Different Cuts of Beef: Their Origins and Characteristics

chart showing cuts of beef

In this article we’ll tell you which parts of a cow yield which cuts, and their unique characteristics.

Steaks are usually thick slices of beef cut from the hindquarters. Ground beef is typically meat from the front area of the animal.

Before your choice of cut gets anywhere close to what you see in packages at the store, the cow is cut into large sections called “primal cuts.” The primal cuts are then cut or chopped into various retail cuts, such as ribeye or tenderloin.

Each cut has distinct characteristics that impact the flavor and tenderness of the beef. Here’s a closer look at these cuts.


Contents


Brisket

corned beef brisket
American Wagyu Black Grade Corned Beef Brisket

from: Snake River Farms

Brisket comes from the lower portion of the animal near the breastbone. It is one of the toughest and most flavorful cuts of beef.

Beef brisket contains large portions of chest muscle, which is naturally lean and contributes to the toughness of the meat. This thick meat is often used for roasts. Slowly cooking the meat at low temperatures for a long time breaks down the muscle and is necessary to tenderize the brisket.

Plate

beef short ribs
Beef Short Ribs

from: Snake River Farms

Behind the brisket is the short plate: short ribs and skirt steaks are cut from here. It includes portions of the diaphragm muscle and the inside of the abdominal wall with thick connective tissues.

Beef plate tends to contain more cartilage compared to other cuts, especially the portions of the meat taken near the ribs.

Short ribs and skirt steaks are thin and full of coarse muscle fibers, making them perfect for braising. Braising dissolves the muscle fibers and cartilage, producing gelatin that further tenderizes the meat. This is also a fatty section of the cow, making it a popular choice for ground beef.

Flank

flank steak
Tajima American Wagyu Half Flank

from: Holy Grail Steak Company

Beef flank is a cut of beef taken from the underside of the animal, behind the plate, and before beef round. It has tough muscles and works well for grilling. It dries out quickly when cooking over high heat.

Beef flank is another cut of beef sometimes used for ground beef. However, most people recognize it as the source of flank steak.

If you are grilling flank steak, try to use high temperature and cook quickly. Marinating the steak before throwing it on the grill can also prevent it from drying out.

Shank

beef shank

Beef Shank

from: Crowd Cow

Beef shank is taken from the thighs of the animal. There are two shanks in the forequarter and two in the hindquarter. As carcasses are split down the middle, each side of beef contains one shank from the front and one from the back.

As with beef brisket, the beef shank is very tough and contains connective tissue. Due to the toughness of the meat, beef shank is primarily used in roasts.

Chuck

hamburger
USDA Prime Ground Beef – Fresh – 1 LB.

from: Snake River Farms

Chuck beef comes from the area around the shoulders. It includes parts of the shoulder blade, neck, and upper arm. It is a tough area with lots of connective tissue. Cuts of beef from beef chuck include:

  • Flat iron
  • Top blade steak
  • Chuck roast
  • Shoulder clod roast
  • Chuck eye roast

Most ground beef is either chuck beef, round beef, or a mix of leftover cuts. Chuck ground beef contains slightly less fat compared to round beef, but still enough to provide a juicy flavor.

Along with using chuck for ground beef, this part of the cow is also used for braised dishes such as roasts and stews. Braising helps tenderize this typically tough meat.

Chuck beef also contains a portion of meat from the rib primal cut. Chuck is separated between the fifth and sixth ribs, containing part of the tender longissimus dorsi muscle that appears in cuts of rib-eye steak.

Rib

bone-in ribeye steak
Dry-Aged USDA Prime Bone-In Ribeye Steak

from: Snake River Farms

The beef rib is taken from the center ribs of the animal, containing the meat from the sixth to twelfth ribs. Popular cuts from the ribs include:

  • Ribeye steak
  • Prime rib (Ribeye roast)
  • Rib steak
  • Short ribs
  • Back ribs
  • Chef cut ribeye

A steer has 13 ribs on each side. The first five ribs are part of the chuck primal cut. The next seven ribs belong to the rib section. Ribeye steak, prime rib, and tomahawk steaks are the most popular cuts from this area.

The muscles around the ribs do not get much exercise, which keeps the meat tender. Depending on the breed of cattle, ribs can also exhibit excellent marbling. These characteristics make ribs one of the most popular choices for grilling.

Short Loin

t-bone steak

Premium Angus T-Bone Steaks

from: Chicago Steak Company

The short loin comes from the hindquarter of the animal, just behind the ribs. This area measures about 16 inches long and provides between 11 and 14 steaks. Some of the steaks and roasts from beef short loin include:

  • Strip steak
  • Porterhouse steak
  • Filet of strip
  • Strip roast
  • Hanger steak
  • T-bone steak

The short loin is one of the most desirable parts of the cow, used for some of the more popular steaks. Porterhouse and T-bone steaks include a portion of the tenderloin muscle, which is found just behind the upper section of the short loin.

Sirloin

tri-tip roast
Tri-Tip Roast

from: Snake River Farms

Beef sirloin is a large portion of the animal located behind the 13th rib and extends to the hip bone. It also runs from the backbone down to the belly of the animal, placing it directly between the short loin and round sections of beef.

