Cuts of Beef (9 Primal Types That You Need to Know)

Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: December 5, 2023

I’ve been on the carnivore diet for many years, and beef is a mainstay of my diet. Because I care about what I put in my body, I have spent hours with my butcher learning all about primal beef cuts.

From the chuck to the loin and everything in between, I'll provide all the information you need to select the correct cut for your meal.

Quick Summary

  • Cuts of beef include rib, loin, round, chuck, brisket, plate, and shank, each varying in tenderness, flavor, and ideal cooking methods.
  • Primal cuts are the large pieces of meat cut from beef carcasses before being processed further.
  • Different types of cooking methods are needed for different beef cuts.
  • Check out our ButcherBox review to learn more about this meat delivery service, its sustainable practices, and its hormone-free meat.

4 Primal Cuts of Beef

A butcher arranging the primal cuts of beef

Cuts of beef come from different sections of the carcass, so each one has its own unique flavor, texture, and cooking characteristics.

When you ask questions about beef cuts, you are apt to get different answers depending on who you ask. Various organizations and countries have their own classification systems for beef cuts.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognizes four major beef cuts- chuck, rib, loin, and round [1].

They call these the "primal" cuts because they are the foundation for all other beef cuts. The primal cuts are the large sections obtained from the animal after the head, legs, and other inedible parts are removed.

Also Read: Recipe for Beef Tips in Crock Pot

1. Chuck

The chuck comes from the cow’s shoulder and is known for its rich, beefy flavor. This sizeable primal cut is comprised of several subprimal beef cuts that are ideal for slow-cooking methods like roasting and braising, such as the chuck roast.

This chuck cut is a staple in many households and is often used in dishes like chuck pot roast, stews, and soups, where its rich flavor and tender meat can shine.

In addition to the roast, this primal also yields other, more tender beef cuts ideal for high-heat cooking.

One such cut is the flat iron steak, which has become increasingly popular recently for its tender texture and delicious flavor.

Similar to blade steak, flat iron steak is a versatile cut that can be grilled, pan-fried, or even stir-fried.

Chuck short ribs, Denver cut, country style ribs, chuck eye roast,  top blade steak, shoulder tender medallions, stew meat, and ground chuck are also types of chuck meat that are frequently eaten.

2. Rib

A raw ribeye cut of beef

The rib primal is situated under the front section of the backbone and is used primarily for support. This primal cut comes from the cow’s ribs, and rib cuts are home to some of the most popular and delicious cuts of beef.

The ribeye steak is one of the most sought-after cuts of beef, and for a good reason. Known for its rich, beefy flavor and tender texture, the ribeye is a favorite among steak lovers.

In addition to the ribeye, the rib primal also yields the cowboy steak, beef short ribs, ribeye roast, and prime rib roast, a staple of many holiday feasts and special occasions.

This large, flavorful roast is perfect for a slow-roasting or braising cooking method and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

3. Loin

A close up shot of raw beef loin

The loin primal is located below the backbone and is home to some of the most tender steak cuts and popular beef cuts because it is not a heavily used muscle. This primal cut is known for its delicate flavor and tender texture.

Known for its delicate flavor and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, the tenderloin is a versatile cut that can be grilled, broiled, or even roasted to perfection.

In addition to the beef tenderloin, the loin primal also yields other popular cuts, such as the New York strip steak, center-cut steaks, T-bone steak, strip loin, and porterhouse steaks.

These short loin cuts are known for their rich flavor and tender texture, making them ideal for a grilling or broiling cooking method.

4. Round

The round primal comes from the rump and hind legs of the animal and is home to lean, inexpensive cuts of meat.

The muscles in this area are used frequently, making the beef leaner and less tender than cuts from other primal areas. Despite its toughness, the round primal is a versatile cut that can be used in a variety of ways.

One of the most common uses for cuts from the round primal is as roasts. These top-round or bottom-round roasts are often slow-cooked or braised, which helps to tenderize the meat and bring out its rich flavor. These are then sliced thinly and placed on sandwiches.

"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook."
- Julia Child, American Chef

In addition to a round roast, cuts from the round primal can also be found as London broil and steaks for marinating.

These steaks are often used in dishes where the beef is marinated and then grilled or pan-fried, which helps to tenderize the meat and bring out its flavor. Whether you're making fajitas or a delicious stir-fry, these steaks will be a hit.

