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Medicine LibreTexts Cuts and Preparation Methods

  • Page ID
    • Marshall Welsh & William R. Thibodeaux
    • Finch Henry Job Corps Center & Nicholls State University

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    Retail Cuts of Beef

    There are four basic (primal) cuts into which beef is separated: chuck, loin, rib and round. It is important to know the location of bones when cutting or working with meats. This makes meat fabrication and carving easier and aids in identifying cuts. An entire beef carcass can range in weight from 500 to more than 800 pounds (225 to 360 kg). It is recommended that packages of fresh beef purchased in the supermarket be labeled with the primal cut as well as the product, such as "chuck roast" or "round steak". This helps consumers know what type of meat is best for cooking the product. Generally, chuck and round are less tender and require moist heat such as braising; loin and rib can be cooked by dry heat methods such as broiling or grilling. 

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    Cuts from the forequarter of the animal tend to be less tender than other cuts. The toughness is due to increased amounts of collagen found in these muscles from use and exercise of the animal. To overcome the natural toughness of the meat, moist heat preparations are recommended to increase tenderness by breaking down the collagen in a process of gelation. 


    The primal chuck is the animal's shoulder; it accounts for approximately 28 percent of carcass weight. It contains a portion of the backbone, five rib bones and portions of the blade and arm bones. Because an animal constantly uses its shoulder muscles, chuck contains a high percentage of connective tissue and is quite tough. This tough cut of beef, however, is one of the most flavorful.

    The primal chuck is used less frequently than other primal cuts in food service operations. If cooked whole, the chuck is difficult to cut or carve because of the large number of bones and relatively small muscle groups that travel in different directions. The primal chuck produces several fabricated cuts: cross rib pot roast, chuck short ribs, cubed or tenderized steaks, stew meat and ground chuck.

    Because the meat is less tender, the fabricated cuts usually benefit from moist-heat cooking or combination cooking methods such as stewing and braising. There are exceptions, however. The beef industry is developing new products from underutilized cuts of meat. Flat iron comes from the top shoulder of the chuck and is one such cut gaining in popularity as an alternative steak suitable for dry-heat cooking.


    The brisket and shank are located beneath the primal chuck on the front half of the carcass. Together, they form a single primal that accounts for approximately 8 percent of carcass weight. This primal consists of the steer's breast (the brisket), which contains the ribs and breastbone, and its arm (the fore shank), which contains only the shank bone.

    The ribs and breastbone are always removed from the brisket before cooking. The boneless brisket is very tough and contains a substantial percentage of fat, both intermuscular and subcutaneous. It is well suited for moist-heat and combination cooking methods such as simmering or braising. It is often pickled or corned to produce corned beef brisket, or cured and peppered to make pastrami. Beef fore shanks are very flavorful and high in collagen. Because collagen converts to gelatin when cooked using moist heat, fore shanks are excellent for making soups and stocks. Ground shank meat is often used to help clarify and flavor consommés because of its rich flavor and high collagen content.


    The primal beef rib accounts for approximately 10 percent of carcass weight. It consists of ribs 6 through 12 as well as a portion of the backbone. This primal is best known for yielding roast prime rib of beef. Prime rib is not named after the quality grade USDA Prime. Rather, its name reflects the fact that it constitutes the majority of the primal cut. The eye meat of the rib (the center muscle portion) is not a well-exercised muscle and therefore is quite tender. It also contains large amounts of marbling compared to the rest of the carcass and produces rich, full- flavored roasts and steaks. Although roasting the eye muscle on the rib bones produces a moister roast, the eye meat can be removed to produce a boneless rib eye roast or cut into ribeye steaks. The rib bones that are separated from the rib eye meat are quite meaty and flavorful and can be served as barbecued beef ribs. The ends of the rib bones that are trimmed off the primal rib to produce the rib roast are known as beef short ribs. They are meaty and are often served as braised beef short ribs.


    The short plate is located directly below the primal rib on a side of beef; it accounts for approximately 9 percent of the overall weight of the carcass. The short plate contains rib bones and cartilage and produces the short ribs and skirt steak. Short ribs are meaty, yet high in connective tissue, and are best when braised. Skirt steak is often marinated and grilled as fajitas. Other, less meaty portions of the short plate are trimmed and ground.


