Beef is the name given to meat obtained from the carcasses of cattle. It is one of the principal meats used in the cuisine of Australia, Europe and Americas, and is also important in Africa, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Each main beef cut is known as a primal cut, which are groups of muscles from the same area of the carcass. Smaller cuts of beef are taken from the primal cuts and are known as subprimal cuts. An example of a subprimal cut from the short loin is the tenderloin. The subprimal cuts of beef can yield still smaller cuts such as filet steaks from the tenderloin. Many of the subprimal cuts of beef, and the smaller cuts obtained from them, are known as consumer cuts or retail cuts.

Cuts of beef that are obtained from the center of the animal, such as the loin and rib area, are the most tender. This is due to the muscles in these areas being suspension muscles, which are not used as frequently as those responsible for locomotion and are located in the front and rear portions of the animal. The more a muscle is used, the less tender it would be.

Various cuts of beef may differ in name between different countries and even in different regions of the same country, so it can be confusing. For example, a Scotch Fillet Steak as it is called in Australia is known as a Ribeye Steak in the United States.

Brisket

The brisket consists of the point end and the navel end. This flavoursome cut located on the underside of the animal below the chuck primal has a coarse and stringy texture. It contains the breastbone and the lower ends of ribs 1-5.

Uses

  • Whole brisket, rolled – Pot-roast

  • Portioned brisket – Stew, braise

Chuck

The chuck primal cut extends from the neck to the fifth rib and includes the shoulder blade and upper arm. It contains cuts such as the blade, oyster blade and chuck tender. The texture varies from coarse to fine and so does the degree of tenderness. The chuck has plenty of connective tissues that melt when the meat is cooked. This helps to add flavor and also helps to tenderize the meat. Although chuck cuts are flavorful, they are not as tender as the loin and rib cuts. They can become rather tough if not cooked properly. Cuts from the chuck benefit from slow cooking using moist heat methods such as braising.

Uses

  • Whole or rolled chuck / chuck tender – Pot-roast

  • Cubes (30mm) – Stew

  • Mince

Flank

The flank consists of a bone-less section located on the underside of the animal below the loin primal. It contains cuts like the flank steak (also know as Bavette, London Broil) and flap meat/ skirt which are very flavourful and sufficiently tender when cooked properly. These cuts are also commonly used in Mexican cooking, tenderized with a marinade and used to fill tacos, fajitas or as a main course.

Uses

  • Flank steak & flap meat – Pan-fry or grill not more than medium in doneness

  • Strips – Stir-fry, sear

Leg

Beef cuts from the leg are located in the rear portion of the carcass, which includes cuts such as the topside, knuckle, silverside and eye round. Cuts from the round primal are lean, but not necessarily tender. The fat and marbling that is present in some of the other primal beef cuts help to tenderize and flavor the meat as it cooks. Because of the limited quantity of marbling, round cuts benefit from a moist, slow cooking method such as braising in order to produce a tender and flavorful meat.

Uses

  • Topside – Pot roast, braising

  • Silverside – Corned beef, pastrami

  • Mince

Oxtail

Oxtail is a bony, gelatinous meat. It is usually slow-cooked and makes a good stock base for a soup.

Uses

  • Portioned oxtail – Braise, stew

Prime Rib (Bone-in) / Ribeye (Bone-less)

The beef carcass has 13 pairs of ribs, but not all of the ribs are included in the rib primal cut. The first 5 ribs are part of the chuck cut in the front of the animal. The 13th rib is part of the loin. The rib primal contains ribs 6 through 12. A bone-less prime rib is known as the ribeye. The cuts obtained from the rib primal are very tender and contain many of the best steaks and roasts. Dry heat cooking methods, such as grilling, pan-frying and roasting, bring out the flavor of rib cuts and keep the meat tender.

Uses

  • Whole prime rib (2 – 7 ribs) – Oven-roast

  • Prime rib steak – Oven-roast, grill, BBQ

  • Whole ribeye – Oven-roast

  • Ribeye steak (also called Scotch Fillet) – Pan-fry, grill or BBQ

Rump

The rump consists of several loose muscle layers and the large pelvic bone. It is located between the short loin and the leg and includes the hip section and ends at the socket of the pelvis. Cuts such as the rump, rump cap and tri-tip from the rump are flavorful and tender, but they are a bit less tender than cuts from the short loin.

Uses

  • Whole rump – Pot roast, Oven-roast

  • Rump steaks (Minute steaks) – Pan-fry, grill or BBQ

  • Strips – Stir-fry, sauté

  • Cubes – Kebabs, stew, deep-fry

Shin Shank

The shin consists of a large proportion of bone and a lot of white connective tissue (collagen), which makes this a tough but tasty cut. This is one of the least expensive cut and is best to use a moist, slow cooking method to produce a tender and tasty meat.

Uses

  • Cubes – Braise, stew

Short Ribs

Short rib refers to a small piece that has been trimmed of the main portion of a rib when the rib section is trimmed into smaller cuts. It is the continuation of the prime rib towards the brisket (belly). Short ribs cut parallel to the bone are known as English style beef ribs. Short ribs that are cut across the rib bones are commonly used in Japanese and Korean dishes (LA Kalbi). These ribs are usually marinated for a period of time to achieve the desired tenderness. English style beef ribs can be braised or steamed first before roasting or barbequing so that the meat remains juicy and tender when cooked.

Uses

  • Beef ribs – Brown & braise, BBQ

  • Short ribs, cut – Marinate & grill

Shortloin (Bone-in) / Striploin (Bone-less)

The short loin is the most tender of the primal cuts because the muscles in this area are the least used. The sirloin muscle is the largest muscle and the tenderloin is the smaller inside muscle. They are very lean, but usually lack the flavor of some of the tougher beef cuts that contain more fat and connective tissue. It is best to cook beef cuts from the short loin with dry heat cooking methods such as grilling and roasting. It is important not to overcook loin cuts because they can loose their natural tenderness, which is one of the primary reasons for purchasing them.

Uses

  • Whole sirloin – Oven-roast (Alternate use: Cold roast beef sliced thinly)

  • Sirloin steak (also known as NY strip, porterhouse, entrecôte) – Pan-fry, grill, BBQ

  • T-Bone or porterhouse – Pan-fry, grill, BBQ

Tenderloin

The tenderloin is situated inside the carcass alongside the backbone, running from the sirloin to the rump. This meat cut is a long tapered muscle that becomes larger towards the rump; it is boneless and contains very little fat. The tenderloin is the most desirable beef cut in terms of tenderness but it is also the most expensive.

Uses

  • Whole tenderloin, châteaubriand – Oven-roast

  • Fillet steak, fillet mignon – Pan-fry, grill, BBQ

  • Stripes – Stir-fry, sauté

  • Cubes – Deep-fry

  • Finely chopped – Raw (steak tartare)