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Know Your Cuts of Beef!

Updated on October 26, 2012

cuts of beef

Unless you’re a vegetarian, you probably consume beef. But how much do you really know about different cuts of beef and grades of beef? Do you sometimes feel lost when searching the meat case? I was married to a cattle producer for 12 years, so I learned a thing or two about beef. Different parts of the carcass produce different cuts of beef, and each has a unique texture, taste, and fat content.

Beef is very versatile and can be cooked in a number of ways. It’s high in protein, tryptophan, iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12.

The same cut from a grain-fed steer (left), and a grass-fed steer. Notice the fat in the grain-fed steak.
The same cut from a grain-fed steer (left), and a grass-fed steer. Notice the fat in the grain-fed steak.

Grain Fed vs. Grass Fed



The debate over grass-fed cattle versus grain-fed cattle has been raging among producers and consumers for years, and there’s no easy answer as to which is better.


Grain-fed cattle gain weight much more quickly, and the meat has abundant marbling, fine texture, and lots of flavor. The quality is also more consistent than it is with grass-fed animals.


On the other hand, grass-fed cattle produce meat that’s healthier. It has only one-third or one-half as much fat as its grain-fed cousin. Grass-fed beef is also higher in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. On the down side, grass-fed beef is much more expensive for consumers because it costs more to produce.


Organic beef


You’ve probably heard of “organic beef.” According to the USDA guidelines, organic beef must be born and raised on certified organic pasture, receive no antibiotics, never be given growth-promoting hormones, be fed only certified grasses and grains, and have unrestricted access to outdoor areas.


Organic beef is a wonderful and healthy idea, but unfortunately, it’s cost prohibitive to many consumers.


Beef is hung to age in order to improve flavor and tenderness.
Beef is hung to age in order to improve flavor and tenderness.

The USDA Grading System

The beef you buy at the grocery store or meat market has been graded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) before you ever see it. The grades are based on the quality of the meat, including marbling, texture, maturity, and color.

The grades range from prime, choice, and select, down to standard. Prime cuts are the most expensive, and standard cuts are the cheapest. You can be sure that prime cuts of beef will be tender, juicy, and flavorful, but you’ll pay extra for that luxury.

In addition to the grade, where on the animal the meat comes from also plays an important role in its flavor and tenderness. Read below to learn about specific cuts and how to best prepare them.


Cuts of Beef

# 1 Chuck

Cuts that come from the chuck section include chuck eye roasts and steaks, English roasts, chuck roasts, arm pot roasts, short ribs, and blade roasts. These cuts are usually moderately tough and should be braised or slow cooked.

# 2 Rib

The rib section includes rib roasts, boneless rib roasts, rib eye steaks, market steaks, Spencer steaks, and Delmonico steaks. These cuts are usually tender and juicy and can be grilled, broiled, or pan broiled.

#3 Short loin

The short loin includes top loin steaks, New York strip steaks, T-bone steaks, Porterhouse steaks, tenderloin roasts, filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, club steaks, Kansas City steaks, and tenderloin steaks. These are tender, juicy cuts - the best from the beef.

#4 Sirloin

The sirloin region includes top sirloin steaks, sirloin steaks, top sirloin butt roasts, Santa Maria roasts, and pin-bone steaks. These cuts can be broiled, baked, or grilled.

The bottom sirloin contains bottom sirloin steaks and tri-tip roasts. How they are best cooked depends largely on the quality of the animal.

#5 Round

This section includes round steaks, top round steaks, tip steaks, tip roasts, rump roasts, top round roasts, bottom round roasts, and eye of round roasts. These cuts can be braised, panfried, or baked.

#6 Shank

Foreshank cross cuts should be cooked in liquid or braised.

#7 Brisket

The brisket includes boneless briskets, flat briskets, and corned briskets. These should be cooked in liquids or slow cooked with a sauce.

#8 Plate

The plate includes the skirt steaks, hanger steaks, fajita meat, and butcher's steaks. Cook these in liquid or braise for best results.

#9 Flank

The flank includes flank steaks, scored flank steaks, beef bacon, and rolled flank steaks. These cuts usually have little marbling, so they’re often fairly tough. Most should be braised, but those from a high-quality animal can be broiled.

Stew beef, all meat stew, and ground beef

Stew beef, all meat stew, and ground beef might come from any part of the cow. They’re generally made up of “scraps” left over from other cuts. Even meat labeled as “ground round” and “ground chuck” might not come solely from those parts of the animal. To be sure of what you’re actually getting, buy a specific cut and have the butcher grind it for you, or grind it yourself at home.

How to Select Beef

Most people purchase their beef from a grocery store or from a meat market. The grading system does a great job of doing much of the work for you, but it’s not infallible.

Be sure to check the expiration date on the meat package.

Examine the meat’s texture. It should be fine grained. Large, course grains usually indicate an older animal.

Press the meat through the package with your forefinger. Most cuts of beef should be firm.

The color of the meat should be light red – not deep red.

Look for marbling. The more fat the muscle has, the more tender and juicy the meat will be.

Instead of buying meat from a store or market, you can buy a steer from a local farmer and have it cut and wrapped at a slaughterhouse. If you don’t have room for a whole steer, you might half one with a friend or relative.

For video tutorials on choosing steaks and ground beef, watch the following:


How to Store Different Cuts of Beef

Once you purchase beef, get it in your refrigerator as soon as possible. Different cuts of beef will vary when it comes to safe refrigeration time. Generally speaking, steaks and roasts will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge. Stew beef will keep for 2-3 days, and ground beef should be used within 1-2 days.

If you want to keep your beef for longer periods of time, freeze it. First make sure the beef has not been previously frozen. If you’ve purchased large amounts of meat, separate it into meal-size portions and seal in plastic, removing as much air as possible. Whether you’re re-packaging your beef or storing it in its original package, overwrap it with aluminum foil or butcher paper to help reduce freezer burn. Steaks, roasts, and stew beef will keep for 6-12 months in the freezer, and ground beef will be good for 3-4 months. Keep this information in mind when storing different cuts of beef in the freezer.

For recipes using beef, click the links below.



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