The 8 Primal Cuts of Beef – An Infographic All About Beef

cuts of beef

11/18/2018 • Food Culture

What kind of cuts of beef should you use for what? That’s not always a simple question to answer, luckily I’ve got a great infographic all about what cuts of beef to use and why. This whole article is a guest post from my friends at BRO BBQ, I loved this info and figured you will too. Enjoy!

This Infographic is designed by Jack Thompson from BroBBQ

There is a total of (8) Primal cuts of beef and within each of those cuts are sub-primal cuts. The susubprimaluts are portions of beef that you would find in the grocery store like steaks, roasts and ground beef. Each of these sub-primal cuts are unique and very different from each other in the way they are handled, prepared, cooked and served.

Here we take a look at each individual primal cuts of beef which are: Shank, Brisket, Rib, Short Plate, Flank, Round, Chuck, and Loin. Each of these primal cuts is then broken down into sub-primal cuts which are what is sold to the consumer.

There are over 100 different types of sub-primal cuts and each varies depending on the region of the world you live in. While America has 8 primal beef cuts, Europeans break the cow down differently only creating 6 primal beef cuts. In other countries, there may be as many as 20 primal cuts.

In this article, we will go over the list of American primal beef cuts and their sub-primal cuts to help you get a better understanding of the food you intend to prepare. We will also cover specific techniques and procedures for preparing and cooking each of the sub-primal cuts. This is a great article to have bookmarked just in case you want to go back to it every once in a while, for reference.

1. BRISKET

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Brisket Point, Brisket Plate.

Location: Located in the breast or lower chest of the cow and is one of the most used muscle groups of the cow meaning the beef will be lower in fat content, therefore, making it tougher and more flavorful.

Ideal size: 3-5 lbs. with 2-3-inch thickness.

Best Cooking Methods: Braising, slow cooking, smoking, stewing.

Preparation Methods: Brisket is best prepared with a dark and robust marinade or brine for at least 4 hours to start. Usually, a dry pepper rub consisting of spices and seasonings is used to coat the entire brisket. This is what creates the dark, crispy exterior of the brisket also known as the “bark”.

Sometimes people like to cut part of the fat cap off of the brisket for a more even cook, but it is not a bad thing to leave it on as it does add more fat content to the meat preventing the brisket from overcooking and drying out.

We should choose this type: When you want to cook low and slow. Brisket is a very tough cut of beef and needs to be cooked for a longer period of time. The best way to do this without burning or ruining the product is low temperatures for a long period of time.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing: An indirect heat smoker is one of the best choices of equipment to use when smoking brisket. Low temperatures are easy to maintain with an indirect heat smoker which is ideal for cooking brisket.

A conventional oven is ok to use as well, as long as the oven will maintain a temperature of 200 degrees or lower. Having the best smoker thermometer is crucial when smoking brisket.

2. SHANK

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Hind Shank, Fore Shank, Ground Beef.

Location: Located in the lower abdomen or chest area of the cow, the shank is a muscle that is constantly used making the meat very tough and lean.

Ideal size: 3-5 lb. roasts, scraps for Ground Beef, cut into 1” cubes for stewing.

Best Cooking Methods: The meat contains very little fat and therefore is very tough. It must be cooked for long periods of time either at low temperatures in appliances like crockpots or at higher temperatures in the oven. This will help to break down the structure of the beef.

Preparation Methods: In order to prepare a shank, you will want to help break down the meat using a meat tenderizer seasoning or mallet. A marinade will also help to not only tenderize the meat but also bring extra flavors to this tough cut of beef.

We should choose this type: This type of cut is perfect for cooking whole as a pot roast or chopping up into small cubes for dishes like beef stew. Occasionally the leftovers will be used as lean ground beef due to its low-fat content.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing: Conventional oven or crockpot for roasts and stews and any direct heat grill for ground beef.

3. RIBS

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Short Rib, Prime Rib, Rib Steak, Ribeye Steak, Back Ribs.

Location: Located on the center back of the cow, the rib cut tends to be more flavorful and full of fat marbling content.

Ideal size:

– Most Short Ribs are 2-4″ in length with a varying thickness.

– Prime Rib roast can weigh anywhere from 5-10 lbs.

