It doesn't matter if you are a professional griller or just a weekend cooking enthusiast, you will be amazed by the results of your steak-cooking skills after you learn more all the details for each of your favorite beef cut, including location, alternative names, preferred cooking methods, costs, cooking tips etc.
This massive beef cuts guide will show you everything you need to know for all the cuts, starting from major sections, like chuck, sirloin, ribs etc. and also including the sub-primal cuts which are widely used by everyone and are sold massively in each meat store.
Let's dig in!
Table of Contents
- 1 Overview of the Cow
- 2 What are the Primal Cuts of Beef?
- 3 Ribs Primal
- 4 Short Plate Primal
- 5 Brisket Primal
- 6 Beef Shank Primal
- 7 Short Loin Primal
- 8 Sirloin Primal
- 9 Tenderloin Primal
- 10 Flank Primal
- 11 Round Primal
- 12 Frequently Asked Questions
- 13 What are the Best Cuts of Beef in Order?
- 14 What are the 12 Basic Beef Cuts?
- 15 What are the Types of Beef Cuts?
- 16 What is the Most Expensive Cut of Beef?
- 17 What is the Cheapest Steak?
- 18 What is the King of Beef Cuts?
- 19 Which Part of Beef is Tasty?
- 20 Which Cut of Beef is Most Tender?
- 21 Final Thoughts
Overview of the Cow
The cow is divided into several large sections of beef called 'Primal Cuts'.
The primal cuts are separated later into so-called 'Sub-Primals Cuts' which are also later sliced and chopped into smaller individual pieces, like steak, roasts or other cuts which we use for cooking.
In total there are about 100 individual types of sub-primal cuts but different countries divide them differently.
In the USA, we break them into 8 major primal cuts while the EU countries break it differently, by creating 6 primal beef cuts. There are also countries which break the cow down to about 20 primal cuts. We are going to focus on the 8 Primal Cuts we have in the USA.
When we look the cow diagram down below, you can notice that the front side of the cow covers the sections that are called the 'Forequarter' and the back of the cow have sections called 'Hindquarter'.
Usually, the more tender cuts of beef tend to be located further from the horn or the head while the toughest areas are the shoulder cuts and the leg muscles as they tend to move more on the cow.
What are the Primal Cuts of Beef?
First, we have Beef Chuck. It comes from the front side of the cow (Forequarter) and overall its sub-primal cuts have a tough texture but very flavorful.
The subprimal cuts of Chuck are Top Blade, Bottom Blade, A Small Part of the Ribs, Neck, Shoulder, Chuck Filet, Chuck Steak and Ground Beef.
Because of its good connective tissue, the Chuck Primal Cut is a good choice for preparing dishes like beef stew or pot roast, which tenderize the tough beef cuts.
It is also preferred to make ground beef for juicy burgers due to its fat content meat.
Other popular steak cuts coming from this primal are the Classic 7-Bone roast steak and the popular Flat Iron Steak.
There are also some butchers who cut a few steaks from the connection part of the Chuck primal with the longissimus dorsi muscle, which is the same tender muscle that the ribeye is made from.
Best Cooking Method
The best cooking method for the shoulder and the neck sub-primal cuts is braising (in the oven with liquids on a low temperature for a long period of time). For these sub-primal cuts it is recommended to first heavy season before cooking.
The beef ribs are best when you coat them in a dry/wet rub or marinade which will make them more tender. You can then choose to boil them on the stove for about one hour before grilling or directly grill/smoke them in indirect heat on low temperature for a long period of time.
As for the blade or flat iron steaks, you can directly grill them over direct heat with a bit of seasoning of your choice. These cuts don't need any preparation because of the high level of fat marbling.
An additional way of cooking this beef primal is by making smoked chuck roast, which will allow the meat to cook on a low temperature over a long period of time.
Chuck Steak and Filet are recommended to tenderize with a meat mallet, which will make the meat easier to chew.
The excess meat from the Chuck Steak and Filet is usually used for making ground beef.
Next to Chuck Primal cut, we have the Beef Rib Primal Cut which is made from the top part of the center rib section, between the sixth and the twelfth ribs to be specific.
The cuts from the rib primal are Short Rib, Prime Rib, Rib Steak, Ribeye Steak and the Back Ribs.
