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How to Pick the Right Cut of Beef

Posted On: August 23, 2013

Choosing the right cut of beef can be a daunting task. You hear “filet mignon,” “Porterhouse,” “New York strip,” and just smile and nod, wondering if there’s really a difference. Well, there is. The location of the beef on the actual cow makes a difference in its fat content, tenderness, and of course, cooking.

There are nine main sections of beef in a cow, listed below.

Chuck Chuck roast is one of the more inexpensive sections of the cow, located around the cow’s shoulder. The meat is fairly tough, but very flavorful. It’s best suited to pot roasts, short ribs, and steaks. The best cuts from this section are the chuck eye and flat iron steaks.
Rib The rib is considered one of the best, most flavorful sections. As a result, it is also one of the most expensive. This is home to grilling favorites like ribeyes and back ribs.
Short Loin The short loin is widely hailed as the tastiest section of meat. From here, we get the Portherhouse, the T-Bone, the New York Strip (sometimes called the Kansas City Strip), and the Top Loin. There is also a layer of Tenderloin that lies in between the short loin and sirloin that gives us not only tenderloin steaks, but cuts of Filet mignon and Chateaubriand taken from the most tender parts of the tenderloin. This is often the most expensive section of the cow, as well as being very low in fat and extremely well marbled.
Sirloin Sirloin is another prime section; moderately expensive and very tender, the lower back of the cow provides us with such favorites as top and bottom sirloin, the fattier flap steak, and the more lean Tri Tip steak.
Round Round steak comes from the back legs and rump of the cow, and is typically a tougher, more inexpensive steak. This area is best when cooked slowly or in a pot roast. It’s also one of the leanest selections of beef.
Brisket Brisket is cut from the lower chest of the cow, and is most commonly used in slow cooked brisket, corned beef, and pot roasts. This meat is one of the most active muscles, so that results in a tougher beef that must be tenderized over a long cook time.
Plate Located below the ribs and into the belly of the cow, the plate cut is tough and inexpensive, but holds cult favorites like hanger steak and skirt steak. It is grill friendly, and also used in making pastrami.
Flank Flank steak is a grilling favorite commonly sought out for stir-fries and fajitas. With moderate tenderness and pricing that ranges from reasonable to expensive, flank steak is an affordable choice for those seeking a nice steak without the Filet mignon pricing.
Shank The shank cuts come from below the knees and the legs of the animal. While some do eat beef shanks, it’s more commonly used as veal shanks. One famous veal shank dish is Osso Buco, an Italian classic.

 

What to Consider 

Money

One thing to consider is how much money you’re looking to spend. While chuck and round are fairly inexpensive, a tenderloin or New York Strip will be pricier.

Best value: Flank steak

Usage

Another important part of choosing a meat is the meal its intended for. You wouldn’t put filet mignon in fajitas! Different cuts should be used for different meals.

Tenderness

Every cook believes he can cook any cut of beef to perfection no matter the initial toughness, but the truth is that there are muscle parts that get used much less than others, which leads to differences in tenderness.

Most tender: Filet mignon

Marbling

The way the fat is distributed throughout the meat differs throughout the body of the cow. If someone says a cut is well marbled, they mean that the fat is dispersed nicely amidst the meat, making it more flavorful. A good example of this is Kobe beef, which is known for its beautiful marbling.

Best marbling: Ribeye

Fat

Generally speaking, the fattier a cut of meat, the more flavorful it will be. Those seeking leaner cuts should look for round beef, lean ground beef (90/10), top sirloin, or tenderloin.

Leanest: Tenderloin or round beef

 

Our Top Picks

  1. Tenderloin is extremely low in fat, which means it cooks very quickly. As a result of this, it is normally served rare to medium rare, making it very tender.
  2. Ribeye is much fattier than tenderloin, which makes it much more flavorful. It roasts beautifully lightly seasoned in a skillet.
  3. New York Strip (or Kansas City Strip) is a chewier steak that is less flavorful and less fatty than a ribeye, with all of the fat neatly on the side.

Honorable mentions: Flank steak, which is less expensive, chewier, and very flavorful, and sirloin, a slightly tougher steak.

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