Beginner’s Guide to Beef Cuts

My dad LOVES barbecuing. He is always down to talk about meats and how to cook them. That’s why for Father’s Day, I redrew and redesigned this iconic Angus Beef Chart, courtesy of the American Angus Association. I’ve always had a deep love of food, but I’ve always been overwhelmed standing at the butcher’s counter. While working on this poster, I ended up getting absorbed into the world of beef cuts—where they are located, what they’re called, and what they’re best used for. Here’s a brief explainer for cuts of beef for your next cookout:

The Main Cuts

The USDA divides a cow into eight regions. They are called the primal cuts, or the main cuts. After the primal cuts, beef gets divided into subprimal cuts—larger than a steak but smaller than a side of beef. A butcher will start with a subprimal cut and then divide that into the individual sizes (portion cuts) that we are used to seeing in the butcher case.

The eight primal cuts:

  • Chuck
  • Rib
  • Loin (short loin and sirloin)
  • Round
  • Flank
  • Short Plate
  • Brisket
  • Shank

Chuck

Chuck meat comes from the cow’s shoulder. Because the shoulder muscles are used a lot, the meat is tougher. You should choose chuck beef when you want a lot of flavor, but need to be cost-conscious. A few chuck cuts are hamburger, flat-iron steak, shoulder tender medallions, chuck pot roast, and country-style ribs.

brisket

The brisket is the steer’s breast. It’s very tough but has a substantial amount of fat. When cooked low and slow, it’ll melt in your mouth. Brisket is primarily used for barbecue, corned beef, or pastrami.

shank

The shank is at the steer’s forearm in front of the brisket and is one of the toughest cuts. It’s best used for stews and soups. One of the most famous dishes that come from the shank is Osso Buco, which requires braising to make the meat more tender.

ribs

There are 13 pairs of ribs, but only the last section (6-12) are in the primal section. Ribs have lots of flavor and marbling. Typical cuts for ribs are boneless ribeye roast, cowboy steak, ribeye steaks, and beef short ribs.

plate

The plate, or short plate, is another source of short ribs and is found near the abdomen. It is fattier and makes great fajitas, pastrami, skirt steak, Philadelphia steak, and short ribs.

Loin

The most popular types of steak cuts are from the loin section. Since it’s not a heavily used muscle, it’s very tender and tends to be more expensive. The loin has two parts: short loin and sirloin. Popular cuts from the short loin are filet mignon, tenderloin steak, T-bone, porterhouse steak, strip steak, and New York strip.

Tip: A T-bone and porterhouse are from the short loin and are actually the same steak. The only difference is that porterhouse is a larger version of the T-bone.

The sirloin is slightly less tender than the short loin, but also more flavorful. Common cuts from the sirloin are sirloin steak, center-cut sirloin, and tri-tip steak.

round

Found at the cow’s rump and hind legs, the round is a lean, tough, and inexpensive cut. It is often sold as ground beef or top or bottom round roasts.

flank

The flank is located below the loin and has no bones. It’s also very tough but is very flavorful as well, and is a good choice for those who prefer lean meat. Popular flank cuts are flank steak and London broil.

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