Any cut of steak tells a story of flavor, shape, marbling, texture that goes beyond its name. These aspects become easily perceived by many of us quite often because we don’t necessarily rely on some education on beef.
We rather differentiate steak types through our senses and beef taste memories. Therefore, we have the beef cuts explained in a more personal way rather than a formal or more precise way that brings into discussion more aspects such as subtle but important differences among cuts, the appropriate cooking methods, and not only.
All in all, we can’t deny the fact that it would be useful for anyone to connect their steak memories with at least some essential details about the most important cuts of beef. Being able to differentiate various types of steak by name and particularities becomes in fact, part of each one’s steak’s buying awareness before paying a certain price and building any expectation.
Making a long story short– why having the essential cuts of beef explained
We aim to describe some of the best cuts of beef out there such as NY strip steak, Kansas City Tomahawk, T-bone, Miyazaki Wagyu ribeye, filet mignon and have a deeper understanding of the primal as well as the subprimal levels of beef cuts. In this order of ideas, anyone could become more flexible and aware of the steak cut he/she buys and decide accordingly the appropriate cooking method.
On the one way, we are going to help you grasp the heart of each of these names. In other words, we bring more beef-related details for helping you to connect things you’ve already wondered about when picking different types of steak.
On the other hand, we will approach the concepts from a top-bottom perspective (going from the primal to subprimal level). We aim to clear up any confusion about some of the most common steaks that might be called elsewhere differently but they mean the same thing.
Breaking the ice with some important beef primals
Generally speaking, a beef animal comprises more meat sections named primals (consider the image from the beginning of this article as your first road map for understanding furthermore specifically each beef section). We refer here to primals such as chuck, rib, drop loin and leg sections.
Primals that are processed into more manageable parts are called subprimals. They are smaller and more cost-effective to transport, handle and one can easily find them in any grocery or restaurant.
The Chuck beef primal
a mouthful of flavor, versatility, and value…
- As we like to call it, the chuck part is the grandma’s secret for a braised pot roast during a cold winter’s day and the secret actually lies in its marbling and connective tissue which adds flavor and tenderness during a slow cooking process.
- Chuck contains the entire shoulder region, including the first through fifth ribs.
- It is a heavily worked muscle grouping, and it has more connective tissue than other regions, including collagen, which partially melts during the cooking process. Due to this fact, most of the cuts coming from the chuck area require a low, slow method of cooking like braising, stewing, or pot roasting.
- Also, the chuck part provides the most amount of ground meat per animal which makes it quite popular for its richness of flavor and balance of meat and fat.
- Last but not least, chuck is known among the cheapest cuts out there.
The chuck beef suprimals cuts of beef explained
Going slightly deeper on the level of the chuck section, we discover the so well-known steak subprimals such as:
- Chuck eye steak, Chuck steak (or roast),
- Chuck tenders, Petite tender
- Chuck short ribs, Chuck flap tail
- The shoulder clod (or Flatiron)
- The neck meat part
Chuck eye steak
the cheapest ribeye one can get…
We think about the chuck eye steak as a great replacer in terms of tenderness and flavor for a ribeye, but less expensive than the ribeye.
This beef cut is taken from the fifth rib, right next to the sixth to twelfth ribs that are used for the much better ribeye, and unfortunately, there are only two per animal. So basically, they are the first two cuts from the shoulder before you start cutting ribeyes.
Since the majority of a chuck eye actually consists of the same muscle group ( longissimus dorsi muscle ) as the ribeye, this allows us to be even more flexible when it comes to the cooking method. We can cook it hot and fast (searing or even grilling) without any risk of having, in the end, a chewy steak cut but rather have a wonderful economical alternative for a ribeye.
Chuck eye steak vs Chuck roast
the trick is to distinguish them…
And here comes the question of whether the chuck eye steak is the same as a chuck roast. Nope, they are not :).
Although there is a tendency among people to use these two names interchangeably, it’s better to think of the chuck eye steak as the best economical ribeye and treat it as such while chuck roasts are taken from the biggest chunk of meat around the cow’s neck and shoulder (comprising more fat and connective tissue, collagen which perfectly adapts to pot roasts, stews, and braises).
So the chuck roasts could be wonderful family dinners when braised or slow-cooked because in this way the cut has time to tenderize by gradually breaking down its fibers and borrowing as well more flavors from other veggies and cooking liquid. Braising can be done in the oven or a crockpot but also on the stove.
Chuck Tenders beef cut
not that tender but rather looking similar to a tenderloin…
The chuck tender, which comes from the shoulder part (usually cut/sliced into “minute” steaks), is similar in shape to tenderloin, which is why it is often called the “Mock tender”. Unlike the most tender beef cut (such as tenderloin), it is a very tough cut because it originates from a heavily exercised muscle, which is used for walking around and supporting a weight of a more than 1000 pounds animal.
One can get easily misled by the word “tender” in the name of a tough, untender beef cut. Therefore when shopping at the store be aware of this aspect (by avoiding over-priced cuts of beef chuck tender) because in this way you will actually realize that chuck tender could be a wonderful as well as affordable beef cut that tenderizes when cooked slowly (through braising) or used in stir-fries.
