We’ll start by going back to basics – understanding cuts of meat.
This is a topic that we’ve taken as our primary responsibility to educate consumers for two reasons: (1) To promote sustainable agriculture… consumers need to understand that all meat is good meat, not just Striploins and Tenderloins, except that different cuts require different methods of cooking; and (2) To understand that eating organic does not equate to eating expensive… in fact, we are firm believers that you can buy organic meat and spend the same or less than you would buying conventional meat just by being selective in the cuts you choose — without any loss of quality or flavour (the economics of eating organic being the subject of a future newsletter).
This article features the many facets of Breaking Down the Beef. Together, beef and pork make up 54kg of annual per capita consumption in Canada. We reissue the beef article because beef is the best starting point to understand cuts due to its larger size. Once you understand beef, pork and for that matter, any four-legged animal, is a cinch.
Without further ado – let’s break down a side of beef.
Understanding the cuts.
First and foremost, understand that beef is muscle tissue. As a result, regularly used muscles will result in tougher meat, while lesser used muscles will result in tender meat. This doesn’t mean that the less tender cuts aren’t worth eating – au contraire – some of the tastiest cuts come from the tougher muscles. However, the rule is that tougher meat requires slow, moist cooking methods (such as braising, stewing and boiling); such cooking techniques loosen connective tissue creating tender, juicy, and tasty meat. Unfortunately, in today’s world of high-heat, prime-cuts only, drive-through style eating, braising or stewing has become a foreign concept to some people – but believe us, the process is a cinch and the result is the ultimate comfort food; especially for cold winter nights. For more information and recipes on braising, read Braised Comfort. On the other hand, the more tender cuts of meat can be cooked with dry heat methods (such as grilling, roasting, and broiling).
Starting from the front, the chuck, brisket, and shank are generally the most exercised muscles and hence, among the toughest cuts. From these parts we get meat for the ultimate pot roasts & stews and the most flavourful ground beef. Our popular pastrami comes from the brisket.
The Healthy Butcher’s Beef Cut Chart
RULE OF THUMB: The fat content in all four-legged animals is the highest at the front of the animal (i.e. the Chuck in the picture above), and the lowest at the rear of the animal (i.e. Hip). In between is pretty much a uniform scale (i.e. Rib is higher fat, or more “marbled” than the Loin, and the Loin is more marbled than the Sirloin).
The hip (also called the round) includes the sirloin tip, eye of round, outside round (bottom round), and inside round (top round). The round is the leanest part of the beef and has more meat without tendons than any other part of the animal. The sirloin tip and the inside round have the finest-textured meat on the round. Because of the lack of fat content in the round, it is not advisable to braise meat from the round, instead use it for quick grilling or frying, including quick grilling steaks and stir fry.
Last, but not least, we arrive at the flank and short plate. The muscle fibers are relatively coarse but contain sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain a little tenderness. Skirt steak (from the plate) and flank steak are delicious when grilled. However, they must not be overcooked, benefit from being slowly marinated, and should be cut against the grain for a softer texture. Mexican fajitas are often made from marinated strips of flank steak. One of our signature cuts – the Vacio – comes from the flank section of the beef; we’ve called it Vacio because this is the name of the cut in Argentina where it is extremely popular for slow grilling. Vacio is known as Bavette in France.
So there you have it! Beef demystified in five paragraphs!
|Blade Steaks or Roast||Chuck||Medium Tender, but like butter when braised.|
|Flank Steak||Flank||Less Tender, but can be great when marinated or slowly cooked|
|Eye of Round & Sirloin Tip Steaks||Hip||Medium Tender, perfect for fast grilling or frying; inexpensive cuts|
|Tenderloin Steak & New York Striploin||Loin||Tender – the most tender cuts of beef|
|Rib Eye Steak||Rib||Tender – slightly less tender than Tenderloin or NY, but more flavourful|
|Top Sirloin||Sirloin||Tender – a great steak; much less expensive than cuts from the Loin and Rib but still tender and flavourful|
|Shank||Shank||Less Tender, great for braising. Try using beef shanks for a larger and beefier version of osso buco.|
References and Learning:
Learn more about cuts of Pork:
“Breaking Down the Pork”
Learn more about cuts of Lamb:
“Breaking Down the Lamb”
Learn more about cuts of Chicken:
“Breaking Down the Chicken”
Learn more about cuts of Duck:
“Breaking Down the Duck”
Learn more about cuts of Elk:
“Breaking Down the Elk”