Beef Guide

Major Cuts of Beef

The major cut, or the portion of the carcass where the meat is cut from, directly influences the tenderness, texture and flavor of the meat. The major cuts of beef are, from front to back: Chuck, Shank, Rib, Brisket, Plate, Short Loin, Flank, Short Loin, Sirloin/Tip, Rump, and Round (including the Rump).

Grading

Under the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), inspectors oversee the processing of all meat to insure sanitation and safety is maintained. The USDA inspection process insures that the meat is safe and processed under sanitary conditions but does not insure the taste and tenderness, qualities that are also important to you in your meat purchasing.

For taste and tenderness, the USDA established a voluntary grading system to standardize the ranking of quality of meats. Beef has the highest number of grades – 8, while only 3 of these grades are of interest to most consumers.

Most people have heard of the prime grade. This is the grade of beef that you see at steakhouse-type restaurants. The prime grade is awarded to a very small (less than 2%) and select amount of meat from cattle raised specifically for prime meat.

Prime meat is tender with a high degree of marbling (small amounts of fat evenly distributed through the muscle), fine texture and well flavored. Prime beef is also dry-aged, a very expensive process.
With prime meat being quite expensive and with limited availability, consumers rarely even see this grade of meat for sale.

Beyond the prime grade, the rest of the grades become a blur for most customers. But these grades are important to know when you are selecting meat. Just remember PC SEE – Prime, Choice, Select, and Everything Else.

The grade of beef just below prime is choice. Choice meat is much less frequently seen today as most supermarkets have shifted to select meat. Choice grade beef is well marbled and has good flavor and texture. Rather than being dry-aged, choice beef will be wet-aged, a less expensive method of aging that still results in the meat becoming more tender through aging.

Select grade beef has less marbling and less juiciness than prime or choice beef. This is the grade of meat that most supermarkets carry–sometimes even in their fancy meat service counter–so, pay careful attention to what you are buying. With less marbling, there is a greater risk of dryness, if the meat is overcooked. If you are careful with your cooking, you will end up with an average steak or roast.

All the other grades are less frequently seen and include in descending order: standard, commercial, utility, cutter and canning. Sometimes you will see these other grades of meat in the supermarket. These grades will have no marbling and a coarser texture. They can be a good choice of meat, on a limited budget or for certain uses such as tenderized steaks and hamburger but should be value priced. As with everything, you get what you pay for. But, at least know what you are getting!

In recent years, many supermarkets have started their own branding of beef such as Linda’s Lean Beef, Butcher’s Best or Black Angus – these are not grades and can be quite confusing to the customer as to what they are really buying. Many times the USDA grade is on the label, but in small print so you have to look closely to see it. Ask your supermarket Meat Manager what USDA grade of beef they are selling if it is not marked on the label, especially for the fancy “brands” of meat for which you are probably paying more money.

Chuck

The chuck is from the shoulder area, and as such, is a well flavored and more coarsely textured meat as the muscles in this area get more use. The meat from here is less tender and generally needs a slow cooking method with liquids. Cuts of meat from the chuck are excellent for making pot roasts – flavorful and tender when cooked slowly with liquid.

Shank

Both Fore shank and Hind shank. The shank meat is tough and not very flavorful. Shank meat is normally used for soups or for ground beef.

Brisket

Brisket area meat is a versatile cut of meat for slow cooking. It’s an especially popular cut of meat for barbequing. You will see brisket used in barbeques in Texas and other Southern States. Brisket meat is pickled for corned beef.

Rib

The rib major cut meats are versatile for cutting as steaks and roasts. The meat is flavorful and tender. Meat from this major cut can be cooked using quick cooking method such as grilling and pan-frying or can be roasted. The rib major cut produces the rib steak, club steak, rib eye steak and rib roasts.

Plate

The plate major cut produces the beef ribs – both bone-in beef short ribs and beef spareribs. The beef short ribs need to be braised (cooked slowly with liquid). While the beef spareribs can be grilled, but may require some pre-cooking for added tenderness.

Beef Loin

Both the short loin and the sirloin are part of the beef loin. The beef loin is where steak meat comes from.

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