Primal and Subprimal Cuts of Beef

Beef is the meat of domesticated cattle, specifically steers, raised principally for consumption. A beef carcass is first divided into primal cuts. Each primal cut is then reduced into subprimal cuts. Individual portions derived from subprimal cuts are referred to as fabricated cuts. The primal cuts of beef are:

Chuck, Brisket, Shank, Rib, Short Plate, Loin, Flank, Round

Primal and Subprimal Cuts of Beef

The primal and subprimal cuts have distinctive characteristics based on the amount of muscle tissue, which give meat its characteristic appearance. The amount of connective tissue determines the tenderness of the meat. Muscle tissue, composed of cells held together by connective tissue, is 72% water, 20% protein, 7% fat, and 1% minerals. The cells of muscles which are in more frequent use contain more connective tissue. Therefore, cuts of meat from the chuck or shoulder, which are in constant use, are tougher than those from the loin, or back, which have less muscle.

Connective tissue contains collagen (a membrane) or elastin (tendons and ligaments) which connect the muscle to bone. Collagen breaks down into gelatin and water when cooked using moist heat. Elastin, on the other hand, remains stringy and tough so, it is best to remove these tendons and ligaments before cooking.

Subprimal Cuts of Beef

Chuck

The primal chuck is the animal’s shoulder. Since this is a well-used muscle, the chuck contains a high amount of connective tissue and is very tough. It is, however, one of the most flavorful cuts of beef.

Fabricated cuts:

  • Cross rib pot roast
  • Chuck short ribs
  • Stew meat
  • Ground chuck for hamburgers
  • Flat-iron steak

Recommended cooking methods: moist-heat; stewing and braising; grilling or frying (hamburgers and steak)

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Brisket and Shank

The brisket (steer’s breast) and foreshank (arm) are located beneath the primal chuck on the front half of the animal. The brisket is very tough and contains a substantial percentage of fat. It is typically pickled to produce corned beef brisket or cured to make pastrami.

Beef foreshank is very flavorful and high in collagen. Typically, it is used in foodservice for making soups and stocks. In retail markets, it is ground for low-fat ground beef.

Recommended cooking method: moist heat.

Rib

This primal cut consists of the ribs, as well as a portion of the backbone. The center muscle portion of the rib is quite tender. It also contains large amounts of marbling and produces rich, full-flavored roasts and steaks. Marbling is intramuscular fat that increases tenderness in meat and gives it a marbled look.

Fabricated cuts:

  • Roast prime rib of beef
  • Boneless ribeye roast
  • Ribeye steaks
  • Beef short ribs

Recommended cooking method: dry heat.

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Short Plate

The short plate contains rib bones and is located directly below the primal rib.

Fabricated cuts:

  • Short ribs
  • Skirt steaks

Recommended cooking methods: moist and dry heat.

Loin

The loin is located behind the primal rib and produces the most prized cuts of meat.

Fabricated cuts:

  • Tenderloin
  • Filet mignon
  • Strip
  • Porterhouse
  • T-Bone
  • Sirloin steak
  • Sirloin butt roast

Recommended cooking method: dry heat.

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Flank

The flank is located directly beneath the loin. The flank contains no bones, is very tough, but very flavorful.

Fabricated cuts:

  • Flank steak
  • London broil

Recommended cooking methods: moist and dry heat.

Round

The primal round is the hind leg of the animal and contains the round, aitch, shank, and tail bones.

Fabricated cuts:

  • Round steaks
  • Round roasts

Recommended cooking methods: moist heat.

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