Ever gone to a steakhouse and been paralyzed by choice between one cut of beef and another, relying simply on price to tell you if what you order is wise and will satisfy? True, finer cuts of meat will tend to be more expensive, but that’s not the only way to know you’ll be getting the dinner you dreamt about before sitting down at the restaurant table.
What follows are descriptions of 20 different cuts of pure beef you’re likely to see described on a local restaurant menu. Vegans need not apply (but rest assured, we have you covered too).
Just conceived this year in a scientist’s lab at the University of Nevada, the Bonanza cut is traditionally one that gets tossed in with the spare cuts to be ground. However, this quarter-moon shaped cut — left on the ribs after the flank steak is cut away — rivals the filet mignon for juiciness, marbling, and tenderness. It’s a small, but mighty addition to the high-end cuts chefs are always on the lookout for.
Brisket is generally a larger slab of meat cut from the breast of the cow that benefits from longer periods of cooking time (thanks to its tight connective tissue and one-sided layer of fat). Braising or smoking loosens the meat to a very tender consistency, perfect for barbecuing or serving sliced au jus.
Located near the neck and shoulder area of the cow, the chuck can be a little tough given the amount of work it does as a muscle. But with all that work comes flavor, as the economical cuts that come from the chuck — the chuck eye roast and the flat iron steak — become exceptionally tasty, especially when braised or slow-cooked.
Considered the height of richness and perfection in both tenderness and presentation, the filet mignon is the cut of beef all others aspire to match. Taken from the smaller end of the tenderloin — a snake-shaped cut of meat running alongside both sides of the spine — the filet mignon, when cut properly, is no more than 500 grams per animal. It’s not necessarily the most flavorful cut on its own, as it’s taken from a non-moving part of the animal, but its enhanced preparation generally compensates for that.
A tough, long, and flat cut of meat taken from the abdominal muscles of the cow, the flank steak is typically seen in dishes like the London Broil and in Asian or Mexican-inspired stir-fry and fajitas.
Located in the heel round just between the shank and the bottom round, the merlot cut is similar in shape and size to the flank steak, but has a finer grain and is much more tender than its tougher cousin. While the merlot cut is fairly economical compared to similarly tender cuts of beef, it’s not readily available in grocery stores, more often found at specialty butchers and on restaurant menus.
New York strip
A cut of steak from the short loin of the cow, the New York strip is particularly tender and does not include the bone as would its neighboring cut, the T-bone. There is a thick layer of flat running along one long edge of the cut and some fine marbling throughout, but no larger interior pockets of fat.
Also known as the spider steak in Australia and the Pope’s eye in the United Kingdom, the oyster steak is a fairly new craft cut that sits right inside the hip on either side of the cow. This small, semi-circular cut has a web of fat running through the muscles and can be prepared most easily with a quick pan sear.
A very popular cut at American restaurant juggernaut Fogo de Châo — and in Brazilian cuisine in general — the pichanha is referred to as the sirloin cap most often in the US, residing right at the tip of the cow’s tail alongside its lower back. Most often it is grilled with the outer layer of fat still attached, preserving its juiciness and full flavor when sliced onto the plate.
The Porterhouse is a larger version of the classic T-bone steak, taken from the larger part of the tenderloin. In order to officially qualify as a Porterhouse according to the USDA, the steak must be at least a one-and-a-quarter inch thick, making it a fairly large portion sometimes served to two.
One half of the rib portion of the cow, the prime rib is cut from what’s known as the “prime” area along the ribcage: the 6th through 12th ribs, leaving the tougher meat along the 1st through 5th ribs best served in dishes like pot roast. The ribs themselves are trimmed of the fatty cap, leaving the bones clean and exposed. The prime rib can then be roasted whole and sliced apart for serving in thick pieces.
The rib eye is what’s left behind when a chef removed the prime rib meat from the bone, no longer roasted in standing rib roast form. Unlike prime rib, the rib eye can be cut from any bone in the ribcage, and is most often pan-fried or grilled.
The round of the cow is also known by a much less neutral sounding name: the rump. Because of its location just above the back leg, the round steak can be a very tough cut of meat. As a result, this low-fat cut needs to be braised or slow-roasted to tenderize imbruing out its true flavor.
The shank of the cow (or any mammal) is its upper leg and remains one of the toughest cuts of meat possible due to the overall activity it exerts daily. Because of this, any cuts from the shank are best cooked slowly and over long periods of time, such as the braised veal shank found at the center of a dish like Osso Bucco.
A much more difficult cut of meat to extract for many butchers, the shoulder tender arises from much the place you’d imagine in the chuck portion of the cow, right above the shoulder joint. Thought to rival the filet mignon in tenderness, the shoulder tender is a much less expensive cut and can often be found on menus roasted or grilled, then cut into slices.
Best grilled to perfection, the sirloin cuts — including tri-tip, top and bottom sirloins, and filet of sirloin — come from the back of the cow, just past the loin. It is one of the most popular cuts of meat for its tenderness and overall taste.
Smaller than the Porterhouse and only required by definition to be one quarter inch thick, the T-bone is much as you would imagine. A T-shaped bone is accompanied by two pieces of meat, one on each long side of the bone — otherwise known as the tenderloin and the strip. Expert chefs must be careful when grilling the T-bone as the two sides are rarely similar in size and can easily lead to being over- or under-temperature on one side or another.
Not your typical muscle, the tripe of the cow is simply its stomach muscles with the lining removed. Depending on which of the three stomach chambers the tripe is taken from, its shape and consistency will vary. The first produces a wide, flat, and smooth piece of meat, while the second takes on a honeycomb type structure and is yellow in color. The third resembled a white netting of sorts. Most frequently found in American restaurants in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean-style cooking, the tripe is fairly affordable and adds a different texture to soups, stews, and stir fry.
Small and round pieces of meat cut from the very end of the tenderloin, tournedos are the perfect size for experiencing “haute cuisine” in all its glory. Known for smaller portioning and creative pairings of protein and sauces decoratively fashioned on the plate, haute cuisine finds the perfect centerpiece in this tender portion of beef.
Vegas strip steak
A newer cut of meat “hidden” among the chuck section of the cow, the Vegas strip steak is an oblong piece of marbled beef weighing about 14 ounces when butchered correctly. When separated from the chuck that surrounds it, this steak is free from gristle and connective tissue, leaving behind a tender cut rivaling much more expensive pieces of meat in flavor and quality.
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