Finally, cuts from the round primal are often ground into ground beef. Ground beef is a versatile ingredient used in many dishes, from burgers and meatloaf to tacos and spaghetti sauce.

5 Additional Primal Cuts of Beef

A top view of primal cuts of beef

Not everyone agrees with the beef cuts as laid out by the USDA. The Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association have a beef cuts chart for butchers and another beef cuts chart for food service.

These charts add four more cuts to the primal list: sirloin, brisket, plate, and flank steak, for eight primal cuts total [2].

1. Sirloin

The sirloin primal is located near the animal's hip bone and is home to several popular fabricated cuts. This primal is first separated into the top sirloin butt and bottom sirloin butt, each of which yields its own unique set of sirloin cuts.

In the top sirloin butt, you'll find steaks that are great for grilling. These steaks are known for their rich flavor and tender texture, making them perfect for a quick and easy dinner on the grill.

On the other hand, the bottom sirloin butt provides cuts like the tri-tip roast, ball-tip steak, tri-tip steak, and sirloin bavette, which are suitable for roasting or grilling.

These are less tender cuts than those from the top sirloin butt, but they are still flavorful and versatile.

2. Brisket

A top view of a raw brisket on a pan

The brisket primal comes from the animal's breast, which is used for movement; this can make it a tough cut of meat.

Tough cuts like briskets are ideal for long, slow cooking methods like barbecuing or smoking with moist heat.

This cooking method helps break down the meat's connective tissue, resulting in a tender and juicy cut of beef that is bursting with flavor.

Whether you're making corned beef, classic barbecue brisket flat or c, or just a slow-cooked pot roast, the brisket is a delicious choice.

3. Plate

The plate, also known as the short plate, is a primal that is located on the cow’s belly right under the rib primal. This cut has a higher fat content than other cuts, giving it a rich, beefy flavor and tender texture.

The short plate is a source of several popular cuts of beef, including short ribs, beef bacon, hanger steak, ground beef, and skirt steak.

4. Flank

A close up shot of raw flank steak

The flank primal is found below the loin and is home to the flank steak. Cuts from this area are known for their lean meat and flavorful characteristics, making them an excellent choice for a variety of dishes.

The flank steak, the principal cut from the flank primal, is a flavorful and versatile cut that is best when braised, marinated, and grilled.

This lean cut with flavorful characteristics is also an excellent option for those looking for a healthier cut of beef. It can be grilled, broiled, or seared as a cooking method and will produce a tender and juicy cut of meat that is low in fat and high in protein.

5. Shank

Some people consider this meat from the front and back legs of the cow as the ninth primal.

It is the cheapest cut of meat and often not found in grocery stores because, other than osso buco, not many dishes are created from this meat.

Also Read: Beef Barley Soup Recipe

FAQs

What Is the Most Tender Beef?

Filet mignon is widely considered to be the most tender beef. It is a small, boneless cut from the beef tenderloin known for its delicate texture and mild flavor.

What Is the Most Flavorful Type of Beef?

The ribeye, cooked medium rare, is widely considered to be the most flavorful type of beef. It comes from the rib primal and is known for its marbling, which gives it a rich and beefy flavor. Other delicious cuts of meat include the NY strip, T-Bone steak, and sirloin steak.

What Is the Most Expensive Beef Cut?

The tenderloin is generally considered to be the most expensive beef cut. It is a lean, tender cut with very little fat or tough connective tissue, making it highly desirable. Other high-priced beef cuts include ribeye and NY strip steaks.

What Is the Toughest Beef Cut?

Briskets are generally considered the toughest cuts of beef, though the shank and flank cuts are also known for their toughness. A tougher cut requires slow-cooking methods such as braising and smoking to become tender and flavorful.


References:

  1. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-are-the-primal-cuts
  2. https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/cuts/cut-charts
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About the author

Gabriel Woods
Chef/Food Editor
Gabrielle Woods holds a BSc degree in Hospitality Management with a summa cum laude distinction from the University of Santo Tomas, majoring in Culinary Entrepreneurship. She helps clients achieve specific fitness goals through protein-based meal prepping. She believes cooking is both an art and a science best done with a balance of tradition and innovation.
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