chefstemp A Complete Guide to Cuts of Beef

A Complete Guide to Cuts of Beef

Grill masters know that all cuts of beef are not created equal. Not by a long shot. Some must be marinated, others should be grilled. Some work better in stews, others are best when showcased on their own. It’s important to understand what defines different cuts of beef so you can choose the best cut for your specific needs.

Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or a romantic evening, our complete guide to cuts of beef is jam-packed with everything you need to know. From flank steak to filet mignon, this comprehensive guide will walk you through the main cuts of beef.

By the time you’ve finished reading, you will know when and how to cook each cut for stellar results every time. Let’s get into it!

What Are the Cuts of Beef?

Like many different foods, there is a ton of variety when it comes to beef. There are primal cuts that are then divided into subprimal cuts, as well as portion cuts. While we could go to great lengths about them all, for the sake of brevity we are cutting it down to the main and most popular cuts.

There are thirteen primary cuts of beef, also referred to as primal cuts. The various cuts of beef are divided first into halves and then into quarters, which are then split into forequarters and hindquarters.

Forequarter Cuts

Popular forequarter cuts come from the chuck, rib, brisket, and foreshank or shank. The plate is another source of forequarter meat, but because it is tough in texture, this cut is typically sold in ground form.

Hindquarter Cuts

There are two subprimals, from the loin: the short loin and the sirloin. The sirloin can then be divided into the top and bottom sirloin. The tenderloin is a more popular hindquarter cut, because this is where you get the ever-popular filet mignon cut.

chefstemp A Complete Guide to Cuts of Beef

Which One to Choose?

Because there are so many cuts of meat, it can be overwhelming to choose. When making a selection, it’s important to consider both your audience and the occasion. How many people are you planning to serve? What kind of dish are you hoping to make? Do you have a budget in mind? How much time do you have to prepare?

With so many options, how can anyone possibly know which cut of beef to choose? Don’t worry, that is exactly what we are here for. In this guide to cuts of beef, we are breaking down the most popular cuts of beef to help you decide what’s right for you.

Filet Mignon

This delicate cut of beef is a boneless cut that comes from the end of the tenderloin. Because this muscle is rarely worked throughout a cow’s lifetime, the filet mignon cut is buttery soft.

Generally smaller and thicker than many other cuts of beef, this cut is easy to identify at first glance. The filet mignon is known for being incredibly soft, tender, flavorful, and lean. It’s also known for its price point—the filet mignon is one of the most expensive cuts of beef.

Filet mignon is best prepared over high heat, which is why many people opt for the grill as the cooking method of choice. Traditionally, this cut is seared on each side at a high temperature, then finished off at a lower heat. Filet mignon is considered to be a delicacy, best when served as a main course for special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays.

This cut can be tricky to cook because, while small, the filet mignon tends to vary in thickness. To ensure a proper cook on this delicate cut, make sure to monitor the process with a high quality meat thermometer.

Skirt Steak

This flavorful cut comes from the plate region of the cow, located near the ribs. The skirt steak cut is known to be a tougher cut, because it comes from an area on the cow that is worked regularly throughout its lifetime. However, it is packed with flavor and can be deliciously tender when marinated before cooking.

The skirt steak is a long and flat cut that is best when cooked hot and fast over direct heat. Many cooks use a grill or cast-iron skillet to sear this flavorful cut. If you’re looking for a delicious and affordable cut of beef for your next BBQ, the skirt cut is a great choice. Just make sure to marinate it first for the best results.

Loin

The loin is located behind the ribs and is made up of two parts: the sirloin and short loin. You’ve likely heard of sirloin because it’s an incredibly popular and fairly expensive cut. This cut is known for being lean, tender, and loaded with beefy flavor.

While the term “short loin” may sound unfamiliar, this is where you get your New York strip and porterhouse cuts. These are also highly desirable cuts of beef, making the loin section one of the most expensive regions of the cow.

chefstemp A Complete Guide to Cuts of Beef

Loin cuts are best when seared over a grill or cast-iron skillet, then finished over a lower heat in the oven or on the grill. To get that perfect cook, you always want to make sure you use a reliable meat thermometer. If you’re on the hunt for a mouthwatering steak to impress your friends at your next dinner party, we highly recommend opting for a loin cut.