    Short Loin

    The short loin is the anterior (front) portion of the beef loin. It is located just behind the rib and becomes the first primal cut of the hindquarter when the side of beef is divided into a fore-quarter and hindquarter. It accounts for approximately 8 percent of carcass weight. The short loin contains a single rib, the 13th, and a portion of the backbone. With careful butchering, this small primal can yield several sub primal and fabricated cuts, all of which are among the most tender, popular and expensive cuts of beef

    The loin eye muscle, a continuation of the rib eye muscle, runs along the top of the I-shaped bones that form the backbone. Beneath the loin eye muscle on the other side of the backbone is the tenderloin, the tenderest cut of all.

    When the short loin is cut in cross-sections with the bone in, it produces - starting with the rib end of the short loin club steaks (which do not contain any tenderloin), T-bone steaks (which contain only a small portion of tenderloin), and porterhouse steaks (cut from the sirloin end of the short loin, and contain a large portion of tenderloin).

    The whole tenderloin can also be removed and cut into chateaubriand, filet mignon, and tournedos. A portion of the tenderloin is located in the sirloin portion of the loin. When the entire beef loin is divided into the primal short loin and primal sirloin, the large end of the tenderloin (the butt tenderloin) is separated from the remainder of the tenderloin and remains in the sirloin; the smaller end of the tenderloin (the short tenderloin) remains in the short loin. If the tenderloin is to be kept whole, it must be removed before the short loin and sirloin are separated. The loin eye meat can be removed from the bones, producing a boneless strip loin, which is very tender and can be roasted or cut into boneless strip steaks.


    The sirloin is located in the hindquarter, between the short loin and the round. It accounts for approximately 7 percent of carcass weight and contains part of the backbone as well as a portion of the hipbone.

    The sirloin produces bone-in or boneless roasts and steaks that are flavorful and tender. With the exception of the tenderloin portion, however, these subprimals and fabricated cuts are not as tender as those from the strip loin are. Cuts from the sirloin are cooked using dry-heat methods such as broiling, grilling or roasting.


    The flank is located directly beneath the loin, posterior to (behind) the short plate. It accounts for approximately 6 percent of carcass weight. The flank contains no bones.

    Although quite flavorful, it is a less tender cut with a good deal of fat and connective tissue. Flank meat is usually trimmed and ground, with the exception of the flank steak or London broil. The flank also contains a small piece of meat known as the hanging tenderloin. Although not actually part of the tenderloin, it is very tender and can be cooked using any method.


    Meat from the round is flavorful and tender. Steaks cut from the round are less tender, but because they have large muscles and limited intermuscular fat, the top round and knuckle make good roasts. The bottom round is best when braised. The hind shank is prepared in the same fashion as the fore shank.

    Organ Meats

    Several organ meats find use in food service operations. This group of products is known as offal. It includes the heart, kidney, tongue, tripe (stomach lining) oxtail, and pigs feet. Offal benefit from moist-heat cooking and are often used in soup, stew or braised dishes.


    Chuck Top blade (flat iron) Dry heat (broil or grill) Steak; fajitas
    Chuck roll, tied Combination (braise; stew) Pot roast; beef stew
    Stew meat Combination (stew) Beef stew  
    Ground beef Dry heat (broil or grill; roast) Hamburgers; meat load
    Combination (braise; stew) Chili con came; beef stews
    Brisket and dinner Brisket Moist heat (simmer) Corned beef; New Eng. boiled
    Shank   Combination (braise) Pot Roast
    Shank Combination (braise) Shredded beef for tamales or hash
    Rib Oven-ready rib roast Dry heat (roast) Roast prime rib
    Rib eye roll Dry heat (roast) Roast prime rib
    Short Plate Skirt steak Dry heat (broil or grill) Steak; fajitas
    Short ribs Combination (braise) Braised short ribs

    \(\dfrac{\text{Forequarter Above}\qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad\qquad\qquad\qquad\qquad\qquad \qquad }{\text{Hindquarter Below}\qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad }\)

    Short loin Porterhouse Dry heat (broil or grill) Steak T-bone steaks
    Strip loin Dry heat (broil or grill; sauté) New York steak; minute steak; roast; borderlaise
    Tenderloin Dry heat (broil or grill; roast) Tournedos Rossini; Beef Wellington
    Sirloin Top sirloin butt Dry heat (broil or grill; roast) Steak; roast beef
    Tri tip Dry heat (broil or grill; roast) Steak; stir-fry; fajitas
    Flank Flank Steak Dry heat (broil or grill) London broil
    Combination (braise) Braised stuffed flank steak
    Round Steamship round Dry heat (roast) Roast beef
    Top (inside) round Dry heat (roast) Roast beef
    Combination (braise) Braised beef roulade


