The Various Cuts of Beef and The Best Steak Cuts
Beef cuts can be fairly confusing and if you have ever wondered ‘what is a brisket’? or ‘what is a flank steak?’, you’re not alone. The best cuts of beef can be situational and perhaps highly opinionated, and it is important to understand the different cuts of beef before we can really break down what the best cuts of steak are.
Beef is often considered a premium cut due to relative costs to pork and chicken. Beef is a versatile protein, up there with the versatility of chicken. Beef is typically the hardest of the common proteins to cook due to the many numbers of beef cuts, the many numbers of cooking methods that can be used, and the amount of attention required to cook a cut of beef to perfection. Deciding what the best cuts of steak are for a specific application can come down to several factors.
We’re going to talk about the basics of the cuts of beef and what you need to know to ensure that you are using your foundational knowledge to produce the very best beef dishes you can. Cooking the various beef cuts isn’t exactly hard, but without using the proper cooking methods you will have a larger tendency to over-cook, under-cook, have it turn out tough, and generally not making the best out of all beef cuts.
The general rule for hind-quarter is most of them can be used with a dry-heat method as much of the meat you’ll find from the hind-quarter is of high quality and coming from the loin, hip, and flank.
When in doubt, it is always recommended that you judge a cut by its appearance. A cut with nearly zero fat marbling will generally require a moist-heat cooking method to ensure tenderness. A cut with a lot of fat marbling, such as a rib-eye steak, will do very nicely grilled or pan-fried.
Beef Primal Definition
Primal beef cuts are defined as the first part that the cow is broken up into. Think of a car, and the engine would be considered a primal. It’s a base beef cut. These primal beef cuts are then broken down further into the subprimal cuts you find in the grocery store. We’ll describe each primal and the preferred cooking method associated with each.
Beef Cuts Recommended Cooking Methods Key
The chuck is a side of beef that can be found in the front quarter. This primal cut of beef can be defined as the most prolific, having the most amounts of cuts by far. Many of the cooking methods for this primal of beef tend to be moist-heat, as the marbling is sparse and the muscling is very well developed. Towards the rear of the primal (Center to the animal), you will find some cuts that will do well with some dry-heat cooking methods.
Chuck Beef Cuts
* Marinating Recommended
The Rib Primal is a side of beef cut that is is the beginning of the highly coveted cuts that many people enjoy, such as the Ribeye Steak and Ribeye Roasts. Because of this, the rib primal cuts of beef tend to be more expensive and the best beef cut results are used in dry-heat cooking methods cooking method, such as grilling, roasting, or skillet. Check out some popular options here (Amazon).
Rib Primal Cuts
The Loin Primal has the most expensive side of beef cuts you can find and is sought after for its tender and marbled texture. Here you will find high-end cuts such as the Porterhouse Steak, Filet Mignon, and New York Strip.
Loin Primal Cuts
The Sirloin will be where you’ll find flavorful roasts, such as the top sirloin, and tender steaks. The hip is where you’ll find the cheaper sides of beef roasts, such as the inside round, eye of round and outside rounds. The outside round is best when braised, while the inside produces the best roast.
Sirloin Primal Cuts
The Round Primal is where you will find a lot of your cheaper roast cuts you see in the grocery store. Depending on where you live, they are typically the most popular cuts of beef you see. These cuts take well to roasting. Because they are part of the hind, they have tough muscling and are tougher cuts.
Round Primal Cuts
The Brisket Primal is a smaller beef primal cut, consisting of a small portion of the beef. Brisket is a cheaper cut and you find a lot of your long cooking methods such as smoked or dried.
Plate & Flank
The Plate & Flank primal cuts have limited selection, but it is where you will find the Flank Steak and Short Ribs, both which have increased in popularity as chefs and cooks find new ways to turn these tough cuts into delicious delectables.
Plate & Flank cuts
Grading Beef (USA & Canada)
Beef grading takes into account five factors:
- The animal’s age
- The color of the meat
- The conforming of the muscling
- The fat color
- The sex of the animal
For beef, the intramuscular fat (Or marbling) is also taken into account. Much of the grading today is done through the use of digital camera scanning of cuts which detects the marbling, color, and size.
The standards for beef grading in Canada is much higher and stricter than that of the US. This image shows the various cuts, and how they gain those grades.
All beef should be aged a minimum of 14 days. Any more than that produces very little benefit. Meats which are not aged are called “green meats”. They will be very tough and flavorless when cooked.
How To Cook A Steak
Cooking a steak, roast or any other cut of beef requires the knowledge of the proper doneness. In the industry, this is called the “color”.
There are 6 types of rarity corresponding to the image on the left
- Blue Rare
- Medium Rare
- Medium Well
- Well Done
You can determine the doneness of a steak by touching or squeezing it, by sight, by color, and by time. A blue rare steak will usually take about 30 seconds on each side, will remain cold in the middle, and be firm as the protein has just begun to coagulate and tighten. A rare steak will be very spongy and have almost no resistance, and be warm in the middle. No juice will be visible at this stage.
Medium rare you’ll begin to see visual changes to the steak. Blood will start to come out of the steak, and when pressed there will be some resistance. A medium color will see the blood starting to pool on top of the steak, it will be slightly firm and springy. The center will be rosy pink.
When a steak is at medium well, you will have a very little pink in the middle, the steak will be firm and springy. A well-done steak has no redness within it, and it’s quite firm and springs back quickly when pressed.
It’s important to remember when you have finished cooking a steak to let it rest for a good minute or so to allow the juices the naturally come out of the steak. By doing so, some of the juices coming out will seep back in, giving more flavor.
You can also use the palm of your hand to determine doneness. Although rarely used by professionals, they are taught this skill while in school so they begin to familiarize themselves with how a steak should feel at each level of doneness.
Let’s watch Gordon Ramsay as he pan-fries a steak where he’ll show you how to judge doneness by using the palm method.