Where's the Beef?

by Mark R. Vogel

        Comprehending all the different cuts of beef can be a little confusing.  For example, did you know that a strip steak, New York strip, Kansas City steak, club steak, shell steak, and top loin steak all come from the same section of beef?  Who wouldn’t be confused with such jargon?  Let’s try to disentangle the mess with a review and clarification of beef cuts.  The diagram below will assist by providing a pictorial guide to bovine butchery. 
        Beef is the musculature of the animal.  The first thing that must be understood is that frequently used muscles are tougher and generally require long, slow, moist heat cooking methods to loosen their connective tissue.  Conversely, lesser used muscles are naturally more tender and necessitate dry heat cooking methods.  Moist heat cooking methods for beef include braising, simmering and stewing.  Dry heat methods include sautéing, grilling, roasting, and broiling.  
        The chuck, brisket, round and shank are the most exercised muscles and hence, the toughest.  Pot roast is best made from chuck via braising, i.e., cooking the meat in liquid for an extended period of time.  Chuck is also useful for stew meat, making stock, and ground beef.  Ground chuck is the best choice for hamburger. 
        The brisket is home to corned and barbequed beef.  The classic corned beef and cabbage is made from simmering the meat.  Pot roast can also be done with brisket, again by braising, but the chuck is more succulent.
        The round includes the top round, bottom round, heel round, eye round, and rump roast.  Sometimes ground beef is made from the round, but again, chuck will provide a more unctuous product.  Although all round cuts are tough, the top round is the tenderest, relatively speaking.  Because of this, it can be roasted.  London broil comes from the top round and can also be grilled.  All of the others however, do best made into roasts with moist heat methods.  One exception is your deli roast beef.  That is made by dry roasting any of the various round cuts.  Slicing it thin renders the resulting product tender and palatable.  Notice that making a “roast” does not necessarily mean that the meat will be roasted.  At the risk of belaboring the point for clarification, pot roasts are not roasted, they are braised.  A true roast, is made by dry roasting.
        The shank is definitely best when braised as in the classic dish osso buco.  It can also be used for stews and stocks.  
        The short plate and flank contain meat of medium toughness.  The muscle fibers are relatively coarse but contain sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain tenderness.  The short plate gives us short ribs which are braised or simmered as in New England boiled beef.  Skirt steak, (from the short plate) and flank and hanger steaks, (from the flank), are delicious when grilled.  However, they must not be overcooked, benefit from being marinated, and should be cut against the grain for a softer texture.  Mexican fajitas are often made from marinated strips of flank or skirt steak.
        The rib, short loin, and sirloin render the most delicate cuts of beef.  Broiling, grilling, sautéing and roasting reign supreme here.  Rib steaks, (also known as delmonico or prime rib), rib eye steaks, (without the bone), and rib roasts, naturally come from the rib.  The sirloin provides a variety of sirloin steaks differing on where in the sirloin they are cut from.  Sirloin can also be ground and made into hamburgers.
        Finally, the crème de la crème of beef: the short loin.  Picture a porterhouse or T-bone steak.  The larger side is referred to by all the names at the top of the article:  top loin, strip, New York strip, shell steak, etc.  The smaller side is the tenderloin, or when cut into individual steaks, filet mignon.  The porterhouse and the T-bone are the same except that the porterhouse is cut from the larger end of the short loin and thus provides more of the tenderloin.  Both the top loin and the tenderloin can be cut into individual steaks, or larger roasts.  In the case of the top loin, the steaks may or may not be attached to the bone.  The tenderloin is always boneless except when part of a porterhouse or T-bone steak.



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