As you can see, this primal cut is home to some of the most popular steak and cuts out there: the rib roast/prime rib and the ribeye steak.
The steaks from this primal tend to be very tender and relatively expensive.
Because of their level of tenderness, steaks and roasts from the rib primal can be cooked on dry-heat or high grilling temperatures and still remain tender, which make them ideal for almost any cooking method; grill, broil, fry, roast etc.
The primal rib section is situated above the beef plate and the lower part of the section is where the so-called short ribs cut come from.
Best Cooking Method
The prime ribs are recommended to be cooked at a very high temperature for short periods of time. This will make them crispy on the outside and rare inside. They are usually prepared with a dry rub and seasoning of your choice.
Ribeye steaks don't require any preparation before cooking. Just season them with some salt and pepper and you can cook them directly on direct heat grill, preferably charcoal grill.
Short ribs are recommended to braise first before cooking and you can choose to coat them in flour or cornstarch, depending on your taste.
Back ribs are recommended to be prepared with a dry or wet rub of your choice and then smoked/grilled on a low temperature for a long period of time. After removing from the grill, you can cover them in BBQ Sauce for more flavor.
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Short Plate Primal
Below the primal rib beef cut, we have the Short Plate Primal Cut.
The most popular cut from this primal are the short ribs and the skirt steak.
The skirt steak is very popular because of its usage in a Mexican dish of marinated steak strips. This steak belongs to the diaphragm muscle and is attached inside the abdominal walls with some strong connective tissues, which are usually trimmed away.
Even though it is a high-in-muscle steak, it is extremely flavorful and is usually cooked over high heat for a short period of time. Also, have in mind to always cut against the grain, especially for this kind of muscle-fiber rich cut of beef.
Short ribs, also located in the Short Plate primal, are full of cartilage, making them ideal for braising. Braising this steak cut will dissolve the cartilage and turn it into a gelatin-like texture.
Due to its fairly fatty texture, the beef plate section is sometimes used for making ground beef for burgers. When you prepare ground beef, you can mix two different cuts together, so you don't have to worry about how lean or fatty your ground beef is.
Best Cooking Method
The hangar steak of the short plate primal is a very tender cut, so there is no need to do any preparation or seasoning. Just put it to the grill with some prior salt and pepper and it is good to go.
As for the Skirt Steak, it is recommended to be marinated for long periods of time, usually overnight, because it contains lots of fibers which marinade loosen up. After removing from the brine, you can cover with some dry rub and seasoning and grill over direct heat.
Brisket primal cut of beef is very popular due to its very flavorful taste. It is a tough cut but if you cook it properly, you will maximize the flavor and will taste great.
Overall, it is a moderately fatty cut of beef but this will also work on your advantage by tenderizing the cut even more.
The brisket is located around the breastbone section, in the front part of the cow. It is a great cut for a low and slow temperature cooking method to properly break down and tenderize.
One of the most popular dishes prepared with this cut is the Corned Beef and also is widely used to make pot roast or slow cook it in a grill or a smoker.
Best Cooking Method
The brisket cut is recommended to brine for about 4 hours, usually using a dry or wet brine, with spices of your choice covering the entire surface of the cut. This primal cut is cooked on a low and slow method, so low temperature cooking for a long period of time is the way to go.
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Beef Shank Primal
While not the most popular cut out there, the beef shank is still a widely used cut especially for some fine-dining dishes, like Osso Buco.
It comes from the upper part of the cow leg, and there are two shanks, one from the front section of the cow and one from the back section.
It has overall an extremely tough texture and is full of connective tissue due to the location on the legs.
Best Cooking Method
Because of this primal cut's low amount of fat and an overall tough texture, you should cook it for a long period of time on a low temperature, usually using a crockpot or oven. To tenderize this tough cut, you can choose to season or marinade it.
Short Loin Primal
Short loin is the first primal cut that starts the hindquarter section or the back of the cow section. It is somehow almost in the middle of the cow and is the section where some of the most desirable and most used cuts of steak are located.
The whole short loin beef is about 16 to 18 inches in length and usually, there are about 11 to 14 steaks in total, depending on the thickness and the cow age.
The short loin beef is cut from rib end working toward the rear of the cow.
