VOLUME 2 ... BREAKING DOWN THE BEEF

Funny story:  We recently took a small poll amongst friends composed of two questions: “What do you think is the best cut of beef? And why?” The answers varied from striploin to ribeye, from tenderloin to filet mignon (both mean the same, the latter being the French translation), and we even had a flank steak thrown in for good measure.  The “why’s” also varied from taste to texture, with tenderness winning the popularity vote…  By far the best response was from one of the filet mignon guys who responded “because it’s French.”   Of course… why else!

It’s pretty ironic, really.  For most of us, beef in one form or another is a staple in our diets; yet few of us understand the various cuts. The typical grocery store, with it’s pre-plastic wrapped packages and confusing computer printed labels does very little to help.  Further, most grocery stores (and even a significant number of butcher shops) are limited in the number of cuts they carry because their meat comes into the store pre-cut and they only carry the most popular cuts.  The rest of the animal is generally processed on mass scales to produce sausages, dog food, whatever. 

We encourage people to understand different cuts, especially in the organic industry.  Believe it or not, you can buy organic meat and spend the same or less than you would buying conventional meat just by being selective in the cuts you choose.  Trust us, you're not going to give up flavour.  So, without further ado, in this month's edition of Live to Eat  we’re breaking down a beef!

First and foremost, understand that beef is muscle tissue.  As a result, regularly used muscles will result in tougher meat, while lesser used muscles will result in tender meat. This doesn’t mean that the less tender cuts aren’t worth eating – au contraire – some of the tastiest cuts come from the tougher muscles. However, the rule is that tougher meat requires slow, moist cooking methods (such as braising, stewing and boiling); such cooking techniques loosen connective tissue creating tender, juicy, and tasty meat.  Unfortunately, in today's world of high-heat, prime-cuts only, drive-through style eating, braising or stewing has become a foreign concept to some people - but believe us, the process is a cinch and the result is the ultimate comfort food; especially for those cold winter nights.  For more information and recipes on braising, read Braised Comfort.  On the other hand, the more tender cuts of meat can be cooked with dry heat methods (such as grilling, roasting, and broiling).

 

Starting from the front, the chuck, brisket, and shank are generally the most exercised muscles and hence, among the toughest cuts.  From these parts we get meat for the ultimate pot roasts & stews and the most flavourful ground beef.  The infamous corned beef comes from boiled brisket meat – remember that next time you find yourself savouring a corned beef sandwich in your favourite deli.

 

RULE OF THUMB:  The fat content in all four-legged animals is the highest at the front of the animal (i.e. Chuck in the picture above), and the lowest at the rear of the animal (i.e. Hip).  In between is pretty much a uniform scale (i.e. Rib is higher fat, or more "marbled" than the Loin, and the Loin is more marbled than the Sirloin).
Moving along, the Rib, Loin and Sirloin render the most delicate cuts of beef. Rib steaks come from, you guessed it, the rib section (Rib Eye refers to boneless, Prime Rib refers to bone-on). The Loin produces the popular T-bones, porterhouses, striploins (a.k.a. New York Strips), and tenderloins (a.k.a. Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Tournedos, Medallions, or Filet de Boeuf).  Finally, the sirloin provides a variety of steaks differing by where in the sirloin they are cut, such as bottom sirloin, tri-tip and top sirloin grilling steaks (the sirloin provides great value!).  Generally speaking, gourmets and gourmands consider striploin the best steak because of the taste/tenderness balance.  Tenderloin is more tender, but it lacks the flavour intensity – hence the concept of wrapping a filet mignon in bacon.

Aside:  There are two cutting methods when it comes to cutting the Loin – one method will produce the full tenderloin along with striploin steaks, the other will produce steaks that contain both portions of the tenderloin and the striploin separated by a bone, namely T-Bones and Porterhouse steaks.  These prestigious steaks we are so used to seeing on steak house menus are almost never seen in Europe because European butchers only cut the loin in the method that separates the tenderloins and striploins from the bone.   The rib steak, however, is the same all over – in France it is called entrecote, and in Italy it is costata or contracoste.  In Florence, rib steak is the meat for the famous Bistecca Fiorentina. 

The hip (also called the round) includes the sirloin tip, eye of round, outside round (bottom round), and inside round (top round).  The round is the leanest part of the beef and has more meat without tendons than any other part of the animal. The sirloin tip and the inside round have the finest-textured meat on the round.  Because of the lack of fat content in the round, it is not advisable to braise meat from the round, instead use it for quick grilling or frying, including quick grilling steaks and stir fry.

Prime Rib Steak

T-Bone

Tri-Tip

(also called

Triangular Roast)

Last, but not least, we arrive at the flank and short plate. The muscle fibers are relatively coarse but contain sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain a little tenderness.  Skirt steak (from the plate) and flank steak are delicious when grilled.  However, they must not be overcooked, benefit from being slowly marinated, and should be cut against the grain for a softer texture. Mexican fajitas are often made from marinated strips of flank steak.  One of our signature cuts - the Vacio - comes from the flank section of the beef; we've called it Vacio because this is the name of the cut in Argentina where it is extremely popular for slow grilling.  Vacio is known as Bavette in France.

So there you have it!  Beef demystified in one page!

Common Cuts

Location

Tenderness

Blade Steaks or Roast

Chuck

Medium Tender,

but like butter when braised.

Flank Steak

Flank

Less Tender,

but can be great

when marinated

or slowly cooked

Eye of Round

& Sirloin Tip Steaks

Hip

Medium Tender,

perfect for fast

grilling or frying;

inexpensive cuts

Tenderloin Steak

& New York Striploin

Loin

Tender - the most

tender cuts of beef

Rib Eye Steak

Rib

Tender - slightly less tender than Tenderloin or NY, but more flavourful

Top Sirloin

Sirloin

Tender - a great steak;

much less expensive than cuts from the Loin and Rib but still tender and flavourful

Shank Shank

Less Tender,

great for braising. 

Try using beef shanks for a larger and beefier version of osso buco.

 

Visit our Cooking Guide to learn more about various

cooking methods and appropriate cuts for each method..
 

 
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