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The Chart of Beef Cuts
Anyone who cooks beef is, at some point, curious about where the major cuts come from on the cow. Here's what you need to know in the form of a handy guide to the location of major beef cuts, like chuck, rib, loin, and brisket. We added descriptions and recipes for each major cut.
We'll start by defining some terms. Beef is divided into large sections called primal cuts, which you can see in our beef cuts chart. These primal beef cuts, or "primals," are then broken down further into... subprimals, or "food-service cuts," and then sliced and chopped into individual steaks and other retail cuts.
A side of beef is literally one side of the beef carcass that is split through the backbone. Each side is then halved between the 12th and 13th ribs into sections called the forequarter and the hindquarter.
The tenderest cuts of beef, like the rib and tenderloin, are the ones farthest from horn and hoof. The toughest areas of the animal are the shoulder and leg muscles; they tend to be tough because they are worked the most.
The animal is divided roughly into the forequarter, or the front, and the hindquarter, or the back.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Forequarter Cuts: Beef Chuck
Let's begin with the beef primal cuts that come from the forequarter, which is the front of the animal.
Consisting of parts of the neck, shoulder blade and upper arm, beef chuck produces tough but very flavorful cuts of meat with a good deal of connective tissue. This makes chuck a good choice for braised dishes like beef stew or pot roast, both of which tenderize tough cuts. Because of its fat content, beef chuck is also excellent for making ground beef that produces juicy burgers.
With conventional butchering, the beef chuck is separated from the rib primal between the 5th and 6th ribs. This means that it also contains a few inches of the longissimus dorsi muscle, which is the same tender muscle rib eye steaks are made from.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Forequarter Cuts: Beef Rib
Made from the top part of the center section of rib, specifically the 6th through the 12th ribs, the beef rib primal cut is used for the traditional standing rib roast (sometimes referred to as prime rib). It's also the source of the delectable rib eye steak as well as the classic French entrecôte.
Because they're so tender to begin with, steaks and roasts from the beef rib primal can undergo various forms of dry-heat cooking, such as grilling, frying, broiling, roasting, and barbecuing, and... still remain tender. See how to roast meat and how to cook a steak.
It's nearly impossible to describe a beef primal cut without discussing the ones adjacent to it. In this case, the beef rib primal is situated directly above the beef plate, and precisely where it's divided is somewhat arbitrary. Nevertheless, the lower parts of those ribs—whether we attribute them to the rib primal or the plate primal—are where beef short ribs come from.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
Forequarter Cuts: Beef Plate
Also called the short plate (or "long plate" depending on where it's separated from the rib primal above it), the beef plate primal includes the short ribs and skirt steak, which is used to make carne asada, a grilled Mexican dish of spicy marinated steak strips.
Skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle, and it's attached to the inside abdominal wall by a system of thick connective tissue, which needs to be carefully trimmed away. This steak is extremely flavorful; note that it's a thin piece... of meat, which allows you to cook it very quickly over high heat. Just don't overcook it. And because it has coarse muscle fibers, be sure to slice it against the grain or it'll be chewy.
Beef plate contains a lot of cartilage, especially around the ribs, which is why beef short ribs are ideal for braising since the process of cooking with moist heat at a low temperature will dissolve cartilage and turn it into gelatin.
Beef plate is also fairly fatty, so it can be used in making ground beef—if leanness isn't a concern.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Forequarter Cuts: Beef Brisket
Beef brisket is one of the most flavorful cuts of meat, although it is tough, which means it needs to be cooked in just the right way. It's also a moderately fatty cut of beef, but this can work to your advantage given the long cooking times necessary to tenderize the meat.
Taken from the area around the breast bone, the brisket is basically the chest or pectoral muscle of the animal. The thick, coarse-grained meat that's characteristic of brisket needs a lot of time and low-temperature... cooking to break down and tenderize. But once this happens, brisket is succulent, meaty perfection.
Another very popular technique for preparing brisket is to slow cook it in a barbecue or smoker.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10
Forequarter Cuts: Beef Shank
The beef shank is the leg of the animal's thigh; it's extremely tough and full of connective tissue. (Note also that each side of beef has two shanks, one in the forequarter and one in the hindquarter.) Beef shank is used in making the luxurious Italian dish osso buco.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Short Loin
Next, let's look at the beef primal cuts that come from the hindquarter, which is the back of the animal.
The tenderloin, which is the tenderest cut of beef, extends from the short loin back into the sirloin, which is the adjacent primal cut, toward the rear of the animal.
The beef short loin is only about 16 to 18 inches long, so it will yield... anywhere from 11 to 14 steaks, depending on thickness.
The first-cut steaks from the short loin, starting at the rib end and working toward the rear, are club steaks, or bone-in strip steaks. The center-cut steaks are T-bones, of which there may be six or seven. Finally, there are maybe two or three porterhouse steaks at the sirloin end.
Note that if the tenderloin is removed, there can be no T-bone or porterhouse steaks, since both of these steaks have a section of the tenderloin muscle in them.
Dry-heat cooking is best for the tender cuts from the short loin. What do you think is the best steak?Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Sirloin and Tenderloin
Beef sirloin is another relatively tender cut, but as we move toward the rear leg of the animal, the muscles get a bit tougher. Still, a first-cut sirloin steak, sometimes called a pin-bone steak because it includes a section of the hip bone, is very similar to a porterhouse steak.
The sirloin is separated into top sirloin and bottom sirloin. Top sirloin gives us steaks that are good for grilling, while the bottom sirloin gives us roasts like sirloin tip and tri-tip, which do well... with roasting and barbecuing.
The most tender cut of beef is the beef tenderloin, which is found within the loin and is where we get filet mignon—made from the very tip of the pointy end of the tenderloin (as seen in the chart). Chateaubriand is made from the center cut of the tenderloin.
The tenderloin extends from the short loin into the sirloin. The pointy end is actually situated within the short loin, and that section in the sirloin is sometimes called the butt tenderloin. Even so, butchers will often remove the whole tenderloin and sell it whole or as individual steaks and roasts.
Beef tenderloin should only be cooked using dry-heat methods, such as grilling and broiling.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Flank
Beef flank can be cooked on the grill, but since it has tough muscle fibers, it can be tough if it's overcooked. The best grilling technique for flank steak is to grill it quickly at a very high temperature. Marinating the meat first can help prevent it from drying out from the high heat, but the best way to prevent it from drying out is not overcooking it. When you're ready to serve it, remember to slice it thinly against the grain so that it isn't chewy.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Round
The beef round primal cut basically consists of the back leg of the steer. Muscles from the round are fairly lean, but they're also tough because the leg and rump get a lot of exercise.
There are three main subprimals of the beef round: the top round (inside round), bottom round (outside round), and the knuckle. The bottom round is where we get rump roast and eye of round.
Although you might braise a piece of beef round out of necessity, chuck always produces a more delicious piece of meat.... Here's why: The top round and bottom round are lean and don't contain much collagen, which is the type of protein that turns into gelatin when it's braised slowly. This means that braised rump roast isn't as succulent as braised chuck roast.
More often than not, the best use of round roasts is to roast them slowly so that they turn out medium rare. They can then be sliced thinly and used for sandwiches or even served as roasts. But slicing thinly and against the grain is crucial in making them tender enough to eat...and enjoy.