Beef is a type of meat that comes from cattle. Cattle were first domesticated in Macedonia, Crete, and Anatolia over 4,000 years ago. Bos primigenius, the earliest domesticated species, was larger than today’s cattle and has since been extinct. Despite this loss, there are now hundreds of different domesticated cow species and an untold number of crossbreeds. Only a few of these several cattle breeds are still regularly employed to produce beef today. Beef cattle breeds have been designed to have features that aid in the production of beef. These animals, for example, produce extraordinarily enormous amounts of exceptionally delicious meat.
Factors Affecting Beef Quality
The quality of a particular cut of beef results from three main factors:
- The breed: The type of cattle from which it comes.
- The age of the animal: The meat from cattle changes as the cattle ages.
- How it was raised: For example, the older the animal and the harder it has worked, the tougher the meat. In modern times, beef cattle are raised expressly for the purpose of providing beef, and so they aren’t worked much at all. However, beef raised on large factory farms may not have the same quality as beef raised under more humane conditions.
Beef has many nutritional benefits. In particular, it is an excellent source of:
- B-complex vitamins, such as niacin and vitamin B12
Beef, on the other hand, can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. While beef is an excellent addition to a balanced diet, it should be consumed in moderation, no more than 1–2 times per week.
How to Make Beef Healthier to Eat
You can limit the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the beef you eat in a variety of ways. These include:
- Choose lean cuts of meat: Beef cuts from different parts of the cow have different qualities, including different amounts of fat. By buying only lean cuts, you can reduce the amount of fat in the beef you eat. A lean cut of beef is a cut that contains no more than 10 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces of beef. To be considered lean, ground beef must be marked as 95% lean.
- Grill or cook on a rack: Rather than let the beef cook in its own fat (which will melt in the heat), cook the beef on a grill or on a rack in a roasting pan so that the fat drips away from the beef.
- Trim the beef: Remove any visible fat before the meat is cooked, and eat only the lean meat. When trimming the meat, though, do not trim away the beef’s marbling, which is the name given to the streaks of fat in the muscular portion of the meat. The marbling helps make the meat more tender, flavorful, and juicy. It does not significantly increase the fat content of cooked beef because most of it melts as the meat cooks.
- Defat the sauce: When beef is cooked in a way that produces a sauce, a layer of fat will form on the top layer of the sauce. Defat the sauce by spooning away this layer.
How to Store Beef
Beef can be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer.
How to Store Beef in the Refrigerator
How long you can store beef in the refrigerator depends on its cut, whether or not it’s ground, and whether or not it’s already cooked:
- Ground beef: Can be refrigerated for 1–2 days
- Steaks: Can be refrigerated for 2–3 days
- Roasts and cooked beef: Can be refrigerated for 3–4 days
How to Store Beef in the Freezer
- Ground or cooked beef: Can be frozen for 2–3 months
- Steaks and roasts: Can be frozen for 10–12 months
Cuts of Beef
The tenderness of a cut of beef depends on what part of the cow it comes from. The cow is divided into different areas, called primal cuts. The illustration shown here identifies the primal cuts of beef. The primal cuts are then further divided to make the market-ready cuts that appear in retail stores or ground to make ground beef. The rest of this guide covers the primal beef cuts in detail, providing illustrations of the market-ready cuts taken from each primal cut and explaining the best cooking methods for each market-ready cut.
The short plate, sometimes called just the plate, is located in the midsection of the animal’s belly. Beef from the short plate has a deep, rich flavor and is primarily used for skirt steaks. The skirt steak is long and flat.
Like the, the skirt steak is often used to make fajitas, and it’s best when marinated and cut against (perpendicular to) the grain of the meat. Skirt steak can also be served as a single, uncut steak that is either flat or rolled. When served in this way, it’s usually braised. The short plate is also occasionally used for stew meat.
