Beef Cuts

(click on various cuts to view information)

Various Beef Cuts Explained.

At one stage or another, we have all wondered what part of the cow a certain cut has come from. This page will break the animal down and explain where various cuts come from.

Cuts of beef are divided into primal cuts and subdivisions within those sections. The animal's legs and neck muscles do the most work, as a result, the meat taken from here is generally quite tough, something to remember is that the meat becomes more tender as the distance from hoof and horn increases. 

The following is a list of the American primal cuts, and cuts derived from them. Beef carcasses are split along the axis of symmetry into "halves", then across into front and back "quarters" (forequarters and hindquarters).

Forequarter (Chuck, Brisket, Rib, Plate & Fore-shank). 

Chuck:

 

The chuck extends from the neck to the fifth rib. The cuts taken from the chuck are often more tough as it is close to the neck which is always moving. Although tougher, chuck cuts are moist and full of flavour, because there is a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking. Generally, cuts taken from the chuck are high in protein. Many of these pieces are often used for ground beef and stocks. Even though they are fairly tough, short ribs are a favourite from this cut as they are packed with flavour and are reasonably cheap over the counter.

Cuts of meat taken from the Chuck include:

Chuck Roll Roast: This large, boneless cut comes from in between the ribs and backbone. It contains both tough and tender muscles. the chuck roast is better suited to a 'low and slow' method of cooking, allowing for the tougher muscles to be broken down.

Cross-Rib Roast: A beef cross-rib roast comes from the shoulder area of the animal, from the arm half of the chuck roast. The layers of fat and meat make the roast juicy and flavorful when cooked slowly. Although more tender than the chuck roll roast, this cut is known to lack the flavour compared the chuck roll roast.

7-Bone Roast (Chuck Steak): The typical chuck steak is a rectangular cut, about one inch thick and contains parts of the shoulder bones, and is often known as a "7-bone steak," as the shape of the shoulder bone in cross section resembles the number '7'. This cut is usually grilled or broiled and is also used for making ground beef as it has a fantastic balance of meat and fat.

 

Short Ribs: Short ribs are not only cut from the chuck section of the cow, but they are particularly meaty from this area. Cut across the ribs (bone in) they are called "Flanken". Cut parallel to the ribs they're "English style" and can also be made to be boneless.

Brisket:

 

Brisket is a cut of meat taken from the breast or lower chest, just behind the separation of the fore-shank and shoulder. The precise definition of the cut differs internationally. The brisket muscles include the superficial and deep pectorals. These muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing/moving cattle as cattle do not have collar bones. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize the connective tissue.

 

Slow cooking, normally over indirect heat, is the preferred method where brisket is concerned, the more time the brisket is cooked, the more time it allows for the collagen to break down, resulting in a more tender finished product. 

 

Rib:

Cut from the sixth to the twelfth rib, here you will get the back ribs, rib roast, rib-eye steak and entrecôte steak as well as short ribs. Cuts taken from the rib primal are very tender, which means cooking methods vary greatly from grill to broil to charcoal. 

 

The rib eye steak is taken from the centre best portion of the rib steak and is well known for its tenderness.

 

Plate:

The plate is where you will find the skirt steak, is the source for short ribs, pot roast, skirt steak, and where you would get the cuts to make ground beef.

 

Skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle and through connective tissue is attached to the inside abdominal wall. Although a thin cut of meat, skirt steak is packed with flavour, and because of it's lack of thickness, can be cooked quickly on a high heat. It is also a good cut choice for making stir-fry.

In general, meat from the plate section is cheap, tough and usually fatty, hence the ground beef, perfect for making hamburger patties.

 

Shank:

The beef shank is the leg portion of cattle. The shank is extremely tough and has a lot of connective tissue, making it very sinewy as well as dry when cooked. It is best cooked in a slow cooker on a low heat as a stew. Shank is also used for low-fat ground beef worldwide. It is cheap, and as a result, is used in beef stock and soups. All this being said, it is packed with flavour and is a good choice to when making a potjie. 

Hindquarter (Short-loin, Sirloin, Flank, Round, Hind-shank & Tail). 

Short-loin:

 

The short-loin is the primal cut where you find the more sought after subdivision cuts, and more expensive. These cuts are lean, but do lack the flavour that some of the tougher cuts produce. Cuts that come from the short-loin include the well known T-bone steak, tenderloin roast, porterhouse steak & fillet mignon.

 

The short-loin will produce approximately 14 steaks depending on the thickness of the cuts. These cuts are generally favoured for frying or charcoal cooking, for best results, be careful not to over cook them, or over spice them.

 

The most tender cut of beef available is the tenderloin and is also the most expensive, it is the most tender because this particular area on the cow doesn't get much of a workout. 

 

Sirloin:

 

Sirloin is taken from behind the short-loin of the cow and is a very tender cut. The sirloin is broken down into sections, these being the top sirloin and bottom sirloin.

Sirloin steak is one of the most common cuts of beef and often the steak lover’s first choice. Although thought to have more flavour than the short-loin, the sirloin is slightly tougher as it is closer to the back legs. Sirloin can tolerate high temperatures, which makes it ideal for quick roasting, as well as slow roasting. 

Flank:

 

Taken from the lower section of the chest (behind the plate), the flank is a relatively long and flat cut, it contains a lot of meat fibres, which makes it a tough cut of meat, and even tougher if over cooked. It is best cooked over high heat for a short period of time, once it has been cooked, it is best to cut the steak against the grain to make it less chewy.

Round:

 

Also known as the 'rump', the round is found, as the former name suggests, at the back of the cow. The round is a tough cut of meat, this is because it is close to the muscles that are exercised often, being the back legs, because of the location of the round, there are a lot of connective tissues, cartilage and tendons, which all contribute to a chewy steak/roast if not cooked correctly. 

Subdivisions taken from the round or rump are generally less fatty compared to other primal cuts, this is because most of the fat is concentrated towards the front section of the animal, this is not to say there is no fat on the back section, just less than you would find on the front.  Uses for the round are mainly roasts, which are best cooked medium rare and sliced very thinly against the grain.

Shank:

The beef shank is the leg portion of cattle. The shank is extremely tough and has a lot of connective tissue, making it very sinewy as well as dry when cooked. It is best cooked in a slow cooker on a low heat as a stew. Shank is also used for low-fat ground beef worldwide. It is cheap, and as a result, is used in beef stock and soups. All this being said, it is packed with flavour and is a good choice to when making a potjie. 

Tail:

An oxtail is typically skinned and cut into short lengths. Each cut has a section of tailbone and marrow in the center. Although oxtail doesn't hold a lot of meat, it is packed with flavour, retrieving the meat itself off the bone can be hard work, but well worth it when it has been cooked right. The hero of an oxtail recipe is the sauce it produces, the marrow and fat that is cooked down over time results in an incredibly delicious sauce. Health benefits of oxtail include getting great amounts of Calcium, Vitamin B12,Iron and Vitamin B6.

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