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What are the Basic Cuts of Beef?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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When a cow is slaughtered, it is typically butchered into a number of basic cuts of beef which are also known as primal cuts. Different nations have their own versions of primal cuts, and the nasic cuts of beef are also subdivided very differently in various countries, depending on prevailing national tastes. Knowing about the basic cuts of beef can help you choose the best meat for a particular task, whether you're making stew or planning on grilling tender steaks for visitors. If you aren't sure what a cut of meat is, ask what primal cut it came from to learn more about it.

If you look at a cow from the side, the basic American cuts of beef, working clockwise from the front shoulder, are: chuck, rib, loin, round, flank, plate, shank, and brisket. Many of these names are used in other countries, while others use the British system, which divides the primal cuts a bit more thoroughly into: neck and clod, chuck and blade, fore rib, sirloin, rump, silverside, topside, thick flank, flank, brisket, thin rib, and thick rib. Each of the basic cuts of beef is very different, behaving differently when cooked and requiring different treatments for maximum flavor and tenderness.

The chuck is the front shoulder, and it is a very lean, muscular primal cut. Chuck is well suited to grinding for hamburgers, as is round beef, and it benefits from long, wet, low-heat cooking methods like stewing and slow roasting. These slow cooking methods dissolve the connective tissue in the beef, making it very tender. The rib, as you might imagine, comes from the ribs of the animal, and it benefits from roasting and barbecuing, yielding flavorful, reasonably tender meat.

The loin is among the most prized of the basic cuts of beef. Some butchers break it up into the short loin and the tenderloin, and some common cuts from the loin include t-bone and porterhouse steaks. These steaks tend to be very tender, and they can be seared in a pan or barbecued for tender, flavorful, moist meat. The round or rump is the rear of the cow, another very muscular cut which requires stewing and long braising for the best results.

The basic cuts of beef along the bottom half of the cow all tend to be lean and stringier than the top cuts, because of the muscular development involved. The flank comes from the area directly below the loin, while the plate produces things like skirt and hanger steak, which are known for requiring long, slow cooking. Meat from the plate can also be extremely flavorful, for patient cooks. The brisket is from the lower front shoulder, while the shanks connect the body of the cow to the legs, tending to be very muscular.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Oct 18, 2014

@browncoat - We tend to think that our recipes are very traditional, but most people don't use nearly the same kinds of cuts that they used to even a hundred years ago.

A friend of mine recently learned how to cook beef heart with his grandmother and he was expecting it to taste completely strange, but it just tasted like a slightly different texture of beef.

By browncoat — On Oct 18, 2014

@Iluviaporos - It is kind of a strange cut, I suppose, but the point of it is more to do with the sauce than the meat itself. I hope your father was able to make his own recipe, since he didn't have the internet to look one up back then.

I don't think I've ever actually made ribs at home now that I think about it. I don't tend to be very adventurous about the kinds of cooking beef I get. I'll just get ones I know how to cook, like stewing beef, or steak or occasionally a roast.

Although I've been surprised before, when talking to people, what they consider to be the basic cuts of beef. I remember one girl told me that rump should never be used as steak and it was basically for poor people, which was news to me as it was what my family almost always went with as our steak cut and I see it in restaurants all the time.

By lluviaporos — On Oct 17, 2014

My father moved from the US to New Zealand in the late 70's and he always used to wax nostalgic about how cheap the ribs were back then. He would go to the butcher and have to explain what he wanted, but they would think he was just getting that cut to give to his dog or something, because it wasn't one of the basic cuts of beef or pork in New Zealand back then.

Unfortunately, eventually ribs became popular, probably because New Zealand had such an influx of American culture but for a while, my dad would say, it was like heaven.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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