The foreshank is the primal cut located at the top of the front leg of the cow. Since it’s part of the animal’s leg and is in constant use, the foreshank is very muscled and quite lean. The foreshank is used in two main ways:
- Shank: Also called a cross cut, this tough and sinewy cut of beef requires long cooking time with wet heat, such as or . It can also be marinated and .
- Ground beef: The shank is ground to make very lean ground beef.
The brisket is located at the cow’s chest, which is on the animal’s underside just behind the front legs. The cut of beef taken from the brisket is, likewise, called the brisket.
The brisket is tough and sinewy, and has a fat cap, a layer of fat that covers much of one side of the brisket. Brisket is delicious when cooked for a long time with wet heat and is cooked in a variety of ways:
- Barbecuing: Brisket is famous as an excellent cut of beef for . The brisket is marinated, then cooked for a long time over low, indirect heat in the smoke of specialty woods such as mesquite and hickory. The brisket is basted regularly during the cooking process and is usually placed with the fat cap on top so that the fat soaks into the meat as it melts.
- Braising: Brisket is a traditional dish in Jewish cooking. It is made by the brisket in the oven or on the stovetop in a dutch oven.
- Brining: Brisket is also the cut of beef most often used to make corned beef. In this process, the brisket is cured in brine.
The Brisket First Cut and Brisket Front Cut
Brisket is made up of two muscles, and the whole brisket is sometimes cut and sold as separate cuts: the brisket first cut and the brisket front cut.
- Brisket first cut: Also called the brisket flat cut, this cut is less fatty.
- Brisket front cut: This brisket cut has a number of names, including the second cut and triangular cut. It is fattier than the first cut.
Both cuts can be cooked as you would normally cook brisket, though real brisket lovers may miss the presence of the fat in the first cut, since the results are often a bit less tender and succulent.
The rib is the primal cut along the sixth through 12th ribs of the animal. Meat from the ribs is tender, with good marbling and strong flavor and may be grilled or broiled, roasted, or sautéed. The rib primal cut yields three cuts of beef: the rib roast, rib eye roast, and back ribs.
- Rib roast: The rib roast is usually cut so that the bone is left in, in which case it’s called a standing rib roast since it’s cooked “standing up,” with the ribs pointing upward. The cut may also be prepared bone out, to allow for easier slicing. The rib roast is also sometimes referred to as prime rib. This cut is most often roasted, usually after the outside of the roast has been rubbed with seasonings.
- Rib eye roast: The rib eye roast is the inner portion of the rib roast. It’s very tender and well-marbled, and is most often roasted. It’s also often sliced into steaks. These steaks, which go by the name of rib eye steaks or Delmonico steaks if bone-out or cowboy steaks if bone-in, are most often grilled, broiled, or sautéed.
- Back ribs: Back ribs is the name given to the meat right along the ribs. Most often, these cuts are made up of seven ribs along with the attached meat. These ribs are tender but not very meaty. Back ribs are most often , or .
The short loin is the primal cut from the back of the animal. The short loin contains some of the most tender, sought after, and most expensive cuts of beef. Cuts of beef from the short loin are the boneless top loin steak, porterhouse steak, tenderloin, and T-bone steak.
Cuts from the short loin should be cooked at high temperatures with dry heat and are best when grilled or broiled, sautéed, or panfried.
- Boneless top loin steak: Also called the strip steak, New York strip steak, or Kansas City steak, the boneless top loin steak is very tender and flavorful. It’s cut from the top muscle of the short loin.
- Porterhouse steak: The porterhouse steak contains parts of both the tenderloin and the top loin. It’s one of the most popular steaks at steakhouses because of its tenderness, strong flavor, and large size.
- Tenderloin: The tenderloin, as its name suggests, is generally considered the most tender cut of beef available. It’s also one of the most expensive. It can be served as an entire strip or cut into individual steaks to make the famous filet mignon. The tenderloin has rich but not overpowering flavor and for that reason responds very well to sauces.
- T-bone steak: The T-bone steak is similar to the porterhouse but is cut from the middle rather than the rear of the short loin and contains less of the tenderloin.
