Meet Your Meat: Understanding Different Beef Cuts and Their Uses

cut up medium cooked beef steak served on a wooden board
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There’s nothing quite so good as a deliciously cooked cut of meat. Steak, roast, stir fry, and stew; there are so many ways to enjoy freshly cut beef. But what do the cuts of meat mean? No doubt, you’ve heard of sirloin, ribeye, porterhouse, and brisket, but most people have no idea what the real difference is between their favorite cuts of meat.

Today, we’re taking you on a tour of where each popular cut of meat comes from and why they are so flavorful, tender, or cut the way they are. Get ready to meet your meat. You will learn not only what each named cut means but also the best way to cook meat based on where it is cut from.

Chuck meat comes from the shoulder and neck of the cow. It is high in flavor and well-marbled with fat. There are many different varieties of chuck cuts to choose from, including:

  • Chuck Roast
  • Shoulder Clod
  • Mock Tender
  • Shoulder Tender
  • Chuck Ribs
  • Chuck Eye

Chuck meat cuts are ideal for pot roast and other slow-cooking recipes, but they can also make delicious low-cost steaks if you enjoy well-marbled slabs of meat on the grill that are moist and full of flavor.

Brisket comes from the chest or “breast” of the cow. It tends to be a little tougher with large sections of fat. However, brisket becomes delicious when tenderized through a rub, marinade, and/or slow cooking. Cuts of brisket include:

  • Whole Brisket
  • Brisket Flat
  • Brisket Point

Brisket is ideal for corned beef, pastrami, slow-cooked brisket roast, and smoked in a barbecue. Many people are familiar with brisket from family gatherings, barbecue picnics, and smokehouse restaurants.

Rib meat is sourced from the backbone and the upper ribs of the cow. Lower ribs are included in chuck, which is why there are chuck ribs. Rib meat is the source of the legendary ribeye steak, prime rib, and traditional racks of ribs. The list of rib cuts include:

  • Ribeye
  • Cowboy Steak
  • Prime Rib
  • Fillet of Rib
  • Bone-In Ribeye
  • Back Ribs
  • Short Ribs

Rib meat is well marbled, tender, and full of flavor. It is a favorite for many people, both as back ribs and ribeye steak. It is also one of the more expensive cuts of meat, especially compared to chuck and lower ribs because the meat is so delicious and tender with very low-effort needed to cook rib section cuts to perfection.

Plate meat is from the section of cow below the ribs, or the lower chest. It can contain some portion of the short ribs but is otherwise full of cartilage and fat. This makes plate cuts flavorful and, when properly cooked, full of nutrients that promote healthy tissue growth, but it is also fattier and tougher than most cuts. Plate cuts include:

  • Short Ribs
  • Skirt Steak

Plate cuts are best when marinated or braised and slow-cooked to melt the fat and cartilage, leaving a flavorful and tender meat when properly cut against the grain.

Shank steak is one of the toughest cuts of meat because it comes from the front cow leg – a very muscular part of the cow. As a result, it is also one of the most affordable cuts and is a popular choice for slow-cooked stew. Fortunately, it is also quite flavorful and can be tenderized with the right cooking methods. There is only one common shank cut:

  • Flank Cross Cut

Braising, slow-cooking, and pressure-cooking can tenderize this meat. This cut is highly favored for beef stews, as it has plenty of fat and flavor. It is a favorite for many slow-cooked family recipes.

Short loin comes from the back midsection of the cow, between the ribs and the hind legs, and above the plate. This is where some of the tenderest and most expensive cuts of beef are found. There are many popular cuts of short loin, including:

  • Filet Mignon
  • Strip Steak
  • T-Bone Steak
  • Hanger Steak
  • Strip Filet
  • Strip Roast
  • Tenderloin Roast
  • Porterhouse Steak

Short loin cuts are favored for grilling, providing juicy, flavorful, and tender steaks that are best when grilled rare and medium. However, they also make delicious cuts for stir fry and kebabs where quick browning leaves the meat delicately tender.

Sirloin is cut from just above the hind legs and borders the round. It is also known as a high-end section for meat, highly priced and high in flavor, but slightly less tender than the short loin. Sirloin is typically separated out into top sirloin from the upper part of the cut and bottom sirloin from closer to the legs. There are many different sirloin cuts, as the area is large and in high demand for many recipe styles. These cuts include:

  • Top Sirloin Steak
  • Center Cut Sirloin Steak
  • Coulotte Steak
  • Sirloin Filet
  • Tri-Tip Roast
  • Tri-Tip Steak
  • Ball Tip Roast
  • Ball Tip Steak
  • Bottom Sirloin Flap

Sirloin is also excellent for grilling and stir-fry, but benefits more from a tenderizing marinade. The tougher cuts of sirloin are also richer in flavor, and may be favored for a roast.

Round steak and roasts are cut from the back of the cow including the rump and back legs. Because of the high muscle content, this meat tends to be both lean and tough, making it an affordable cut with very little weight lost to fat sections. Top round is slightly more tender than lower cuts, but all make great additions to stews and slow-cooked roasts. Round cuts include:

  • Rump Roast
  • Top Round Steak
  • Top Round Roast
  • Bottom Round Roast
  • Bottom Round Steak
  • Eye if Round Roast
  • Eye of Round Steak
  • Sirloin Tip Center Roast
  • Sirloin Tip Center Steak

It is always best to use tenderizing recipes when cooking round cuts. Marinating, long-simmer stews, pressure-cooking, and slow-cooking recipes can all make these cuts more tender and increase the enjoyment.

Flank steak comes from a small section near the hind leg of the cow. This area is lean and flavorful, but also quite tough due to the dense muscularity.  There is only one cut of flank, the:

  • Flank Steak

Flank steak is best when sliced thin against the grain and marinated to maximize both tenderness and flavor.

One matter that you may still be curious about is the difference between a steak cut and a roast cut. You may have noticed that many cuts have a steak and roast version that share a similar name. The answer lies in the quality and thickness of the cut.

Steak cuts tend to be between 1/4 inch to 2 inches thick, favoring the best slices that will grill to perfection. Roasts tend to be larger cuts that include more fat and cartilage sections which will cook more easily in a stew or slow-cooker. Roast cuts are also more likely to be sold pre-diced, especially tougher cuts, sold as recipe-ready stew meat.

With what you’ve learned today, you can now approach your local grocery meat counter with confidence or order your favorite cuts delivered to your door. Every cut of meat is unique in flavor, tenderness, and the best recipes to enjoy it. To order fresh food from around the world including the best cuts of your favorite beef, visit International Fresh Market today!

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