Chuck tender vs Petite tender
one smaller than the other one in essence…
The petite tender also called the shoulder tender, is another economical and flavorful cut from the chuck, similar but smaller than a tenderloin.
In reality, the Petite tender steaks are nothing more than slices of chuck tenders marketed as “mini fillets” (in many restaurants from New York) which can be unusually pricey at the grocery store. Although many restaurants prepare them as they would a tenderloin, they are tender, but nowhere near as buttery as the real tenderloin.
Chuck short ribs and Chuck flap tail cuts
the bone-in and boneless chuck taste…
According to the American butcher’s nomenclature (), the short ribs may be taken from the brisket, chuck, plate, or rib areas of the beef animal and we can have them in more forms, such as the bone-in and the boneless ways (because any rib can be deboned in the form of fillets). Nevertheless, the first five-rib bones go into the chuck section and not the rib section, comprising in this way, the so-called chuck short ribs. Usually, we will find them sold in lots of four ribs (starting with the second till the fifth rib).
There are two ways of cutting the short ribs. One of them- the “English cut” is commonly encountered in North America and it means cutting the ribs parallel to the bone, with one bone per piece. Slow and low cooking methods (pot roasting, braising) are a wonderful match for the English short ribs.
The other way- the “Flanken style” (commonly seen within german, eastern European, Jewish recipes) means that the ribs are cut across the bone and each piece has about three to four sections of bone with a generous section of meat around them. Fast and hot cooking methods (like grilling) while keeping our eye close on the steak, take out the real magic of the flanken short ribs. Otherwise, they can easily overcook and turn dry and tough.
Chuck flap tail cut (or Chuk Flat)
The chuck flap tail, is a boneless cut from the chuck, coming from the same muscle as short ribs (serratus ventralis– extending dorsally into the chuck or continuing toward the back). Although the chuck flap tail is about the same price as short ribs, we are not paying for the bone, so it’s even more economical.
Flap tail also makes a flavorful addition to a chopped beef blend and it brings its best in a low and slow cooking process.
Shoulder clod beef cut: Flat Iron
the thin piece of meat that butchers have missed for centuries…
The discovery of the Flatiron beef cut (so-called Flat Iron) came out from a real need (in 2000), as a response to an urgent call for research that was aiming to discover new beef cuts.
In those times, the ranchers were at risk of bankruptcy because the existent beef cuts couldn’t carry the beef industry at its true value, meaning that the price of a beef animal was going really low because the existent beef cuts were not adding enough value within the market compared to the existent capacity of the industry (having a higher number of cows on the supply side). The solution was to raise even more awareness among the final consumer through new beef cuts and be able to bring up the price of a cow or stimulate the demand through other steak cuts than the existing ones.
Not to mention that the butchers were creating a big gap between the least desirable part of the cow (such as chuck or round) because were much tougher than the loin or rib area and the meat packagers were selling the chuck and round sections as cheap ground beef.
Theoretically speaking, a cow becomes more valuable by its race, as well as by its most valuable parts (such as tenderloin).
However, Chris Calkins and Dwain Johnson found another way to make the beef animal more valuable. They focused on cheaper cuts and investigated if there might be some hidden gem there. Out of 5600 tested muscles, 39 worth their time, and in 2002 these guys realized that infraspinatus muscle was a huge potential as well as a challenge due to its connective tissue that was ticker on one side than the other. They discovered a way of trimming off this muscle, revealing in the end, a wonderful budget-friendly beef cut with a funny name because of its metal flat iron looking shape. That was Flat Iron steak.
shank– which is the toughest of the cuts.
However, within the same section, there is another gem called chuck flap which is on the arm side of the chuck and plate break, full of flavor, versatile with tender muscles around.
More to know about rib beef section
- “ The rib is one of the two most highly prized sections of the steer. It reaches from the sixth rib, adjoining the arm chuck, to the twelfth rib, nestled next to the loin.”
The rib section contains seven delicious ribs (more specifically the ribs that run along the animal’s back and come after the fifth rib till the twelfth rib).
- The muscles within the rib section are support muscles and not heavily working ones like in the case of the chuck cuts.
- The rib includes slightly higher-priced cuts compared to chuck’s cuts. Still, these delicious high-end steaks are “the best of both worlds” because its internal marbling and kernel fat produce mouth-watering steaks at a reasonable price. (source: The Butcher’s guide to well-raised meat, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone, Alexandra Zissu; The Art of beef cutting by Kary Underly)
- Ribs could be generally grilled, seared or roasted.
Moving further to the parts within the rib section, we can recall immediately the bone-in rib roast, prime rib, hanger steak (it’s taken from the plate which is the upper belly of the animal), inside/outside skirt steak and rib-eye steak.
Whether one should pick an inside or outside skirt cut
Both cuts are different starting with the parts they are coming from. But both are more like a commodity (only four skirts per animal, two outside and two inside). One would feel each one’s different texture.
The inside skirt comes from the transverse abdominal muscle and it’s tougher.
