Know Your Cuts And How To Cook Them
Thanks to America’s beef producers, there are beef choices to satisfy all tastes, schedules and budgets. Don’t let choosing the right cut become confusing. This helpful chart can serve as your guide to find the best cut for your needs, whether it’s a weeknight family dinner or a special celebration. Above all, matching the correct beef cut to the appropriate cooking method is the key to moist, tender and flavorful beef.
Fresh ground beef may vary in color during its shelf life. If exposed to oxygen through the permeable plastic wrapping, a package of ground beef may appear bright red on the surface, while the interior remains purplish-red. With extended exposure to oxygen, beef’s cherry-red color will take on a brown color.
These color changes are normal, and the ground beef remains perfectly wholesome and safe to eat if purchased by the “sell by” date on the package label.
Most tender steaks come from the center (rib and loin sections) of the animal and are usually cooked by dry-heat methods. You can find tender steaks at different price points.
Premium steaks, such as strip (top loin), T-Bone, Porterhouse, ribeye, rib and tenderloin, usually have a higher price per pound, but you can also find tender steaks that are a good choice for family meals such as ranch (shoulder center), top sirloin, flat iron (shoulder top blade), chuck eye and round tip.
Less-tender steaks are from the more exercised fore- and hindquarters of the animal and benefit most from moist-heat cooking. These cuts include full-cut round, eye round and bottom round; chuck shoulder, chuck 7-Bone, chuck arm and chuck blade; flank and skirt. Some of these less tender cuts, including top round steak, may be cooked with dry heat after tenderizing in a marinade.
A roast is a cut of beef, thicker than two inches, that is suitable for cooking by dry heat on a rack in a shallow open pan in the oven or in a covered grill (indirect heat).
Premium oven roasts, including rib, ribeye, top loin and tenderloin are typically more costly, but ideal for holiday entertaining and other special occasions. Plan to order the type and size of roast you’d like ahead of time to ensure you get your first choice.
For everyday family meals, casual gatherings, and for the health-conscious, the round and bottom sirloin cuts are leaner and economical. Moderately priced roasts include tri-tip, round tip, rump, bottom round and eye round.
Consider a boneless roast for large parties or buffets as it will streamline carving and serving.
Pot roasts also come from the fore- and hindquarters of the carcass. These muscles are more heavily exercised and contain more connective tissue, making them less tender. Moist-heat cooking takes more time, but the results are worth waiting for. The beef becomes fork-tender and develops a savory depth of flavor unique to slow-cooked beef.
Pot roasts from the chuck have more fat, and thus more flavor, than those from the round, but many beef chuck and round cuts can be used interchangeably in pot roast recipes, requiring only slight adjustments in cooking times. Take advantage of this fact when the cut specified in a recipe is not available, when certain cuts are on special or to accommodate family preferences.
Beef brisket is a boneless cut from the breast section, the underside of the forequarter. Available as a fresh cut, it is best prepared by using braising or stewing techniques. Brisket is also processed into corned beef, a technique that brines the meat. Corned beef is also prepared using most-heat cookery.
There are several cuts of brisket available, including whole brisket, point half/point cut brisket, flat half/flat cut and middle cut. The point half is sometimes also called thick cut. The flat half, often referred to as first cut is less fatty and is often the most popular for making braised beef brisket. All the cuts have a layer of fat that can be trimmed, but adds to the flavor and tenderness of the final cooked dish.
Your goal when stir-frying beef is to have uniform size pieces to ensure even cooking. You may save time by purchasing packages of pre-cut beef, but it may more economical to slice your own. Almost any tender beef cut, such as sirloin, top sirloin, tri-tip, ribeye, top loin or tenderloin may be trimmed and cut into the appropriate size strips for use in beef stir-fry recipes. Even some less tender cuts, such as flank, top round and round tip steaks, are suitable for stir-frying. Remember this cook’s tip, too: Place meat in freezer for thirty minutes and it will be easier to cut into thin slices.
Beef for Stew
One of the homiest comfort foods, beef stew practically cooks itself as it slowly simmers on the stove. Beef for stew is boneless, pre-cut cubes, typically from the chuck or round. The ideal size for uniform cooking is about a 3/4 to 1-1/2 inch cube.
If you prefer to cut your own cubes, any chuck or round cut -except top round – may be used. Trim the excess fat and cut into the appropriate size for your recipe.
Beef for Kabobs
Kabobs are a great crowd pleaser, whether you grill them outdoors or broil them indoors. You can turn a party interactive, by having your guest prepare their own skewers with their choice of vegetables,
Beef for kabobs is usually cut into 1 to 1-1/2 inch boneless pieces from the sirloin or round. Cubes cut from the round will benefit from a tenderizing marinade. Look for packages that have the most uniform size pieces.
You can trim any tender cut into the appropriate size cubes, taking care to keep the piece size as uniform as possible. Top sirloin or tenderloin are especially good choices.