
This sweet and salty brisket is one of the best Sunday night dinner options. Ready in 3.5 hours, it will fill up your home with mouth-watering smells as you bake it. Be sure to get it ready before your guests arrive — enduring this olfactory feast without being able to taste this brisket is nothing short of a torture!
Shank: Beef Shank Ragu
Another date night favorite, the beef shank ragu is a cheap, relatively easy-to-make dish that is bound to make your significant other fall in love with you all over again through your cooking. Make sure to use Hungarian spicy paprika paste as you prepare the ragu to give it another layer of flavor!
Short Plate: Korean BBQ Short Ribs
Korean barbecue has become a worldwide phenomenon in recent years. Similar, and yet so different from the Western grilling traditions, this cuisine is one you definitely shouldn’t sleep on. Marinated primarily in soy sauce and brown sugar, your Korean short ribs should come out crispy and full of savory flavor after just about four minutes of grilling!
The Bottom Line
The various cuts of beef and what can be done with them are a subject wide enough to write a full about. Hopefully, our comprehensive guide shined a bit of light on how to go about choosing the right cuts for your dishes, as well as inspired you to try out adding a little variety to your dinner repertoire every once in a while.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most tender cuts of beef?
Tender cuts of beef typically come from the least exercised muscles, such as the rib and loin areas. Some well-known tender cuts include filet mignon, ribeye, and strip steak. These cuts are ideal for cooking methods that require shorter cooking times, like grilling or pan-searing.
How do forequarter cuts differ from hindquarter cuts?
Forequarter cuts come from the front half of the animal, including the neck, shoulder, and rib areas. They tend to be less tender and more flavorful, as they contain more connective tissue and fat. Examples of forequarter cuts are chuck, brisket, and ribs. Hindquarter cuts, on the other hand, come from the back half of the animal, including the loin and leg areas. These cuts are typically leaner, more tender, and less marbled, such as sirloin, tenderloin, and round steak.
Which beef cuts are best for specific cooking methods?
Some cuts of beef are better suited for specific cooking methods:
- Tender cuts like filet mignon, ribeye, and strip steak are best for grilling or pan-searing.
- Cuts high in connective tissues, such as chuck, brisket, or short ribs, benefit from long, slow cooking techniques like braising or slow-roasting to achieve tenderness.
- Lean cuts like sirloin or round steak can be grilled or broiled but are also suitable for roasting, stir-frying, or even stewing.
What are the main differences between primary and retail cuts?
Primary cuts are the large, wholesale cuts that butchers receive directly from the processing plant. They include cuts like chuck, rib, loin, and round. Retail cuts are what you find at your local grocery store or butcher shop, which are smaller portions cut from primary cuts. Examples of retail cuts are steaks, roasts, and ground beef.
How do large cuts of beef compare to smaller ones?
Large cuts of beef, also called primary or wholesale cuts, usually have a larger section of an individual muscle or group of muscles. These cuts provide a variety of textures and flavors due to the different muscles and tissues within each cut. Smaller cuts, or retail cuts, are portions that are trimmed down from larger cuts to offer more uniform size and tenderness, making them more suitable for quick, everyday cooking.
Which cuts of beef are considered tougher and require longer cooking times?
Tougher cuts of beef come from the more exercised parts of the animal and contain more connective tissue. Examples are chuck, brisket, and shank. These cuts typically require longer cooking times, like braising or slow-roasting, in order to break down the connective tissue and achieve a tend