The outside skirt seems more desirable because it comes from the diaphragm(in a kind of a diagonal orientation from the bottom of the 6th rib to the upper portion of the 12th rib). This cut is quite tender, both ticker and longer than the inside skirt. At the same time, the outside skirt will be pricier on the restaurant level because there is more to manipulate on the level of its thicker layer of fat.
From a prime rib to a rib-eye or a bone-in ribeye ?
As you may have already noticed (see below comparison photo), rib-eye and bone-in ribeye come from the same cut, namely the rib roast, aka prime rib.
- To be considered a rib-eye, the bone has to be removed from the prime rib before the cooking process.
- Additionally, a rib-eye does not have all the fat and muscle of a prime rib. It will tend to be a little bit tougher than the prime rib if one cuts it from a less prime section). “Rib-eye” name is pretty suggestive because it “originally implies, the center best portion of the rib steak, without the bone” (source).
- Prime rib is generally a larger cut of beef that contains a larger bone, while a rib-eye is a smaller part that is either boneless or has a small piece of bone as well (a bone-in ribeye).
The essential difference lies in the fact that a prime rib is a big chunk of meat only, from which one can cut smaller pieces (such as boneless or bone-in rib-eyes). The boneless ones are nothing more than the proper rib-eye which has a thick “cap” of heavily delicious marbled meat.
The loin beef primal
- The loin separates itself from the rib section somewhere between the 12th and 13th ribs. It continues till the leg section (which comprises round and shank parts).
- This flavorful region supports the animal. However, since it is not primarily responsible for movement, most of the cuts of beef within the loin are really tender as well as more expensive than other beef primal.
The loin is primarily divided into the short loin(consists of strip steak and a filet) and the sirloin. But going more deeper on the subprime level, we could say that the loin’s “stars” (where the money meat comes from) are cuts like flank, New York strip (aka shell steak), Porterhouse, tenderloin, tri-tip, and sirloin flap.
Flank and Tri-tip subprime
A flank (see the image below) is an inexpensive cut of beef from the abdominal area of the animal, located just beneath the rib end portion of the loin.
What’s interesting about it, is the fact that flank is a working muscle that helps the cow to twist and walk. Within this context, a flank is tough, lean, and has long thick muscle fibers. It has a deeper red color than other steaks like the New York strip.
When cooking it, we recommend you do it fast and hot (stovetop to oven or grill) or slow like braising. But don’t pass over the medium-rare stage that seems the most delicious cooking result for a flank, otherwise, it will become chewy.
A tri-tip cut is a small inexpensive triangular muscle (from the bottom of the sirloin area) and one can easily grill or roast it without overcooking it.
The strip cut has a couple of twists in the name. It would be called a New York strip steak, but a lot of people interchange the name with the Kansas City steak. However, in case it’s also a bone-in having about an inch and a half, it would be considered more as a Kansas City one, but some would still call it a bone-in New York steak. So now at least we made you more aware now of this names’ interchange.
Porterhouse compared to a T-bone steak cut
The Porterhouse has a filet that is one and a half-inch to two-inch diameter with the T-bone that separates the filet from the New York strip part (or strip).
The filet mignon (tenderloin) is what people know as the buttery, leaner cut of meat. the most tender muscle in the animal that is low in fat and cooks very fast.
If the filet part is about one and a half-inch shorter, the porterhouse steak will be called a T-bone steak.
The difference between a Porterhouse and a T-bone lies in the way one cuts the parts from the short loin. When one cuts from the rear end of the short loin he/she will get a Porterhouse (but in essence, it is a T-bone version with a bigger tenderloin). T-bones are cut closer to the front, thus containing a smaller tenderloin (similar to the above image used for comparison).
Leg beef area
- The leg section comprises the “entire upper rear leg and includes the shank (on a human this would be the shin), making it a giant drumstick.“
- “This primal contains the femur and aitchbone (hip socket) and provides the best marrow bones.“
- “The leg is made up mostly of rounds, which are tasty but lean and tough”—great for roasting/ grilling and braising. (source: The Butcher’s guide to well-raised meat, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone, Alexandra Zissu)
At last, other pricey and noteworthy beef cuts
The dry-aged tomahawk rib is a cut of meat touched by the dry-aging process, making it lose about 23% to 30 % of its water weight to get meaty and fragrant beef. It has on the level of one of its ends the so-called rib cap- a part that contains a lot of fat and proves to have more flavor. You will get a lot of meat though, and since its fragrance is stronger due to the dry-age process, it only needs a good salt and pepper seasoning, nothing else.
The Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu rib-eye without bone steak is a hard name to think of as it is its price. Miyazaki name comes from the province or state in Japan where these specific beef cattle which have never cross-bred, are grown. One can see on the spot the difference in color and marbling from any other beef meat in this world. This unique steak has such a strong flavor that does not need any marinade, so once you have the chance to cook such an expensive product try to not experiment with your chef’s ideas.
It wasn’t that hard making you aware of a couple of essential steak terms that you can encounter, isn’t it? Let us know about other beef cuts that you’ve found important as well or you’ve enjoyed the most.