Beef Cuts: Master the Art, Elevate Your Cooking

Ribeye, t-bone, New York strip, filet, chuck roast, brisket, top round… shopping for cuts of beef can make you downright dizzy. If you’ve ever found yourself confused about what to buy for a beef dish you have in mind, or even what to order from the menu at the steakhouse — you’re far from alone. The choice of cut is important for cooking, so you don’t slow-braise a filet mignon or quickly pan-sear a brisket for example, but it’s also valuable information when it comes to selecting your experience on a well-deserved evening out.

As hard as it is to discuss the cuts of beef without sounding like a scientific textbook or an anatomy lesson, it turns out that the anatomy of the cow is important, as it directly correlates to tenderness. The best rule of thumb to remember is that beef becomes more tender as the distance from horn to hoof increases. The parts of the animal housing muscles that do more work (i.e. holding up the animal’s weight or used for grazing, walking, etc.) are going to be tougher with more defined muscle fibers and tissue. The muscles that don’t do a lot of work (located in the center of the animal) are going to be more tender and therefore, more expensive. This is also where you get your steakhouse favorites like T-bones, strips, ribeyes, and filets. Of course, the whole cow can’t be all steaks, and there’s a lot to love outside the world of steak.

So here we go. Here’s the beef – on beef.

The Cuts

A cow is broken down into primal cuts, then subprimal cuts (sometimes called “food service cuts”), and typically shipped to stores for final cuts and preparations. Retail (or portion) cuts are the steaks, ribs, and roasts that you purchase.

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There are eight primal cuts, and they are:

  • Chuck (shoulder)
  • Brisket (chest)
  • Rib
  • Plate or Short Plate (belly)
  • Loin
  • Flank (abdomen)
  • Round (back end)
  • Shank (thigh)


Chuck makes up the largest section near the head of the animal, about 26% to be exact, and marks the space between the neck and rib number six. The name probably rings a bell if you’ve ever purchased ground beef, as various parts of this primal cut are excellent for grinding. This is because of the proportion of fat in the cut. However, there’s also a good bit of connective tissue, collagen, and thick muscle fibers due to the work of grazing, making many chuck cuts smart choices for braising, slow cooking, or stews.

Meredith Food Studios

Cuts From the Chuck: pot roast, blade roast, short ribs, flanken style ribs, mock tender roast, chuck top blade steak, shoulder top blade steak (or flat top), flat iron steak, and shoulder petite tender.

Chuck Recipes to Try:

  • Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast
  • Sous Vide Blade Roast with Au Jus
  • Sherry Braised Beef Short Ribs
  • Korean BBQ Short Ribs (Galbi)


The brisket is the cow’s chest, which supports its body weight. Thus, this cut is strictly for slow cooking, as in braises or on a smoker. Between that and the amount of fat that can tenderize into succulent bliss, there’s a reason it’s the star of many barbecues.

Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Cuts From the Brisket: brisket (whole, flat half, or point half)

Brisket Recipes to Try:

  • Simply the Easiest Beef Brisket
  • Sous Vide Brisket with Ancho Chili Sauce
  • Yeah, I-Lived-in-Texas, Smoked Brisket
  • Braised Corned Beef Brisket


With the first five ribs within the chuck primal, the rib primal is actually comprised of the section between ribs six and 12. This section is a very tender part of the animal, so dry-heat cooking methods — like grilling, roasting, or searing in a skillet — will keep the meat tender and flavorful.

Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Cuts From the Rib: rib roast, prime rib, rib steak, ribeye, and back ribs

Rib Recipes to Try:

  • Foolproof Rib Roast
  • Chef John’s Perfect Prime Rib
  • Salt and Pepper Ribeye Steak
  • Slow Cooker Barbequed Beef Ribs


The plate, or cow belly, contains a lot of cartilage, especially near the ribs, making it ideal for braising. Moist heat at a low temperature turns cartilage into succulent, unctuous gelatin. Skirt steak, found within this primal cut, is the diaphragm muscle; and while it is imperative that it be cut against the grain (or else it will be chewy), it is extremely flavorful. This is the cut used for carne asada, grilled quickly at a high heat.

Chef John

Cuts From the Plate: skirt steak, hanger steak, and short ribs

Plate Recipes to Try:

  • Delicious Carne Asada
  • Chef John’s Grilled Mojo Beef
  • Butcher’s Steak (Hanger Steak)


The loin primal sits between the rib and round primals, above the back half of the plate and the flank primals. It is divided into two sections: short loin and sirloin. The short loin contains some of the most desirable retail cuts such as t-bone, porterhouse, and strip steaks. One short loin can produce anywhere from 11 to 14 steaks.

A section called the tenderloin extends from the short loin into the sirloin. Interestingly, if the tenderloin is removed and cut up for filet mignon steaks, there can be no t-bone or porterhouse steaks, as both contain part of the tenderloin. The tenderloin is, unsurprisingly, the most tender part of the animal and the filets cut from it produce beautifully textured, flavorful bites when cooked simply in a skillet.

The sirloin, for its part, is divided into top sirloin and bottom sirloin. Steaks from the top are excellent for grilling, whereas bottom sirloin is closer to the rear leg of the animal, where the muscles get a bit tougher, making them ideal for roasting and smoking. This is where the tri-tip comes from.

Meredith Food Studio

Cuts From the Short Loin: top loin steak, t-bone steak, porterhouse steak, tenderloin roast and steak (filet mignon)

Cuts From the Sirloin: sirloin steak, top sirloin steak, tri-tip roast and steak

Loin Recipes to Try:

  • Rock’s T-Bone Steaks
  • Perfect Porterhouse Steak
  • Roast Beef Tenderloin
  • Filet Mignon for Two
  • Sirloin Steak with Garlic Butter
  • Santa Maria Grilled Tri-Tip Beef


This primal is the cow’s abdomen. Cuts from the flank have a coarse texture, making them perfect for soaking up marinades, and can be grilled (quickly and at a high temperature) — but will be really tough if overcooked. Cutting against the grain to shorten the muscle fibers is paramount; this helps prevent chewiness. Flank cuts are also good for braising and making ground beef.

Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Cuts From the Flank: flank steak

Flank Recipes to Try:

  • Marinated Flank Steak
  • Grilled Flank Steak
  • Grilled Balsamic and Soy Marinated Flank Steak


The round is the largest primal at the back of the animal. The muscles are lean, but the legs and rump do a lot of work walking and such, so they’re also tough. Slow roasting, braising, slicing thin for sandwiches or using them as roasts are the best choices for these cuts.

Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Cuts From the Round: round steak, bottom round roast and steak, eye round roast and steak, top round steak, rump roast, tip roast and steak

Round Recipes to Try:

  • Round Steak and Gravy
  • High Temperature Eye-of-Round Roast
  • Best Roast Beef
  • Oven Pot Roast


Cross cuts from the shank contain the bone and do well in a slow braise, like in the dish osso buco, due to their notable toughness and dryness. Meat from the shank is a wonderfully inexpensive option for beef stock or lean ground beef.

Allrecipes Magazine

Cuts From the Shank: shank cross cut

Shank Recipes to Try:

  • Braised Beef Shank with Wine and Tarragon
  • Caldo de Res (Mexican Beef Soup)
  • Traditional Osso Buco


  • 8 Different Types of Steak and How to Cook Them
  • Kobe vs. Wagyu Beef: What’s the Difference?
  • Everything You Need to Know About Braising Meat