Meat Cuts: Selecting the Best Beef

Beef is America’s favourite meat and an integral part of anybody’s diet. Vegetarianism is all fine and dandy and weaning yourself off meat once in a while can do wonders for your health but beef and other meat types are crucial parts of our diet. But what beef is best? As always, it depends on preference, origin and cut. Beef that has been grass-fed and kept in good conditions, like the one from will almost always be better in both taste and nutritional value. As for the preference and cut, here’s a handy primer.

Your first choice will be the grade of beef you want. Generally speaking, the US grading system depends on the degree of marbling, or intramuscular fat content. More marbling means a better tasting beef but U.S. Prime Beef (less than 3%) and certain special beef designations, like Angus Beef, Wagyu or the world-famous Kobe Beef can cost significantly more. The latter is so rare and expensive that it hasn’t been commercially available in the US for a long time.

The second choice that you have to make when buying beef is how lean you want it. Lean beef is great because it has all the health benefits of red meat with none of the downsides. While there are special government criteria towards what constitutes ‘lean’ beef generally speaking any cut with all or most of the fat cut off is great for everyday eating. Regular beef has more flavour, because of the fat, and, depending on how trimmed it is, a lot more calories and saturated fat.

The third choice you have to make depends very much on what you want to cook. The various beef cuts have different fat balances, are tender or not and have different price points. Generally speaking the cuts from a cow’s back, like loin or porterhouse steaks are leaner, tender and perfect for grilling or cooking in a skillet. Some rib and chuck pieces are also excellent for grilling but generally speaking they are used in making minced meat for burgers, with different butchers swearing by their own balance of chuck bits and other cuts. Another great use for chuck is for pot roasts.

Round beef, the cuts from the hind legs are generally chewier and leaner and have to be well marinated before grilling if used for a barbecue. They are, however fantastic in a skillet and some people swear by a round steak over a sirloin top.

The cuts coming from the a cow’s underside and flank are also quite lean though they fare a lot better in casseroles, stews and pot roast as they are chewier and require more cooking time. They are often mixed into ground beef, soups and stews. The brisket is another underside cut that is generally used in American Jewish cuisine both as a pot roast and for corned beef. Brisket is also a very good meat for Asian-style noodle soups.

So, remember when cooking anything with beef that not only the designation and cut matter. Quality and how the animal was raised can have a much larger impact than you think and a  flank steak from grass fed cattle can taste better than sirloin from a sub-par cow.

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