A guide to choosing your beef cut

different parts of a cattle, beef cuts, steaks

CHUCK: Blade Steak, Eye Steak, Arm Roast, Blade Roast, Short Ribs, Flatiron Steak, 7-Bone Roast.

The chuck is a rectangular cut of meat that sits above the rib and part of the shoulder, containing connective tissue (including fat and collagen) which partially melts during cooking. Chuck steaks can be somewhat tough, and the grain of the meat may be different even within the same cut of meat. Examples of chuck steaks include the chuck eye steak, shoulder top blade (also called flat iron steak) and shoulder steak.

With chuck steaks, the challenge is to soften the tough meat to enjoy the excellent flavour, which has a great balance of meat to fat. Typically, chuck steaks are marinated before cooking, which helps soften the meat. Stewing, slow cooking, braising, pot roasting or grilling are favored methods of cooking chuck steak, helping to further soften the meat and make it tender when served. This cut is also one of the most popular for making ground beef, so it’s also a favoured meat for meatballs and burgers, and is one of the more economical cuts available.

BRISKET: Whole Brisket, Front Cut, First Cut.

Made from the breast or lower chest of the cow, brisket is a tough beef cut since it is a very “worked” muscle. This cut allows many cooking methods. Here are some common cooking preferences:

  • It can be cured and made into pastrami or corned beef.
  • Braising is very popular, allowing the meat to first sear and then simmer to tender, flavorful perfection.
  • Smoking is also very popular, first marinating and then slow cooking the meat over wood or charcoal slowly until it is practically fork tender. Kansas City barbecue is a particularly famous version of smoking in which the meat is slow smoked and then covered in a thick barbecue sauce with tomato and molasses, and it works splendidly with brisket.

FORE SHANK: Shank Cross Cut.

Taken from the upper leg of cattle, the fore shank is a relatively long and flat cut of steak from the low abdominal muscles. It is characterized by its grain, which features long, string-like fibers running through the steak. Though extremely flavorful, the flank steak can be a tough, dry, and sinewy. The meat is commonly cooked in moist heat or used to create beef stock.

Since not many people buy beef shank, it’s not typically found in stores as anything other than low-fat ground beef. It is fairly cheap in butcher shops though, and an ideal cut for beef bourguignon.

SHORT PLATE: Skirt Steak, Plate Short Ribs.

Short Plate, also known as “Plate cuts”, are from the underbelly of the cow, and are made of tough, fatty meat — usually from the cow’s diaphragm. The short plate produces types of steak such as the skirt steak and hanger steak, as well as short ribs. It’s characterized by its high fat content and the large amount of cartilage that’s in this cut.

The challenge with the plate cut of beef is to maximize all of the flavour from the high fat content but minimize the tough texture. Braising is a fantastic choice for beef plate, softening everything and allowing the fat to flavor the entire dish. When served in a light broth or sauce espagnole, it’s a thing of great beauty. Marinating and pan frying the meat is also quite popular, and skirt steak is often used in dishes such as carne asada. They’re typically used in stir fry or fajitas.

FLANK: Flank Steak, Flank Steak Rolls.

Flank steak is from the abdominal muscles of the cow. Because it can be tough, the cuts are grilled, pan-fried, broiled, or braised for tenderness, and are often marinated as well. Like plate cuts, flank steak is common in stir fry and often used in Asian cuisine.

ROUND: Round Steak, Round Roast, Rump Roast, Tip Steak, Tip Roast.

Round cuts are taken from the leg and backside of the cow. It is round in shape because of the part of the leg from which it is cut, and may or may not come with the bone still connected. “Eye” round, bottom round and top round are the different types.

Because there’s minimal fat marbling, many chefs make burgers or sausages from the inexpensive beef. It can also be slow cooked in moist heat (like braising), or sliced thin and dried/smoked at a low temperature to make jerky.

SIRLOIN: Sirloin Steak (Flat Bone/Round Bone), Top Sirloin Steak, Tri-Tip Roast.

This is the rear, back portion of the cow, continuing behind the section from which short loin cuts. The sirloin is divided into a few different cuts, the most prized of which is the well marbled top sirloin, which is often marketed under that name. The bottom sirloin is larger but less tender, and generally cheaper. In general, sirloin cuts are good in flavor and less expensive than short loin cuts.

Sirloin cuts make sirloin steaks or tri-tip roasts/steaks (commonly called “culotte”), which are chewy, but very flavorful. They’re found near the rear end of the cow and are a great value. Sirloin cuts are often labeled by the bone they contain: Flat, round, wedge, or pin

Sirloin steaks can be cooked in a variety of ways. Because they are not too tough, they don’t need to be marinated before cooking. They can be pan-fried on the stove, grilled, broiled and roasted. It’s a great steak to serve with a potato or homemade pasta on the side.

LOIN:  Top Loin, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Tenderloin, Fillet Mignon

This cut comes from the back of a cow, below the ribs but before the rump, including part of the spine and the top loin and tenderloin. Cuts of steak that come from this region of the cow include porterhouse, strip steak and T-bone. Steaks from the short loin are desirable with their extremely tender texture and superior flavor.

To let the flavor shine, you want to do as little as possible with steaks from the short loin. While simple dry heat methods, such as grilling or pan frying, are best, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative with your cookery. Crusting the steak with pepper or spices, or serving with compound butter or a delicious sauce can make this a simple but stellar meal.

RIB: Rib Roast, Rib Steak, Rib Eye Steak, Rib Eye Roast, Back Ribs.

Ribs are generously marbled, so they have an extremely tender, fall-off-the-bone texture and full-bodied flavour. Smaller cuts like rib-eye steak are best for grilling and pan frying, large cuts like standing rib roasts are good for roasting, and short ribs are best braised.

Because it’s so tender, beef rib is well suited for various forms of dry-heat cooking, and does not require marinating. In French cooking, it’s called entrecôte, which translates as “between the ribs,” and it’s often served with a compound butter or delicious brown sauce.


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