When it comes to cooking meat (using whichever method), understanding the different cuts of meat is important.

The different cuts of beef are determined by which part of the cow they come from. Some parts are harder than others due to the way the muscles in that part are exercised. For example, cuts from the neck and legs tend to be the toughest due to these parts of the body being the hardest worked.

This information is crucial because each of the different types of meat has a different flavor and texture, of which they determine cooking method and time.

The best way to know this valuable information is to ask your local butcher. But if you find his cleaver intimidating, read on. You’ll find all the answers you need right here.

Of Sides and Cuts

The basics in understanding the different cuts of beef are to understand sides, primal cuts, and sub-primal cuts. Here we go.


Upon arrival in the butcher shop, the first cut is made down the middle of the spine, separating the left side of the cow from the right. These two halves are called sides.

The Primal Cuts

From these two sides come the eight cuts known as the primal cuts –

  • This is a cut from the shoulder region. Because the shoulder muscles work hard, it can be a tough cut. Flat-iron steak, chuck pot roast, and chuck short ribs are derived from the chuck.
  • These are the cow’s backbone and ribs 6-12. The other set of ribs? They are in the chuck. These are tender and rich in flavor, hence their popularity. Your rib-eye steaks, rib-eye roasts, and cowboy steaks come from this cut.
  • Located at the top of the cow directly behind the ribs, this cut is very tender. This is because the muscles in this part are hardly used. Being the softest and one of the smallest of the primal cuts, it is the most expensive. The loin can further be divided into the sirloin and short loin. This is where your T-bone and Potter-house steaks come from.
  • Because the round is found at the cow’s rump and hind legs, the muscles are well used, making it a tough cut of meat. Because of this, it is commonly used for ground beef.
  • This one comes from the cow’s breast. A muscular and fatty cut, it can be quite tough, but tasty and juicy when cooked well.
  • Found just below the loin, this flavorful cut is fast gaining popularity. The popularity is not driven by the flavor, rather it’s being driven by the fact that this is a very lean cut of beef. Yes, you guessed it, this is where the flank steak is derived from.
  • The shank is found in the cow’s forearm just in front of the brisket. Because it’s a cut from a leg, it is the toughest cut of beef.
  • Also called the short plate, it is found near the abdomen. It is another one of the fatty cuts of meat. This is the source of short ribs and Philadelphia steaks among others.

The Sub-Primal Cuts

After the primal cuts, beef gets divided into sub-primal cuts. These are the ones you find displayed at the butchery. These are your steaks, ribs, and roasts. A few examples are;

  • Chuck – shoulder pot roast, shoulder steak, boneless short ribs, shoulder center, and chuck roll.
  • Ribs – Prime rib, back ribs, rib roast, rib steak.
  • Loin – Porterhouse steak, tenderloin steak, T-Bone steak, tenderloin roast, top loin steak.
  • Round – Inside round, outside round, eye of round

What is the Best Cut of Steak?

This is not an easy question to answer as it goes according to personal preference. In general though, the better the marbling, the better the steak. That being said, the top 3 contenders are:

  1. Rib-eye Steak. This has the best marbling of all steaks resulting in it being the juiciest and tastiest cut of steak.
  2. Fillet Mignon. Also called tenderloin fillet, it has very little marbling and is the tenderest cut of steak. Due to it being so lean, juicy and soft, it is favored by many for it being a healthier cut.
  3. T-Bone Steak. A combination of the Fillet Mignon on the one side of the bone and a New York Strip on the other. This flavorful cut is the best of both worlds.

Different Cuts For Different Occasions, But the Same Great Cook

Now that you know the different cuts of beef and how they differ in taste and texture, your cooking will surely be a cut above the rest. From tender sirloin to tough shanks, you can pick the cut that suits the occasion. And the one thing that will stand out in all your meals – you. Yes, you. The great chef whose cooking your family and friends will always look forward to.

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