– Back Ribs are finger sized and attached to create a rack.

– Ribeye Steaks are usually 1-2 lbs. but can be cut to be as big as 8 lbs. All of these cuts can come with the bone in or out.

Best Cooking Methods:

– Prime Rib is best cooked at a very high temperature for a short period of time to create a crispy exterior and rare center. The roast is cut into portions and if a guest requires a more well-done steak the meat is allowed to rest in a hot just until the desired temperature is reached.

– Ribeye Steaks are best cooked on a direct heat grill. Any fuel type will work but charcoal will be the best for adding flavor to the meat.

– Short Ribs are best when braised first to break down the meat structure.

– Back Ribs are best when rubbed with dry or wet rub then smoked in an offset smoker for at low temperatures for a long period of time. Usually, Barbeque sauce is lathered on the ribs at the end and finished on the grill to bring some char flavor to the dish.

Preparation Methods:

– Prime Rib is prepped with a dry rub of spices and seasonings before cooking.

– Ribeye Steaks are a type of steak cut that does not need any prepping at all. Occasionally some salt and pepper, but no more than that.

– Short Ribs have to be cut by a butcher to a specific length before cooking. The ribs should also be separated and coated in a flour or cornstarch.

– Back Ribs can be prepared like any other rib. While there are so many to choose from, maybe this article will help you.

We should choose this type:

– Prime Rib is used for feeding a lot of people generally up to 20 people at one time, so choose this for big events, holidays and celebrations. Prime rib can be very pricey as well so it is not eaten very often.

– Ribeye Steaks are great for grilling on a barbeque. These are the king of steaks due to their high-fat content which adds much more flavor to the meat while it is cooking.

– Short Ribs are best when they are braised first then coated in barbeque sauce and grilled to get that char flavor from the grill. They can also be cooked for longer until almost falling apart and served with mashed potatoes and a sauce. Short Ribs are very popular in Korean Barbeque.

– Back Ribs are great for when you want to use your indirect heat smoker and cook low and slow.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing:

– Prime Rib: Conventional oven or direct heat smoker.

– Ribeye Steaks: Direct heat grill.

– Short Ribs: Conventional oven and direct heat grill.

– Back Ribs: Indirect heat smoker or your best smoker.

4. LOIN

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Porterhouse, T-bone, Club Steak, Filet Mignon, New York Strip, Sirloin Steak, Sirloin Cap, Chateaubriand, Tri-Tip.

Location: Located on the lower back of the cow, the loin is a less active muscle that runs along the spine and tends to be tender and soft making it ideal for juicy steaks.

Ideal size:

– Porterhouse, T-bone and Club Steaks are usually cut into 1-3 lb. portions but can be cut to be much larger sizes and thickness.

– Filet MignonChateaubriand, and Tri-Tip are cut into 1-3 lb. steak portions but the whole loin may be used at once as well. Whole tenderloins can weigh between 5 and 20 lbs.

– New York Strip and Sirloin Steaks are cut into 12 ounces to 2 lb. steak portions but may be cut into larger portions.

Best Cooking Methods:

– Porterhouse, T-bone and Club Steaks are best when they are grilled to the desired temperature, most commonly medium rare. A seasoning or salt and pepper is added to the steaks either before or after cooking.

 Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, and Tri-Tip are best when they are grilled to the desired temperature, most commonly medium rare. A seasoning or salt and pepper is added to the steaks either before or after cooking.

When the whole loin is cooked it is usually crusted with a dry rub and cooked at a very high temperature for a short period of time in the oven then is finished on the grill to bring a nice char flavor to the crust. It is then either cut into serving steak portions or sliced thinly. These types of grills will make this steak perfect!

– New York Strip and Sirloin Steak are best when they are grilled to the desired temperature, most commonly medium rare. A seasoning or salt and pepper is added to the steaks either before or after cooking.

The whole strip is sometimes cooked as a whole but not nearly as common as single steaks. With the meat structure and fat content, it can be hard to get a good even cook throughout the whole strip. A propane grill is usually the best choice when cooking these steaks.

Preparation Methods:

– PorterhouseT-bone and Club Steaks do not need much prepping, just a little bit of seasoning.

