Breaking Down the Beef
Up to this point, I’ve mentioned beef and its cuts several times – you may be wondering what, exactly, I’m talking about. Sure, most folks can tell you the general differences between a ribeye, strip, filet and so on; but where do those come from? What are they a part of, and how do they end up in that final form on display? Allow me to break it down for you.
At the ‘Block, we butcher what are known as primal cuts, or primals. Primals are the overall portions of the steer: the chuck, rib, loin, sirloin and round. Each primal is made up of different muscles and have a different distribution of fat, so the flavor and texture of them varies widely. Most steaks and roasts come from these cuts, though the brisket, plate and flank are generally considered separate from the main primals. These primals are then broken down into subprimals and from there the cuts we trim out and put on display.
The chuck (the shoulders and upper front portion of the steer) is made up mainly of the chuck tender, chuck roll, and shoulder clod. Cuts like chuck roasts, flat iron steaks, the petite tender, chuck eye roll and so on come from this primal. Most of the chuck benefits the most from slow cooking, though cuts like the flat iron tend to be lean and respond well to high-heat, fast cooking. The brisket, or chest of the steer, is sometimes considered part of the chuck.
The rib is where your ribeye, rib roast, and beef ribs come from. The rib doesn’t exactly do much moving around in a steer's life, so the meat tends to be fat-rich and tender which is what makes it one of the most prized cuts. As for the steaks it stays pretty simple: bone in or boneless. Decisions, decisions... The plate is also sometimes considered part of the rib; hanger steaks, plate ribs, short ribs and skirt steaks also come from this region.
Similar to the rib comes the the short loin providing some of the coveted cuts on the steer. This makes the short loin one of the most, if not the most, prized cut, as it is where the highly desired beef tenderloin is found. Left as is you can get bone in steaks: the t-bone & porterhouse, but diving into this primal to debone it is where you'll find two very popular steak cuts: the strip steak & filet mignon. The strip side of the loin provides strip steaks or, less frequently, a strip roast. The paralleling side will provide your tenderloin roast or filet mignons. You'll have to pick your poison, (porterhouse steaks & t-bone steaks or strip steaks & filet mignons) because you can't get both. Choose wisely! This section leads into the sirloin of the steer which has many cuts that often get overlooked in a mega grocery store, but some butcher shops and meat markets will often display those alongside the more popular cuts; top sirloin steaks and roasts, the picanha and tri-tips all come from here.
The round (the hindquarters of the steer) is another many-part cut. It’s made up of the bottom round, inside round and sirloin tip, all of which are generally very lean. Several roasts and steaks are cut from here, the most popular ones being the sirloin tip roast and sirloin tip steak, which is what many restaurants typically serve as a “sirloin steak”.
That, my friends, is a super quick breakdown and run-through of beef cuts. I’ve covered a lot ground in a short time, but haven't covered every nook & cranny, so if you’re curious and want to know more, just ask around at the ‘Block – we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. That’s the scoop of beef cuts with me, Coop, wishing you happy cookin’.