The first cuts are the bone-in strip steak, continuing with the center-cut steaks like T-bones and finally, in the end, there are cut two to three porterhouse steaks, usually at the sirloin end section.
The tenderloin extends from the short loin to the sirloin and is present in the T-Bone steak cuts and Porterhouse cuts.
The short loin's primal beef cuts are usually cooked on dry-heat and taste excellent when you grill or fry them with just a lightly season and marinade.
Best Cooking Method
The short loin primal cuts are best when cooked on high heat grilling. They don't need any preparation but a light seasoning of salt and pepper can be done.
Sirloin primal cuts is another major and large section of the cow. This beef cut is located from the thirteen ribs all the way to the back of the cow, on the hip bone and on top of the rear-end of the flank (belly) of the cow.
The Sirloin beef has these sub-primal cuts: The small top - sirloin, the top loin and the bottom loin.
The top loin contains steaks that are very preferred from the grill enthusiasts and very good for grilling, even though it is located near the rear leg of the cow and the muscle is a bit tougher.
The top loin is home of so-called a pin-bone steak because it includes a section of the hip bone, which is also popular due to its similarity with the porterhouse steak.
Down the top loin, we have the bottom loin, which is divided into three main steak cuts: the Tri-Tip, Ball Tip and the flap cut.
The back of the sirloin is sometimes called from the butchers the filet mignon which is incorrect. It is called the butt tender and is sold as a roast after fabricating the whole tenderloin and sirloin. The filet mignon is located at the other end of the tenderloin, as described below.
Best Cooking Method
The sirloin steak is best when grilled on high heat grilling too. This cut, just like the short loin cuts, doesn't necessarily require any seasoning or marinating but a salt and pepper season is recommended.
One of the most tender cuts of cow beef is the tenderloin. The tenderloin is found within the loin/sirloin section of the cow.
The most popular sub-primal of this section is the filet mignon, which you get from the very end of the tenderloin, including also a small section from the short loin primal cut.
So, the tenderloin is a horizontal cut of beef, extending from the short loin into the sirloin. The short loin part of tenderloin is the filet mignon and the sirloin part of it is so-called butt tenderloin.
Best Cooking Method
Because of their extremely tender texture, the tenderloin sub-primal cuts need a lot of attention when cooking. They can easily become dry or overcooked.
Just a bit of seasoning of salt and pepper is recommended and you to grill them on the desired temperature, usually on the medium-rare level of doneness.
The flank primal cut is located at the bottom end of the cow and is sometimes called the belly cut. It starts from the middle belly and extends almost to the rear legs of the cow.
The beef flank is recommended to cook on the grill but since it has a tough muscle texture, it can become very tough when overcooked, so make sure to grill it quickly and over a high temperature.
Also, some people preferred to marinade it first, so it doesn't dry out in case of slightly overcooking.
The flank beef is recommended to be cut against the grain so it doesn't get chewy when you eat it.
Except from the grill cooking, the flank beef is also good for braising and for making ground beef.
Best Cooking Method
The flank steak is usually marinated overnight and then covered in a dry rub. It is recommended to use a marinade with strong acidic juice, containing fruits like limes and lemons.
The beef round primal cut is basically located on the rear end of the cow. It includes all the rear of the cow, covering a part of the end hip bone at the top and the rear-leg shank at the bottom.
The round beef has fairly lean muscles but somehow tough due to being near the leg and rump.
The top round and the bottom round are lean parts and don't have much collagen, which means that if you braise them, don't expect to be as succulent as braised chuck.
The best cooking method for round roasts is to roast them slowly and on a medium-rare doneness level.
You can serve them thinly sliced and always against the grain, so they stay tender during eating and not become chewy.
Best Cooking Method
Round primal cuts are best when cooked on a low and slow method. Depending on what you are preparing, you can choose to season them with spices of your choice. It is not the best cut for grilling and barbecue and is usually cooked in an oven with liquid.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions answered for you:
What are the Best Cuts of Beef in Order?
The idea of the "best" cuts of beef can vary depending on your personal preferences and region you are based. However, the most used cuts, which are also considered as the top cuts of beef are:
- Tenderloin/Filet Mignon: The most tender and lean cut, often considered the most desirable and high end cut of beef.
- Ribeye: Widely known for its marbling & rich flavor, the ribeye is a very popular alternative to filet mignon by many beef lovers.