– Filet MignonChateaubriand, and Tri-Tip are very delicate cuts of beef and need lots of attention. If you have a thick cut, you may want to butterfly the steak before cooking in order to have a more even cook. Also, make sure and remove any tendons, cartilage or silver skin from the steak before cooking.

– New York Strip and Sirloin Steaks can be prepped with just a little seasoning or salt and pepper.

We should choose this type:

– PorterhouseT-bone and Club Steaks are a costlier cut of beef and are best when used for grilling at special occasions or when visiting a restaurant.

 Filet MignonChateaubriand and Tri-Tip are also pricey cuts of beef. The Tri Tip will be about half the cost of the others but still pricey per pound. These steaks are also best for special occasions.

– New York Strip and Sirloin Steak are everyday types of steaks. The New York Strip will generally be more expensive than the strip but very similar in taste. These are best for any cookout, barbeque or just any regular day of the week at home.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing:

– PorterhouseT-bone and Club Steaks: Direct heat grill or open flame grill.

– Filet MignonChateaubriand, and Tri-Tip: Direct heat grill, conventional oven or open flame grill.

 New York Strip and Sirloin Steak: Direct heat grill or open flame grill.

5. ROUND

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Sirloin Tip, Top Round, Bottom Round, Eye of Round, Heel of Round.

Location: Located near the rear of the cow or the butt, the round is a leaner cut which contains very little fat content making it a very tough cut of beef.

Ideal size: Cut into large roasts weighing between 3 and 10 lbs.

Best Cooking Methods: Best when cooked low and slow in an oven with liquid. Also cut thinly and dried out to make jerky. Ground up round is very lean and needs extra fat put into it like eggs so that the meat doesn’t dry out when it is cooking.

Preparation Methods: If you plan on making into jerky then you need to cut small, thin strips of the beef and heavily season them with spices depending on the flavors you want. For braising, just make sure the cut of meat is completely submerged in liquid or injected with a flavorful liquid.

We should choose this type: This is a very cheap cut of beef and is not used very often in barbequing. The round is usually marinated, tenderized and cooked low and slow then cut up and used for other dishes like Italian beef sandwiches and Philly cheesesteaks.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing: Conventional oven

6. CHUCK

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Top Blade, Bottom Blade, Beef Ribs, Neck, Shoulder, Chuck Filet, Chuck Steak, Ground Beef.

Location: Located at the front of the chest and front top of the cow, the chuck has a nice equal balance of fat and meat making it ideal for ground beef products.

Ideal size:

– The Shoulder and Neck are usually as a whole roast weighing 5 lbs. or turned into ground beef.

– Beef Ribs weigh about 5- 10 lbs. and are attached to form a rack.

– Blade is cut into flat iron steaks which are 1 to 2 lbs. and 2 inches in thickness.

– Chuck Steak and Chuck Filet are usually cut in the size or 12 ounces steak portions.

Best Cooking Methods:

– The Shoulder and Neck are best when cooked in an oven with liquid for long periods of time on low temperatures otherwise known as braising.

– Beef Ribs are best when they are coated in a dry or wet rub and sometimes a marinade. Then smoked over an indirect heat smoker on low temperature for long periods of time.

– Blade or Flat Iron Steaks have a lot of fat marbling and are usually known as a butcher steak because this is the best cut in the cow, usually, the butcher keeps this cut for himself. These are treated just like any other steak with or with seasoning and grilled over direct heat.

– Chuck Steak and Chuck Filet are usually tenderized and pounded out then coated in egg and breading to create chicken fried steaks or roulade. The excess meat is usually used as ground beef.

Preparation Methods:

– The Shoulder and Neck need a heavy seasoning or rub before braising or pressure cooking.

– Beef Ribs can be boiled on the stove for an hour before smoking or grilling to help in breaking down the meat structure, creating a more tender end product. A marinade will also help to tenderize the meat and bring more flavor to the ribs.

– Blade does not need any prepping at all. Just grill it.

– Chuck Steak and Chuck Filet need to be tenderized with a meat mallet before cooking. This helps break down the meat making it easier to chew. The thinner the better without breaking the meat is always best.

