What are the Basic Cuts of Beef?
Expert Advice

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Have you ever found yourself wandering the meat section of the grocery store trying to figure out what separates one cut of beef from another? Ribeye, T-bones, New York Strips, and filets. Then there’s eye rib roast, top round roast, tri-tip roast – and honestly, I have no idea what a shoulder top blade steak flat iron is supposed to be! Who knew this maze of meats could be so overwhelming!

Thankfully, our friends at BBQGuys are here to navigate us through the basic cuts of beef and where they come from. This will certainly make the meat section more manageable!

The 9 Primal Cuts of Beef

Since beef is such an important part of our diet. We should have a better understanding of what we’re eating. “Primal Cut” refers to the first piece of meat that is separated from the cow during the butchering process. The next cuts are called “Sub-Primal Cuts”, also called food service cuts. These are the cuts of beef we are used to seeing in the grocery story – such as steak, ground beef, roast and more.

The 9 Primal Cuts of Beef

  • Located in the forequarter: chuck, rib, short plate, brisket, and foreshank (or beef shank).
  • Located in the hindquarters: short loin, sirloin, round, and flank.

The tenderest cuts of beef are located farthest away from the horn and hooves. The toughest cuts are the shoulder and leg muscles that do most of the work throughout the animal’s lifespan.

Beef Chuck

The chuck cut includes parts of the neck, shoulder blade, and two front legs. Since chuck beef is located close to the horns, it’s typically tough and needs to be slow cooked in stews, pot roasts, or braised dishes to bring out the best flavor. This beef section is also the source of ground chuck because of its decent fat content.

  • Sub-primal Cuts: Neck, shoulders, top blade, bottom blade, ground beef, chuck steak, chuck filet.
  • Popular Cuts: 7-bone roasts, flat iron steaks, boneless short ribs, boneless shoulder pot roast, boneless shoulder steak, chuck eye steak, shoulder top blade steak, shoulder top blade steak flat iron, boneless chuck steak, and ground beef.

Beef Rib

Located in the top-center section between the 6th and 12th ribs. This section is very tender, so dry-heat cooking methods, such as grilling, roasting, or searing in a skillet, keeps the meat tender and flavorful.

  • Sub-primal Cuts: Rib steak, ribeye steak, prime rib, short rib, back ribs.
  • Popular Cuts: rib roast, prime rib, rib steak, ribeye, and back ribs

Beef Short Plate

Located in the lower part of the ribs down to the belly, nestled between the brisket and flank. This cut contains plenty of cartilage and connective tissue. So, plate cuts like beef short ribs are often braised to dissolve the chewy cartilage into delicious gelatin. The Skirt steak should be marinated overnight and grilled over high heat.

  • Sub-primal Cuts: Hanger Steak, Ground Beef, Brisket, Skirt Steak.
  • Popular Cuts: Beef short ribs, skirt steak, hanger steak, ground beef

Beef Brisket

Located at the cow’s breast and lower chest area, one of the cow’s most used muscles. Like other tough cuts full of muscle fibers, whole briskets should be given the low-and-slow smoking treatment to break them all down and let the natural flavors shine through.

  • Sub-primal cuts: Brisket Point and Brisket Plate.
  • Popular Cuts: Brisket, corned beef, ground brisket burgers

Beef Foreshank

Located in the front upper portion of the front legs. Foreshank is basically cattle thigh. This cut is extremely tough and full of connective tissues. All that cartilage makes foreshank beef a great candidate for soups or stews.

  • Sub-primal cuts: Fore Shank, Hind Shank, and Ground Beef.
  • Popular Cuts: Shank steaks

Beef Loin

Located in the lower back of the cow. These desirable cuts of tender beef are great for juicy steaks. This high-yield beef primal has an average of 11–14 cuts per short loin. That would be six or seven T-bone steaks and two or three porterhouses from the sirloin end alone.

  • Sub-primal Cuts: T-bone, club steak, filet mignon (tenderloin), New York strip, sirloin cap, sirloin steak, tri-tip, Chateaubriand, Porterhouse.
  • Popular Cuts: T-bone steaks, porterhouse steaks, New York strips (bone-in or boneless), tenderloin, filet mignon, chateaubriand

Beef Sirloin

The sirloin is an 8-inch strip of meat that begins in the backbone and runs halfway down the stomach. Sirloin cuts are all tender and juicy, ranging from moderately fatty to low in fat content. All steaks from beef sirloin are ideal for grilling and searing. A tri-tip roast should be cooked low-and-slow like a brisket because of its thickness and toughness.

  • Sub-primal Cuts: Top Sirloin Butt, Bottom Sirloin Butt
  • Popular Cuts: Sirloin steak, boneless top sirloin steak, center-cut steak, tri-tip steak, tri-tip roast

Beef Round

Located in the rear part of the cow, basically the entire hind leg. Round cut contains a lot less fat content, so this makes the round meat a tough cut. However, it’s a very cheap meat cut. All types of round sub-primal cuts are not the best for grilling. Roasting and low-and-slow methods are best for cooking down the lean toughness.

  • Sub-primal Cuts: Top Round, Eye of Round, Heel of Round, Sirloin Tip and Bottom Round.
  • Popular Cuts: round steak, bottom round roast and steak, eye round roast and steak, top round steak, rump roast, tip roast and steak

Beef Flank

Located between the short loin and sirloin that covers the cattle’s stomach. This section is lean and flavorful despite having tons of connective tissue. Cuts from the flank have a coarse texture, making them perfect for soaking up marinades, and grilled quickly and at a high temperature.

  • Sub-primal Cuts: Ground Beef, London Broil, and Flank Steak.
  • Popular Cuts: Flank steak, ground beef

Now that you are armed with this basic knowledge about the basic cuts of beef, hopefully browsing through the meat department will seem less intimidating than before. Of course, you can always ask your friendly grocery store butcher if you have any remaining questions or would just like their opinion.