Chuck

A cut that comes from the cow shoulder, chuck beef can be prepared in a variety of ways. This is known to be one of the toughest cuts of beef, so it’s often used in dishes that require braising or slow cooking. Chuck is popularly used to make dishes like stews and pot roasts.

Because it takes longer to get really tender, the chuck cut tends to be one of the cheaper cuts of beef you can find. If you’re cooking for a crowd, this cut makes a delicious choice. When cooked for long enough, the proteins in the beef break down and it gets gloriously tender and perfectly flavorful.

Rib

The rib section of the cow can actually be broken down into three different cuts: beef short ribs, beef back ribs, and the ribeye cut. Beef back ribs are the least meaty of the bunch, as most of the rib meat is often saved for the short rib and ribeye cuts. These are often used for barbecues, as they are affordable and tasty.

Beef short ribs come from the lower portion of the ribs and are one of the most desirable cuts of beef for their tender texture and beefy flavor. These are often braised and served as the main course in dinner meals.

The ribeye cut also comes from this region and tends to get the most of the rib meat. This is one of the most popular and expensive cuts of beef and for good reason, as it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender and loaded with flavor.

chefstemp A Complete Guide to Cuts of Beef

Round

This cut tends to be fairly inexpensive because of its location near the legs, which makes it a tough cut of beef. The round cut is best when prepared slowly or over high heat. There are a few different cuts of round beef, including top round, bottom round, and eye of round.

If you’ve got no shortage on time, we recommend tossing this cut into a crockpot and cooking it slowly to allow it to get nice and tender. The round cut makes a fantastic pot roast dish alongside some roasted vegetables.

Flank

Located below the beef loin, the flank steak can be a tough cut. However, when cooked right it can be incredibly delicious. Because of its location on the cow, flank steak is a naturally boneless cut, making it easy to work with. Grilling is the way to go with this one because it is best when cooked at a high temperature.

To ensure a tender and flavorful dish, make sure to marinate the flank steak for at least a few hours before cooking it. This is a great cut for dishes like fajitas and steak tacos, especially if you’re serving a crowd and want something more affordable.

Brisket

The brisket cut comes from the lower portion of the cow’s breast. This area is one of the most worked parts of the cow, which can make for a pretty tough cut. For this reason, many people find that low and slow cooking works best for brisket.

Don’t let that scare you off, because this cut is still jam-packed with delicious beefy flavor. Brisket is best when marinated beforehand and served as the star of the show at dinner parties and holidays.

Top Sirloin

The top sirloin cut comes from the primal loin and is one of the most popular cuts of beef. This cut is naturally lean with loads of bold, beefy flavor. You can cook it just about any way you want, but many people choose to cook it on the grill.

chefstemp A Complete Guide to Cuts of Beef

The top sirloin cut is a great choice if you want to add tons of delicious flavor to your favorite recipes. You can serve this cut on any occasion, from family dinners to barbecues with friends. It’s affordable, lean, tender, and ultra flavorful.

So, What is the Best Cut of Beef?

This is a tough question with no real answer. You could ask five people what the best cut of beef is and get five different answers. Why, you ask? It’s all about personal preference, of course.

Tender cuts like the filet mignon and ribeye are among the most popular cuts of beef, but that isn’t to say that flank steak and short ribs aren’t also delicious in their own right.

When choosing the right cut of beef, you must ask yourself what kind of dish you hope to prepare and how much time you’re willing to spare. Consider your budget, audience, and occasion when choosing the best cut of beef for you.

Last Thoughts

Regardless of which cut of beef you decide on, any cut is only as strong as the tools you use to prepare it. If you choose a filet mignon, make sure you have a cast-iron skillet or a quality grill. If you select a chuck cut, you will need a slow-cooker or crockpot for braising the beef.

With any cut of beef, it’s important to use a quality thermometer to prepare meat to the ideal temperature for you. Food safety should never be a guessing game, so opt for the best of the best and grab a Chefstemp meat thermometer before your next steak night.