We should choose this type:

– The Shoulder and Neck are best treated as a roast or pot roast for family dinner.

– Beef Ribs are great for any backyard barbeque.

– Blade is a very sought out after steak and highly coveted since there is hardly any at all on each cow. This is definitely a special occasion steak that is hard to get your hands on.

– Chuck Steak and Chuck Filet are best when used to make chicken fried steak or using as a ground beef in any recipe. This is a very cheap cut which is commonly used every day.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing:

– The Shoulder and Neck: Conventional oven.

– Beef Ribs: Indirect heat smoker and charcoal grill.

– Blade: Direct heat grill or open flame grill.

– Chuck Steak and Chuck Filet: Conventional oven, skillet, direct heat grill.

7. FLANK

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Flank Steak, London Broil, Ground Beef.

Location: Located on the underside or belly of the cow and contains many fibers with the steak. The meat is generally cut against the grain after cooking to make the meat more tender.

Ideal size: Flank Steak is a little bit thick than skirt steak and is usually very long. The average weight is about 2-4 lbs.

Best Cooking Methods: The Flank Steak is usually marinated for long periods of time or overnight them coated with a dry rub. It is then grilled to medium and cut into bite-sized strips.

Preparation Methods: Tenderize this cut of meat with a meat mallet or meat tenderizer seasoning before cooking it. Also, it is preferred by many to marinate the flank steak in a highly acidic marinade. Acidic marinades contain juice from fruit like limes and lemons which help even further to tenderize meat.

We should choose this type: This type of meat is perfect for making fajitas or stir-fry. Sometimes the steak is added to salads or pizzas as a topping as well.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing: Direct heat grill or open flame grill.

8. SHORT PLATE

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Sub-Primal Cuts: Brisket, Hangar Steak, Skirt Steak, Ground Beef.

Location: Located on the center belly of the cow just below the rib cut, the short plate is considered a continuation of the brisket in some countries. The meat tends to be very tough and high in fat content.

Ideal size:

– Hangar Steaks: weigh about 1-2 lbs. This steak is also a prized steak and is usually kept by the butcher due to its high-fat content and bold flavors.

– Skirt Steak: weighs about 2-5 lbs. and is very thin and long.

Best Cooking Methods:

– Hangar Steaks: This highly coveted steak is very tender when cooked properly. It is usually treated as any other steak with or without seasonings and then grilled to the desired temperature, usually medium rare.

– Skirt Steak: is usually marinated for long periods of time then coated in a dry or wet rub and grilled over direct heat. The cow meat is then cut against the grain, adding to the tenderness of the final product.

Preparation Methods:

– Hangar Steaks do not need any prepping done to them, maybe just a little seasoning or salt and pepper to accent the flavors of the wonderful cut of beef.

– Skirt Steak will benefit from a strong acidic marinade overnight or for at least 12 hours. With all the fibers in this cut, the acidic marinade with loosen up those beef parts. After marinating, you can choose to cook the skirt steak in the marinade or rinse it off and coat with a dry rub of spices and seasonings to bring other flavors to the meat.

We should choose this type:

– Hangar Steaks are best for special occasions if you are able to get your hands on one. These steaks can be very pricey since they are not only high in demand but low in supply.

– Skirt Steak is perfect for making fajitas or stir-fry. The meat is very tender and juicy when finished and can even be used in sandwiches, pastas, and pizzas.

Type of Grill/Smoker when BBQing:

– Hangar Steaks: Direct heat grill or open flame grill.

– Skirt Steak: Direct heat grill or open flame grill.

So, what is the best cut of beef? There really is not one cut that is the best. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is subjective”. While one person may prefer a medium rare filet mignon, another may prefer a well-done pot roast. The temperature will always be a huge factor in how someone likes their meat prepared, click this link to see cuts of beef chart and their proper temperatures.

You also will not have to worry about breaking down any of the primal cuts of beef. The Butcher at the supermarket always breaks down the primal beef cuts into the sub-primal beef cuts. Very rarely will you find a whole section of cow meat at the grocery store. So, get ready to do some grilling or smoking and make sure to refer back to this article as a reference or guide to aid you in choosing the proper cuts of meat or explaining the beef cuts.

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