The sirloin is the least expensive of the tender primal cuts, which include the and . The sirloin is not quite as tender as those other cuts, yet many people consider it to be more flavorful. Cuts from the sirloin include the sirloin steak and top sirloin steak.
- Sirloin steak: A large steak, the sirloin steak comes from the lower portion of the sirloin. It’s very flavorful but slightly tough, and is best when .
- Top sirloin steak: The top sirloin steak comes from the top portion of the sirloin. It has the same powerful flavor as the sirloin but is usually a bit more tender. It should be grilled or broiled, sautéed, or panfried.
The round is the primal cut from the back end of the cow. Meat from the round is lean, a bit tough, and lacks marbling or other fat. This means that cuts from the round—which include the tip roast, eye round roast, rump roast, and top round roast—all benefit from long cooking times with wet heat, such as or .
- Tip roast: Also called a sirloin tip roast, this cut of beef is connected to the bottom sirloin but is leaner and less tender than the . It can be as well as braised or barbecued.
- Eye round roast: This cut is the most tender of the cuts from the round. It’s lean, has a mild flavor, and is often used to make roast beef or may be marinated and served as a steak.
- Rump roast: The rump roast is tough but has good flavor. Rump roast can be roasted, braised, or barbecued. Roasting is best for rump roasts labeled “choice” or “prime.” Other rump roasts may be too tough for roasting but will still respond well to braising and barbecuing.
- Top round roast: One of the most flavorful of the round roasts, the top round roast is best when and cooked as a pot roast. Other methods of cooking are likely to result in meat that is too tough.
The chuck is the primal cut that spans from the neck along the back to the fifth rib, so that it borders the . It also extends down to the upper forelegs, where it borders the . The chuck is one of the main cuts from which ground beef is made. This variety of ground beef is often labeled as ground chuck. In addition to ground meat, the chuck provides a number of cuts, including flanken-style ribs, short ribs, boneless top blade steak, under blade roast, chuck eye roast, boneless shoulder roast, arm roast, and blade roast.
Most of these cuts are somewhat tough and require long cooking times with wet heat, such as braising, stewing, or barbecuing.
- Flanken-style ribs: These short ribs consist of the five ribs of the chuck and the attached meat. They are made by cutting the ribs perpendicular to the bone. Less common than short ribs, they can be substituted for short ribs in most recipes.
- Short ribs: Also made from the ribs and attached meat in the chuck, short ribs are made by cutting the ribs parallel to the bone. These ribs tend to be meatier but a bit less tender than back ribs, which are cut from the loin. Short ribs are most often braised or barbecued, but they can also be marinated and or over high heat.
- Top blade steak: Also called the flatiron steak, this cut is most often braised or barbecued. It can also be marinated for a number of hours and then grilled or broiled. The steak can also be cut into cubes to make stews, though when you’re cubing the steak you should be careful to cut out the line of gristle that runs through the middle.
- Under blade roast: Also called the bottom chuck roast, the under blade roast is a popular cut for braising to make a pot roast. It’s sometimes also cut into steaks, which are sold as under blade steaks. These steaks are also used primarily for pot roasting.
- Chuck eye roast: The chuck eye roast extends from the rib eye roast—the chuck eye roast spans the first through fifth ribs while the rib eye goes from the sixth to the twelfth. The chuck eye roast is the most tender of the chuck cuts (however it’s not as tender as the ). It’s usually braised but can be roasted.
- Boneless shoulder roast: This is another chuck cut that is primarily braised to make pot roast.
- Arm roast: As with the other chuck roasts, arm roast is most often braised to make pot roast. It is one of the most popular chuck cuts for pot-roasting. It can also be cut into smaller steaks, which are likewise used to make pot roast.
- Blade roast: This is a relatively tender chuck roast. As with other chuck roasts, it is most often braised, barbecued, or cut into pieces for , but it can also be cut into strips and .