Cuts of Beef & How to Cook Them
While you can gauge the relative tenderness of your beef or steak by the USDA and Canadian grading system, it doesn’t guarantee a perfect meal. Each cut needs to be combined with the ideal technique for cooking said meat if you want to reach epic levels of deliciousness. Find out about the different cuts of beef and how to cook them here.
Okay well, it’s not really a scale, more like an area. On the cow, or any other animal that we consume for food for that matter, the more use the muscle gets the more collagen is in those muscles, and the tougher the cut can get. Meat that is from the back and top of the cow will be the most tender, while anything that moves a lot or spends time holding the cow up for long periods will be less so. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good meal from those cuts.
What Different Kinds of Cuts are there? And How do you Grill/Cook them?
Brisket is popular around the world but you are likely more familiar with the cut thanks to the slow-smoked delicacy of a Southern Style Smoked Brisket. It is a sign of prestige to be able to perfectly cook one of these cuts. They are a larger cut and, thanks to their popularity, a more expensive cut. This cut is located in the lower breast of a cow. When shopping, look for one that has a nice fat layer and, when poked, has a little give. A stiff Brisket will produce tough results.
The Chuck is cut from the shoulder/neck area of a cow. It is fantastic to use when grinding beef for hamburgers because it is incredibly flavorful. You can get a few things from the Chuck area; the Chuck Eye is a steak known as the poor man’s Rib Eye. You also get Pot Roasts and the Top Blade cut from the Chuck as well. For the most part, Chuck should be slow-cooked, whether it is braised, reverse-seared, or slow-roasted. With the exception of hamburgers, which prefer a more hot and direct cooking method. Be careful in the supermarket and talk to the butcher counter to ensure you have the right cut for your preparation method when buying Chuck.
This large flat cut comes from the underside of the abdomen of a cow. It can be made into London Broil, sliced for stir-frys, and fantastic for fajitas. The thing about the Flank steak is that it can get very tough when not cooked properly. Marinate it whole. Its slenderness and loose muscle fibers accept marinades well. Cook it to medium (at the most) quickly over direct, high heat. Finish using a gentle, indirect heat or through resting. For serving slice it thin, against the grain.
Flat Iron Steaks come from the Chuck area of the cow, near the shoulder. They’re another great cut of beef for marinating. When cooked properly this well-marbled cut is second only to the tenderloin when it comes to tenderness, however, it still needs the proper preparation. You may find the Flat Iron under other names like the Boneless Top Chuck Steak, Butler Steak, or Oyster Blade Steak. Sear this steak directly over high heat, but never cook it past medium. Slice it thin, against the grain when serving or if you plan to use it in stir-frys or fajitas.
Porterhouse / T-bones
You probably know these names. They are steaks that come on a t-shaped bone that contains the Strip and some Tenderloin. T-Bones and Porterhouse Steaks are ideal for grilling, in fact when you think of a big juicy steak on the barbecue that’s the cut that comes to mind. They are slightly different. The T-Bone has less tenderloin on it, making up only half to one and a quarter inches of meat on the bone. The Porterhouse features much more tenderloin, one and a quarter-inch or more meat, making it more expensive. These steaks require a little more finesse when cooking, you are preparing two different kinds of steak on one bone after all. Use the direct sear or reverse sear, but aside from the searing, keep the tenderloin directed away from the heat source when possible.
Possibly the most coveted cut of steak available. The Rib Eye is delightful in flavor and tenderness. This is due to the extensive marbling and beautiful fat cap creating big flavor. There are a few cuts that have the Rib Eye in it. They include the bone-in Cowboy, the boneless Delmonico, and the caveman-esque Tomahawk. Whatever you get, the Rib Eye is possibly the best steak you will get. Season well with salt and pepper, that’s all you need, then give it a really good sear. Finish it gently using low, indirect heat. Make sure to rest this steak properly after cooking too. If you get the Rib Eye cut to a custom thickness, thicker than an inch, try using the reverse sear technique to cook it. These steaks are a little bit forgiving thanks to the fat in them, but medium is your finished temperature for maximum enjoyment.
The Tomahawk is technically a cowboy cut Rib Eye, but it has a ridiculous long bone. These are cut thicker – up to two-inches – to accommodate the bone. They do very well both reverse-seared and seared, then finished using gentle heat. Use a cast-iron pan, your barbecue’s cooking grids, or a sear station such as a Napoleon BBQ Infrared SIZZLE ZONE™.
