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Understanding Beef Cuts

written by Wendy Watta 4th June 2015

It can be a bit of a challenge ordering steak when dining out (perhaps at any of these 10 Nairobi steakhouses you have to try) or even buying beef if you can’t tell the difference between a brisket a sirloin. These differences will often determine the cost, size, drink pairing and even preferred method of cooking. Here are some diagrams to get you started:

 

beef-cuts-diagram

Here’s an even more detailed diagram…

 

beefcuts

Here, then, is a simple guide to understanding some beef cuts:

CHUCK

Where: Basically all the shoulder right behind the neck.
What: Chuck’s a value steak, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious when you get the right slab and have it prepared properly. The chuck eye is like the rib eye’s less well-to-do brother. The top blade’s what you’re getting with a flat-iron steak. Pot roast is all chuck. The rest goes into burgers. You’re a hell of a diverse guy, Chuck.
What to look for: Chuck’s often generically labeled, so definitely look for the one without a ridiculous amount of fat on it… otherwise, you’re grilling up something that belongs in a slow-cooker.
How to cook: Because it’s a tougher cut, you need to pay special attention; if you keep it on the grill too long, chuck’s gonna be tougher than a certain Texas Ranger. You can also braise it, but you’ll definitely want to hit it with some tenderizer first. Or tie it up and roast it.

 

BRISKET

Where: The lower breast.
What: One of the most universally loved cuts around the world.
What to look for: You want a nice layer of fat on it. Also, give it a poke: if it’s super-stiff, it’ll show when you cook it. If it’s soft, it’s going to melt in your mouth like this Viagra ice cream. Oh, sorry, wrong metaphor.
How to cook: There are 1000 ways to cook it (I almost wrote “…to die”. You know…like that show). Rub some spices into this bad boy then slow-smoke the blood out of it.

FLANK

Where: Right in the belly.
What: The flank’s like the skirt’s tougher brother, and typically requires either a super-slow or super-fast cook so the texture is not like really tough chewing gum.
What to look for: It’s gonna be long and thin, so find one that’s fairly consistent in girth. If it’s fat on one end and skinny on the other, best believe it’s going to be a pain in the grill to cook evenly.
How to cook: Because cows apparently have washboard abs, you’ll need to marinate then either braise or broil it. Either way, you need to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t become so tough that you pull a jaw muscle.

PRIME RIB
Where: Right in the center. You know… in the ribs. The prime part.
What: Some call it a standing rib roast. Some a Sunday roast. But to the connoisseur of every single Friday-Saturday special at every steakhouse in Nairobi, it’s prime rib. And it’s oh so glorious! Let’s just call it a fatty, ultra-rare cut of deliciousness that makes every bite taste like a holiday.
What to look for: Get it bone-in if you can (ask the butcher to cut the meat away from the bones for you), and make sure it has tons of fat — fat equals flavor. And, of course, size matters… the bigger the prime rib, the better, since you’ll be able to get ultra-rare bits in the middle and fully cooked hunks at the end.
How to cook: Hit it with salt & pepper (you need not mess much with perfection), then toss it in the oven to slow-roast. Occasionally drink the juices that come out. Or don’t!

 

TOP ROUND
Where: The rear leg.
What: One of the toughest and leanest of all the cuts, which makes it great for stew.
What to look for: Minimal marbling and a distinct pinkness… if it’s all fatty, it’s not round.
How to cook: You need to keep it tender, so your best bet is braising it or slow-roasting it to keep the juices locked in before thin-slicing it.

TOP SIRLOIN
Where: Basically the small of the back, but with no random tattoos.
What: This is the cut right below the tenderloin.
What to look for: Keep an eye on the words… if it just says “sirloin”, it’s probably not the good one. Find a “top sirloin”, and find one that’s about 1-2 inches thick with a nice band of fat.
How to cook: Either roast it or grill it up as steaks, but just be sure to trim the fat accordingly if you’re roasting so it’s not just a big glob of meat.

 

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