    Retail Cuts of Pork

    Hogs are bred specifically to produce long loins; the loin contains the highest- quality meat and is the most expensive cut of pork. Pork is unique in that the ribs and loin are considered a single primal. They are not separated into two different primals, as are the ribs and loin of beef, veal and lamb. As with all meats, it is important to know the location of bones when cutting or working with pork. This makes meat fabrication and carving easier and aids in identifying cuts. A hog carcass generally weighs in a range of 120 to 210 pounds (55 to 110 kg)

    Because all pork comes from hogs slaughtered at a young age, the shoulder is tender enough to be cooked by any method. It is, however, one of the least tender cuts of pork. It is available smoked or fresh. The shoulder is fairly inexpensive and, when purchased fresh, it can be cut into shoulder butt steaks or boned and cut into smaller pieces for sautéing or stewing. Whole pork shoulder is the cut preferred by many barbecue pit masters throughout the American South.

    The foreshank is called the shoulder hock and is usually smoked. Shoulder hocks are often simmered for long periods in soups, stews and braised dishes to add flavor and richness.



    The loin is cut from directly behind the Boston butt and includes the entire rib section as well as the loin and a portion of the sirloin area. The primal loin accounts for approximately 20 percent of the carcass weight. It contains a portion of the blade bone on the shoulder end, a portion of the hipbone on the ham end, all the ribs and most of the backbone.

    The primal pork loin is the only primal cut of pork not typically smoked or cured. Most of the loin is a single, very tender eye muscle. It is quite lean but contains enough intramuscular and subcutaneous fat to make it an excellent choice for a moist-heat cooking method such as braising, or it can be prepared with dry-heat cooking methods such as roasting or sautéing. The loin also contains the pork tenderloin, located on the inside of the rib bones on the sirloin end of the loin. The tenderloin is the tenderest cut of pork; it is very versatile and can be trimmed, cut into medallions and sautéed, or the whole tenderloin can be roasted or braised. The most popular cut from the loin is the pork chop. Chops can be cut from the entire loin, the choicest being center-cut chops from the primal loin after the blade bone and sirloin portions at the front and rear of the loin are removed. The pork loin can be purchased boneless or boned and tied as a roast. A boneless pork loin is smoked to produce Canadian bacon. The rib bones, when trimmed from the loin, can be served as barbecued pork back ribs.


    Although not actually part of the primal loin, fatback is the thick layer of fat - sometimes more than an inch (2.5 centimeters) thick - between the skin and the lean eye muscle. It has a variety of uses in the kitchen, especially in the preparation of charcuterie items.


    The primal fresh ham is the hog's hind leg. It is a rather large cut accounting approximately 24 percent of the carcass weight. The ham contains the aitch, and hind shank bones. Fresh ham, like the legs of other meat animals, contains large muscles with relatively small amounts of connective tissue. Like many other cuts of pork, hams are often cured and smoked. However, fresh hams also produce great roasts and can be prepared using almost any cooking method. When cured and smoked, hams are available in a variety of styles; they can be purchased bone-in, shankless or boneless, partially or fully cooked. Fully cooked hams are also available canned. There is a specific ham for nearly every use and desired degree of convenience. The shank portion of the ham is called the ham hock. It is used in the same manner as the shoulder hock.


    Shoulder Picnic shoulder Dry heat (roast or bake) Smoked picnic shoulder
    Boston Butt Boston butt Dry heat (broil or grill; sauté) Broiled Boston butt steaks
    Moist heat (simmer) Choucroute
    Belly Bacon Dry heat (sauté) Breakfast meat
    Moist heat (simmer) Seasoning
    Combination (braise) Seasoning
    Spareribs Combination (steam, then grill) Barbecued spareribs
    Loin Pork Loin Dry heat (roast) Roast pork
    Combination (braise) Braised pork chops
    Pork tenderloin Dry heat (broil; grill; sauté; roast) Roast pork tenderloin
    Pork back ribs Combination (steam, then grill) Barbecued back ribs
    Pork loin chops Dry heat (broil or grill) Broiled loin chop with leeks and fennel
    Combination (braise) Braised loin chop with leeks and fennel
    Fresh Ham Fresh ham Dry heat (roast) Roast pork with apricots and almonds




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