Prime Rib is actually a bunch of Rib Eyes stacked together with the bone. It’s a center cut of the cow’s ribs. A full Prime Rib is 7 ribs long, however, that is usually cut in half or into thirds. This encompasses ribs 6 through 9 are found closer to the Chuck end and would also be called the second cut or sometimes the blade end of a Prime Rib. This one will contain more fat and separate musculature. Ribs 10 through 12 is taken from further back and features a more beef to fat ratio. It is also known as the first cut, loin end, or small end. To prepare, generously salt up to 40 minutes before cooking. Season well, score the fat in a cross-hatch pattern, then reverse sear until it is rare to medium-rare in the middle, then sear the outside on all sides in a hot cast iron pan or on the grill.
Beef ribs are well-marbled and flavorful. You can only get ribs 6 through 12 on the cow, and after reading about the Rib Eyes you can see why. They’re right next to some of the best cuts. Beef Ribs are best for long smokes with dry heat. Use a flavorful dry rub and the 3, 2, 1, smoking method for the best results.
Sometimes called the Rump, there are two cuts, the Top Round and Bottom Round. They are a supremely lean cut from the backside of a cow above the shank – the hard-working leg muscles. Round cuts tend to be lean and tough, so they require special treatment. Marinating, long and slow cooking methods, braising, and even cooked sous vide then seared are ideal ways to prepare any Round cuts. The Top Round is also ideal for thin slicing and turning into jerky.
Strip Steak A.K.A. New York Strip
Strips are located near the loin of the cow. They are moderately priced and come in both well-marbled and more lean varieties depending on the grade. They can also be called Kansas City Steak or a Sirloin Steak, you will find when eating that these land in the goldilocks zone meeting the needs of flavor, tenderness, and price. When cooking they are less resilient than Rib Eye when it comes to being overcooked, so medium rare is probably best. Grill these steaks using direct, high heat and then finish them using a gentler heat. If you get a custom, thick cut of over an inch, try sous vide or reverse searing.
Shanks aren’t seen often. They are the leg of a cow and the meat is often tough. They are best cooked low and slow whether that is braising or as stewing beef. They can also add big flavor when used in broth making.
The Sirloin is tender, flavorful, and quite popular, which can drive up the price. You can get the Top or the Bottom Sirloin. They come from near where you would find the T-Bone and Porterhouse, at the back of the cow, behind the ribs and near the hip. Top Sirloin will be the better cut as it is more tender and better flavoring thanks to the marbling. It is often just labeled as the Sirloin. Bottom Sirloins are larger but tougher. Throw these onto the grill and cook using direct heat, finishing low like most steaks. You can also reverse sear these if they are thicker. You can also toss some Sirloin into the mix when grinding Chuck for an incredible flavor boost. Surprisingly the Sirloin is another great marinating steak, however, marinating will not equal increased tenderness if it’s not cooked properly.
Skirt steaks are rising in popularity. Like the Flank, you want to hit a Skirt Steak with high heat and sear it quickly, getting some good char and then letting it rest to finish cooking. Never cook past medium. Skirt Steaks are ideal for things like tacos and fajitas, stir-fries, and other quick-cooking applications. It’s flavorful and juicy with lots of visible, open muscle fibers that make it great for marinating.
The Tenderloin is a strip of muscle that runs along the spine and is not used very much at all. This means that it has very little fat on it. The flavor is mellow and buttery. The bite is incredibly tender. There isn’t much you can do to damage a tenderloin when cooking, they can’t help but remain tender. That being said, try to avoid overcooking when possible. Tenderloins benefit from generous seasoning as they have little to no fat to provide flavor. A whole Tenderloin is expensive, but you can get it on sale and butcher it yourself. Make a couple of smaller Tenderloin roasts and perhaps cut some Filet Mignons – the steak version of Tenderloin, a four-inch across cylinder of Tenderloin. Filets and Tenderloin Roasts are best grilled, season both generously, sear them hot and high on the outside, and finish them using gentle, indirect heat.
The Tri-Tip is a roast that is found above the Flank and behind the Short Loin. It is the bottom of a Sirloin and features a heart-like shape. It is best generously seasoned and cooked slowly like a roast, either on the smoker, in the grill, or in the oven. When purchasing, make sure you get a little fat on there to ensure good flavor and prevent drying out.
Cuts of beef are many and varied. This is barely down the rabbit hole of the different cuts and preparation methods of beef that you can get. What are your favorite cuts of beef and how do you prepare them? Share your secrets, your success stories, and your favorite beefy recipes on our social pages like Facebook and Instagram, using the hashtags #BBQ Beef, #NapoleonEats, and #NapoleonGrills.