I remember when I first found out about all the different cuts of beef, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to try them all and rank them but I did not even know where to start. I would've loved a guide like this one, and now that I've grilled, smoked, baked, braised almost every cut I am pretty confident in creating this helpful guide for anybody interested in understanding what beef has to offer.
The most important thing to first learn is that there are eight primal cuts of beef on a cow. Once you're able to differentiate them and their qualities, you'll know how to best cook them. The 8 cuts of beef are loin, brisket, chuck, shank, round, short plate, flank, and ribs.
Choosing the Right Cut of Beef
Let go through the characteristics of each cut before we get into how each cut is usually prepared, and the sub-primal cuts you can get from each primal cut and what those entail.
Loin: This cut is the most tender cut of the cow, and its pretty flavorful.
Brisket: Brisket is breast of the cow, so its usually rather tough given it is used a lot.
Shank: Shanks are the forearm of the cow, full of collagen, containing very little fat which makes them very tough.
Chuck: This cut come from the shoulder and neck and since it is used by the cow a lot it tends to be tough but rather flavorful.
Round: This includes some sub-primal tender cuts but you usually see this as ground beef.
Short Plate: These are found underneath the ribs and are not lean at all.
Flank: Another tough cut of beef found next to the short plate.
Ribs: Pretty much everybody knows where and what ribs are. However, more common than not people prefer pork ribs or beef ribs. I'd say you just aren't cooking them right. Check out our Beef Rib Recipe to learn how to make them the most flavorful ribs you've every tasted.
The Best Kind of Steak
When it comes to steaks, whether you're searing it on a pan, baking it and reverse searing it, or grilling it in its many ways, its important to look at the cut's thickness, marbling, and knowing what kind of experience you want from which cut.
Everybody has their preferences but it is a known fact that the rarer the better, especially compared to a hockey puck of a well-done steak. In this case, you want a thick steak that allows you to get a beautiful crust without it overcooking in the middle. We recommend a thickness of 1.5 inches or more. Next, you want marbling, which constitutes strains of fat within the met. This might sound a little unappealing but this is what gives the steak the most flavor and also influences its tenderness. This is also what differentiates USDA Prime with USDA Select, and you can tell by their price difference that Prime should be better than Select. Lastly, the top steak cuts usually come from the loin since it tends to be so tender and flavorful. These usually consists of the T-Bone, Porterhouse, Rib Eye, Filet Mignon, and so on. Yes, these tend to be on the higher end of the price spectrum, but they are totally worth it.
But if you are looking for an affordable, and tasty steak I would recommend a tri-tip. This cut is actually my all time favorite when it comes to steaks because of its unique flavor. This cut comes from from the bottom tip of the sirloin which can be found in the loin. Most commonly tri-tip is marinaded but this steak will blow your tastebuds if you season and char the outside right and slow cook the inside to a beautiful medium-rare. Check out our Delicious Tri-Tip Recipe to learn more about our favorite steak cut. This also goes great in sandwiches with our Premium BBQ Sauces!
The Best Cut to Slow Cook
I think any cut of beef can be slow cooked to perfection, and we even went into the benefits on cooking every steak this way. But there are a couple cuts that shouldn't be cooked any other way, and those are the brisket and short ribs. Both these cuts are really tough and contain a good amount of fat, so slow cooking will ensure it ends up melting in your mouth with so much flavor. We recommend smoking these cuts, but any slow cooking method would do. Check out our favorite smokers and slow cookers (which are actually on sale at the moment)!
The Best Cut to Braise (AKA Pot Roast)
Just like slow cooking, braising is a great way to turn a tough cut into a delectable eating experience. By the way, if you are unsure of what braising is, braising (AKA pot roasting) is used to cook large cuts of beef, such as a roast or brisket, with a small amount of liquid. So generally, cuts from the chuck (the front section of the animal), the shank and brisket (the lower front sections) and the round (the back section), are the most suitable for braising and stewing.
The Best Cut to Marinade
When I think of marinading beef, my mind goes straight to flank, picanha, and skirt. My personal favorite is the skirt or hanger steak, but we'll get to it soon. Flank steak is a relatively flat, long cut, grainy steak. It is usually taken from the buttocks of the cow, and is usually regarded as a flavorful steak, but could also be a little too chewy if cooked incorrectly. But since it has such a strong flavor and tend to toughen up at times, it makes this cut a good candidate for marinading.
Our next recommendation would be the picanha, an uncommon cut that is usually known as the rump cap. This cut is found on the rump on the cow, but is usually cut into other cuts. Although its a lot more popular in Brazil, you do not want to miss out on the picanha when you see one in the States. We recommend creating a spicy marinade for this cut, and make sure, you have to make sure, to grill this cut. Then you'll see what I'm talking about.
Lastly, the skirt steak, also known as arrachera in latin culture. This cut is also known as a hanger steak because this was the butcher's favorite cut that they usually kept for themselves, and was usually found hanging in the back, developing it distinctive characteristics. This cut is big on flavor and even more so when marinaded correctly. Our latin go to recipe is a simple orange juice and onion marinade, but there are so many delicious marinades out there! Stay tuned for our skirt steak recipes coming soon!
The Best Cut for Beef Stew
Just like braising, when it comes to beef stew, the last thing you want is lean beef. But why is that? Well the tougher the cut the stronger it originally was in the cow. A cut like a chuck was a proponent of holding up the entire cow, so in effect, a lot of collagen formed. Collagen is extremely tough when raw—good luck every chewing through it—but if you cook it long enough, it'll transform into meltingly soft gelatin, giving the meat a moist and tender texture. That gelatin will also seep into the surrounding stew liquids, increasing their viscosity and giving them rich flavors. But simmer a low-collagen, tender-when-raw cut like tenderloin for three hours, and it'll turn horribly tough and dry.
The Best Cut for Roast Beef
While we do recommend cooking beef low and slow most of the time, sometimes a good 450 degree roast is needed. In this case, you'll receive a variety of recommendations when it comes to what cut is best to roast. Even though there are many ways to bring out the rich flavors of a tough meat, since you aren't cooking it low and low we would recommend a more tender cut. Our go to would be a NY Sirloin Roast, but remember, the cut is only as good as it was cut by the butcher, so have a conversation with your local butcher. They might have prepared another cut for a roast. And don't be afraid to get creative with a sauce or gravy.
The Best Cut for Burgers
Fun fact, before tri-tip was cooked as a steak, it was usually grounded up into ground beef and sometimes into burgers. Anyways, nowadays the most common beef cuts that end up getting grounded are check eye steaks and round steaks. I would recommend you have your local butcher ground them up for you because store bought ground beef usually contains a variety of muscles and organs as well.
So what are the most flavorful cuts of beef?
As you hopefully learned, it really depends on how you cook them. More tender cuts like the loin are perfect with flavor when it comes to searing, but they lack in flavor and texture if you were to braise them. In contrast, if you were to solely sear a brisket you, instantly regret it after chewing on it for 10 minutes, but if you were to smoke it (slow cook it) and/or braise it, you'd probably say its the most flavorful cut you've ever had in your life. It all comes down to creativity too, especially with methods such as braising and slow cooking. Don't be afraid to try something new, and if you ever need any help with cooking your beef, just shoot us an email!
And if you are in need of a meat thermometer, because they do play an essential part in cooking meats, check out our top picks below!
Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer ($10.10 on Amazon)
Fast Precise Waterproof Digital Meat Thermometer ($17.95 on Amazon)