- Striploin/New York Strip: This cut is tender, flavorful, and offers a good balance of marbling and leanness.
- T-Bone & Porterhouse: Both these cuts include the striploin and the tenderloin, providing a combination of tenderness and flavor.
- Rib Steak: A flavorful cut from the rib section, it offers a good amount of marbling and tenderness.
What are the 12 Basic Beef Cuts?
The 12 basic beef cuts, also known as the primal cuts, are:
- Chuck: comes from the shoulder region and is often used for ground beef, stews, and roasts.
- Rib: Found in the ribcage area, it includes cuts like ribeye and prime rib.
- Loin: Located along the back, this section includes tender cuts like tenderloin and striploin.
- Sirloin: This cut is located near the loin and offers a good combination of tenderness and flavor.
- Round: Derived from the rear leg, it is often used for roasts and is usually less tender.
- Brisket: The chest area of the cow, commonly used for slow cooking and barbecue.
- Short Plate: Found below the rib section, it includes cuts like skirt steak and hanger steak.
- Flank: This cut is from the abdominal area and is known for its flavor and leaner texture.
- Shank: Located in the leg, it is typically used for soups, stews, and braises.
- Tenderloin: Considered the most tender cut, it is located inside the loin.
- Short Loin: Located behind the rib, it includes cuts like T-bone and porterhouse steaks.
- Rump: Found near the hindquarters, it is often used for roasts and steaks.
What are the Types of Beef Cuts?
Beef cuts are categorized into different types, based on their location and how they are butchered. Here are the most common types of beef:
- Steaks: Individual portions of beef cut across the muscle fibers and include sub-cuts like Ribeye, Sirloin, and T-bone.
- Roasts: Larger cuts meant for slow cooking in the oven or grill. Include cuts such as Chuck Roast or Prime Rib.
- Ground Beef: Minced or Ground Beef, widely used in burgers, meatballs, and other similar recipes.
- Stew Meat: Cubes of beef used for making stews and braises, often cut from tougher muscle groups like the chuck or round.
- Ribs: Cuts from the rib section, such as prime rib or ribeye steak.
- Brisket: A flavorful cut from the chest area, typically used for smoking, barbecue, braising, or making corned beef.
- Shank: Often used for making rich and flavorful stocks, soups, and stews.
- Flank and Skirt: Long, flat cuts used for fajitas, stir-fries, or marinated and grilled dishes.
What is the Most Expensive Cut of Beef?
The most expensive cut of beef is often considered to be Japanese Wagyu or Kobe beef, specifically the A5 grade. This beef is known for its high level of marbling and tenderness, resulting in a premium price tag.
What is the Cheapest Steak?
The cheapest steak cuts are typically those that are less expensive due to lower demand or require less aging. Cuts from the chuck or round, such as chuck steak or round steak, are generally more affordable options.
What is the King of Beef Cuts?
The "king" of beef cuts is a subjective term, as different cuts are considered the best for different recipes and cooking styles. However, the Ribeye steak cut is often highly considered as a top choice due to its rich marbling, flavor, and tenderness.
Which Part of Beef is Tasty?
Several parts of beef are considered tasty, depending on personal preferences. The Ribeye, Striploin, and Tenderloin/Filet Mignon are generally regarded as flavorful cuts due to their marbling and tenderness.
Which Cut of Beef is Most Tender?
The most tender cut of beef is typically the Tenderloin/Filet Mignon. It is a lean cut of meat located in the loin area and is known for its buttery texture and tenderness.
Four other popular tender cuts are:
- Tenderloin/Filet Mignon
- Short Loin
So, these are the main cuts of beef. I hope you now have a better understanding of how the cow beef is divided. By knowing each cut and its characteristics, you have a higher possibility to cook it correctly and have a more enjoyable meal.
What is the best cut of beef? Well, there is no clear answer to choose one cut. It depends on what you are trying to archive and what cooking method you like most. Just have in mind that for properly cooking cow beef cuts, the internal temperature of the meat is the main factor to know if the cut is cooked perfectly or not.
Also, your local butcher will always break down the primal beef cuts into smaller sub-primal cuts, so I don't think you will be able to find a whole section of the cow at the store. Just pick your preferred cut and get ready to do some grilling!