Full sirloin is cut into top sirloin and bottom sirloin and provides the following cuts:

  • Center cut sirloin steak
  • Sirloin steak
  • Tri-tip steak
  • Tri-tip roast
  • Ball tip steak
  • Ball tip roast
  • Bottom sirloin flap

Sirloin is a tender area. This area produces affordable cuts of beef, making them a common choice for steaks. They retain more flavor when cooked properly, providing the right balance of juiciness and tenderness.

Top Sirloin

t-bone steak

USDA Prime Top Sirloins

from: Chicago Steak Company

Top sirloin is tough meat and perfect for grilling, with a similar texture and toughness to porterhouse steaks. This section of the cow has more muscles, as it is taken near the rear legs. The muscles break down as the steak cooks, leaving you with a juicy, mouth-watering steak.

Bottom Sirloin

Bavette Steak

Bavette Steak

from: Crowd Cow

Bottom sirloin is the bottom portion of the sirloin, just above the flank. Butchers often divide this section into three cuts of beef–flap, ball tip, and tri-tip. These cuts are sometimes used for ground beef and are also suitable for roasting or barbecuing.

Tenderloin

fillet mignon

Fillet Mignon

from: Crowd Cow

Beef tenderloin, as the name suggests, is a tender cut of beef. It is taken from the loin, extending from the short loin to the sirloin.

Due to the tenderness of the meat, it is best suited for dry-heat cooking, such as broiling or grilling. If you cook this meat for a long time at low temperatures in a roast or stew, it may simply fall apart.

Filet mignon comes from beef tenderloin. It is taken from the tip of the tenderloin and is one of the most tender cuts of beef.

Round

Beef round comes from the back leg of the animal. As with sirloin, the beef round is divided into several cuts–top round, bottom round, and the knuckle. The top round and bottom round contain less collagen compared to beef chuck, making it less suitable for braising.

Beef round cuts are often used for roasts. For example, a rump roast comes from the bottom round. Here are a few other cuts of beef round:

  • Top round roast
  • Top round steak
  • Bottom round steak
  • Eye of round roast
  • Sirloin tip center roast
  • Butterfly top round steak

In Canada, the round is called the “hip.” This area of the animal contains plenty of lean meat. The hind legs of the animal get plenty of exercise, making the muscle tough.

What is the Best Cut of Beef for the Perfect Steak?


The best cuts of beef for steak tend to come from the rib, tenderloin, or short loin. These areas are tender and full of marbling. Most chefs and steak lovers would agree that some of the top choices for steak include:

  • T-bone steaks
  • Porterhouse steaks
  • Filet mignon steaks
  • Top sirloin steaks

T-bone steaks come from the short loin and are very tender. However, they contain two types of meat: a tenderloin and a strip steak. Each requires different temperatures for optimal cooking.

Porterhouse steaks are tender and come from the short loin. They are slightly less tender compared to T-bone steaks, but also larger. The thickness of a porterhouse steak helps lock in flavors.

Filet mignon steaks are among the most popular. They are often taken from the tenderloin. These cuts are soft, juicy, and perfect for the grill. The only drawback is price–filet mignon steaks cost more than other options.

Top sirloin steaks are an affordable alternative to the previous options. They have a good balance of tenderness and flavor. Since it comes from a muscular area, top sirloin steaks take a little longer to cook.

Now that you know more about the different cuts of beef, you should have no problem choosing the right steak for your next cookout.

Beef Cuts FAQ

What are the different cuts of beef?

The different cuts of beef are: Brisket, Plate, Flank, Shank, Chuck, Rib, Short Loin, Sirloin, Tenderloin, Top Sirloin, Bottom Sirloin, and Round.

What’s the worst steak cut?

Eye of Round is considered the “worst” cut of beef. It is very lean and not tender. Many beef lovers overlook the eye of round since it is considered a cheap cut of beef. That being said, it does have its strengths. It might not be a slab of meat someone would want to eat on its own, however, it is great for braising, stir fries, and pressure cooking.

What is the best grade of beef?

In the US, the highest grade of beef is USDA Prime. USDA Prime beef is the most tender, flavorful, and juiciest grade of beef. The highest grade for Wagyu beef is A5. Wagyu beef is known for its melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, ultra flavorful taste, and beautiful intramuscular fat.

Which is better: filet mignon or ribeye?

If you prefer tenderness, then the filet mignon (tenderloin) is the cut for you. If you prefer flavor, then ribeye is what you are after. Generally speaking, flavor comes from fat, and tenderness comes from cuts that are not strong muscle. Cuts from the lower section of a cow contain stronger muscles and are therefore not as tender as other cuts.

What is the toughest cut of steak?

The toughest cuts of steak tend to come from areas of the cow that are used the most–shoulders and legs. The cuts that are likely to be tougher are: Chuck, Shank, Round, and Brisket.

What are the best cuts of beef?

The cuts of beef commonly considered the best are: Tenderloin (Filet Mignon), Ribeye, Top Sirloin, and Short Loin (T-Bones & Porterhouse). These are widely considered to be the most tender and flavorful cuts of beef.

What is the most expensive cut of beef?

As far as cuts of beef go, the most expensive tend to be: Tenderloin (Filet Mignon), Porterhouse, T-Bone, Tomahawk Steak (Bone-in Ribeye, Cowboy Steak), and Strip Steaks (New York Strip, Kansas City Strip).

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