The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Beef Cuts

Are you often perplexed by the myriad of beef cuts available? You’re certainly not alone. With over 60 different beef products lining the shelves of your average grocery store, it can be quite overwhelming. Adding to the confusion is the fact that these cuts are named differently depending on the region or store. But fear not! There are some simple tricks to help you navigate the world of beef cuts and cook each one to perfection.

Unraveling the Mystery: What are the 8 Cuts of Beef?

To understand beef cuts, let’s start with the basics. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) divides a cow into eight main regions called primal cuts. These primal cuts are the foundation of beef processing and give rise to the various cuts you come across at the store. Familiarizing yourself with these eight primal cuts will make your beef-buying experience much easier.

The eight main cuts are:

  • Chuck
  • Rib
  • Loin (short loin and sirloin)
  • Round
  • Flank
  • Short Plate
  • Brisket
  • Shank

Once the primal cuts are made, beef is further divided into subprimal cuts. These are larger cuts of meat that are then portioned into individual sizes sold at the butcher counter.

The Best Cuts for Your Culinary Adventures

Determining the best cut of beef depends on several factors, such as the cooking method, personal preferences, and the flavor profile you desire. In general, the most sought-after cuts come from the loin and rib sections. These cuts, like ribeye and filet, are known for their tenderness and flavor. Keep in mind that as you move away from the head and feet of the animal, the meat becomes more tender and expensive.

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Let’s take a closer look at each of the primal cuts:


The chuck comes from the shoulder area of the cow. It’s a tougher cut of beef due to the muscles used by the cow, but it’s also incredibly flavorful. The chuck is versatile, with various cuts available, including ground chuck (hamburger), flat-iron steak, chuck short ribs, and more. It’s an excellent choice when you want a flavorful cut while being mindful of cost.


The brisket comes from the breast of the steer. Although it can be tough and fatty, with the right cooking methods, it becomes incredibly tender and delicious. Brisket is commonly used for barbecue, corned beef, or pastrami.


Located at the forearm in front of the brisket, the shank is one of the toughest cuts. However, when braised, it transforms into a tender delight. It’s perfect for making stews and soups.


The ribs consist of the cow’s ribs and backbone. The last section (ribs 6-12) falls within the primal section of the ribs. Ribs offer lots of flavor and marbling, making them a popular choice. Delmonico steak, boneless ribeye roast, cowboy steak, and beef short ribs are just a few examples of cuts you’ll find.


The plate, also known as the short plate, is found near the abdomen. It’s a fattier cut and is perfect for making fajitas, pastrami, skirt steak, Philadelphia steak, and short ribs.


The loin is where you’ll find the most expensive cuts of beef. It’s located at the top of the steer, directly behind the rib. This area is not heavily used, making the meat incredibly tender. The two parts of the loin are the shortloin and sirloin.

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The shortloin offers cuts like filet mignon, tenderloin steak, T-bone, strip steak, New York Strip, and KC Strip. The sirloin area, although slightly less tender, is more flavorful. Popular cuts from the sirloin area include sirloin steak, top sirloin, and Tri-Tip.


The round is a lean and inexpensive cut located at the cow’s rump and hind legs. While it can be tough, it’s often sold as ground beef. Other common cuts include round steak, eye of round, tip steak, tip roast, and top and bottom round roasts.


The flank, located below the loin, is very flavorful but also tough. It used to be less expensive, but its popularity has raised its price. Popular flank cuts include flank steak and London broil.

The Tenderest and Most Flavorful Cuts

If you’re looking for the most tender and flavorful cuts, focus on the loin and rib section. These areas, located at the center of the steer, offer the most tender meat. The muscles in this area are not heavily used, resulting in meat that melts in your mouth. Cuts like T-bone steak, strip steak, porterhouse, ribeye, and filet mignon are prime examples of these exquisite cuts.

Lean Cuts for a Healthy Diet

Contrary to popular belief, red meat can be part of a healthy diet. Lean cuts of beef are an excellent source of essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals. Thanks to careful breeding and improved trimming practices, there are more lean cuts available than ever before.

Lean cuts recognized by the USDA have specific fat and cholesterol content requirements to be labeled as “lean” or “extra lean.” Some common lean cuts include eye of round roast and steak, sirloin tip side steak, top and bottom round roast and steak, and top sirloin steak.

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The Top 5 Cuts for Your Grill

When it comes to grilling, the top 5 steak cuts are Strip, Sirloin, Ribeye, T-Bone, and Filet. These cuts offer unique qualities based on their location on the steer. All of them are from the loin and rib section, making them tender and packed with flavor. Grilling these cuts is a surefire way to create a memorable meal.

Buying Farm-Fresh Beef or from a Store

Whether you’re buying beef directly from a farmer or at a grocery store, there are important things to consider. If you’re purchasing from a farmer, you’ll need to understand that you can’t have the entire animal cut to your liking. Each type of cut has its limits, and it’s essential to communicate your preferences clearly.

When buying beef at a store, keep the following pointers in mind:

  1. Check that the beef is cold and hasn’t been left at room temperature.
  2. Look for bright red or purplish-red beef, avoiding any discolored spots.
  3. Purchase beef before its sell-by date.
  4. Observe the amount of moisture in the package.
  5. Check for consistent and even marbling, as it adds flavor to tender cuts.
  6. Familiarize yourself with USDA beef grades for tenderness and marbling.

Discover More About Beef

If you want to dive deeper into the world of beef, consider joining our weekly e-newsletter. You’ll receive farm updates, delicious recipes, and information about beef availability. Sign up today and receive a cheat sheet with 9 must-ask questions for buying beef directly from a farmer.

Remember to check out our other informative articles on beef:

  • What everyone ought to know about beef cuts
  • Buying a Cow: How much beef is it?
  • 7 Steps to Grill a Steak to Perfection
  • How we raise our grass-fed beef
  • Easy Beef Brisket Recipe (oven-roasted)
  • The Best Farm Books for Kids

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