A primal cut or cut of meat is a piece of meat initially separated from the carcass of an animal during butchering. Examples of primals include the beef round, loin, rib, and chuck or the swine ham, loin, Boston butt, and picnic. Different countries and cultures make these cuts in different ways, and primal cuts also differ between type of carcass.
In this article, I’ll explain the difference between a cut of meat and a portion of meat. Additionally, I’ll share some interesting facts about cuts of meat.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Understanding the Complexity of Primal, Subprimal, and Portion Cuts
- 2 The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Beef Cuts
- 3 Pork Cuts You Should Add to Your Cooking Repertoire
- 4 What’s the Beef with Better Cuts vs Cheaper Cuts?
- 5 Conclusion
Understanding the Complexity of Primal, Subprimal, and Portion Cuts
When it comes to beef cuts, primal cuts are the largest and most important sections of the cow. They are typically sold to packers and then shipped to markets or consumers. Primal cuts are classified into eight sections, each comprising different parts of the cow. Here are the most common types of primal cuts:
- Chuck: located in the shoulder region, this cut is fatty and tough, but it’s also one of the cheaper cuts. It includes the blade, chuck eye, and chuck roast.
- Rib: found near the center of the cow, this cut is one of the most expensive and includes the ribeye, prime rib, and back ribs.
- Loin: located near the back of the cow, this cut is tender and great for grilling or roasting. It includes the filet mignon, T-bone, and porterhouse.
- Sirloin: similar to the loin, this cut is lean and located near the back of the cow. It includes the top sirloin and tri-tip.
- Round: located in the hindquarters, this cut is tough and best prepared by slow cooking. It includes the eye of round and bottom round.
- Brisket: found near the cow’s breastbone, this cut is fatty and flavorful. It’s great for slow-cooking and is commonly used in pot roasts or stews.
- Plate: located below the rib, this cut is a little tougher and includes the skirt steak and short ribs.
- Flank: found near the belly of the cow, this cut is lean and best prepared by marinating and grilling. It includes the flank steak and London broil.
Subprimal Cuts: Divided and Grouped into Smaller Parts
Subprimal cuts are smaller sections of the primal cuts that are further divided and grouped into specific parts. They are typically found in stores and are more familiar to consumers than primal cuts. Here are some examples of subprimal cuts:
- Ribeye: a distinctive and flavorful cut from the rib section of the cow.
- Eye of round: a lean and firm cut from the round section of the cow.
- Skirt steak: a long, thin, and flavorful cut from the plate section of the cow.
- Filet mignon: a tender and expensive cut from the loin section of the cow.
Portion Cuts: Prepared and Sold to Meet Consumer Demand
Portion cuts are the final cuts of meat that are prepared and sold to meet consumer demand. They are often compared to subprimal cuts in terms of price and versatility. Here are some examples of portion cuts:
- Ground beef: made from various cuts of beef and used for burgers, meatballs, and more.
- Stew meat: typically made from tougher cuts like chuck or round and used for stews and soups.
- Pot roast: made from the brisket or chuck and best prepared by slow-cooking.
- Steak: a high-quality cut of meat that can come from various parts of the cow, including the ribeye, sirloin, and filet mignon.
Tip: Despite the complexity of beef cuts, focusing on the main primal cuts and their subprimal and portion cuts is sufficient to be informed and prepared for cooking. And remember, cheaper cuts like chuck or brisket can be just as great as the more expensive cuts like ribeye or filet mignon when prepared correctly.
The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Beef Cuts
When it comes to cooking beef, it’s important to understand the different types of cuts available. Here are some of the most common types of beef cuts:
- Rib: This cut is located in the upper section of the cow and is known for its tenderness and marbling. It includes popular cuts like ribeye and prime rib.
- Strip: Also known as New York strip, this cut is located in the center section of the cow and is known for its tenderness and rich flavor.
- Loin: This cut is located in the upper section of the cow and includes popular cuts like tenderloin, T-bone, and porterhouse.
- Sirloin: This cut is located in the lower section of the cow and is known for its lean meat and rich flavor.
- Round: This cut is located in the rear section of the cow and is known for its toughness. It includes cuts like eye of round and bottom round.
- Chuck: This cut is located in the shoulder section of the cow and is known for its tough meat. It includes cuts like chuck roast and blade steak.
The Best Cuts of Beef for Different Cooking Methods
Not all beef cuts are created equal, and certain cuts are better suited for certain cooking methods. Here are some of the best cuts of beef for different cooking methods:
- Grilling: Ribeye, strip steak, and T-bone are all great cuts for grilling due to their tenderness and rich flavor.
- Roasting: Tenderloin, prime rib, and sirloin roast are all excellent cuts for roasting due to their tenderness and flavor.
- Braising: Chuck roast, brisket, and short ribs are all great cuts for braising due to their tough meat that becomes tender when cooked low and slow.
- Stir-frying: Flank steak and sirloin are both great cuts for stir-frying due to their lean meat that cooks quickly.
The Cheapest Cuts of Beef That Still Pack a Lot of Flavor
If you’re on a budget but still want to enjoy a delicious beef dish, there are plenty of cheaper cuts that still pack a lot of flavor. Here are some of the cheapest cuts of beef:
- Chuck roast: This cut is located in the shoulder section of the cow and is great for slow cooking.
- Brisket: This cut is located in the chest section of the cow and is great for smoking or braising.
- Ground beef: This type of beef is made by chopping up different cuts of beef and is great for making burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf.
The Benefits of Knowing Your Beef Cuts
Knowing your beef cuts can benefit you in a number of ways, including:
- Being able to choose the best cut for your dish: Depending on the cooking method and flavor profile you’re going for, certain cuts of beef may be better suited for your dish than others.
- Finding the best quality beef: By understanding the different cuts of beef, you’ll be able to find the best quality beef for your budget.
- Trying new dishes: By experimenting with different cuts of beef, you can try new dishes and expand your culinary horizons.
Where to Buy Beef Cuts
When it comes to buying beef cuts, there are a few different options:
- Butcher: A local butcher shop is a great place to start when looking for high-quality beef cuts.
- Grocery store: Most grocery stores carry a variety of beef cuts, but the quality may vary.
- Online: There are a number of online retailers that specialize in high-quality beef cuts.
Pork Cuts You Should Add to Your Cooking Repertoire
When it comes to pork, there are a variety of cuts to choose from, each with its own unique flavor and texture. Understanding the different cuts will help you choose the right one for your recipe.
The Main Pork Cuts
Similar to beef, the pig is initially broken down into four main pieces or ‘primal cuts’. These are the shoulder, loin, side/belly, and leg. These primal cuts are then cut into sub-primal cuts such as rib roast, tenderloin, pork belly, and bacon. Here are some of the main pork cuts you should know:
- Shoulder: This cut is also referred to as the “butt” and includes the upper part of the pig’s front leg. It’s a tough cut of meat that’s ideal for slow cooking methods like stew or roast. The bone-in shoulder is also great for making pulled pork.
- Loin: This cut is located in the center of the pig’s body and includes the rib and loin chops, tenderloin, and boneless loin. It’s a leaner cut of meat that’s excellent for grilling or pan-frying.
- Side/Belly: This cut includes the bacon, pork belly, and spare ribs. It’s a fattier and tougher cut of meat that’s ideal for slow cooking methods like smoking or braising.
- Leg: This cut includes the ham, shank, and hocks. It’s a tougher cut of meat that needs to be tenderized slower. It’s great for making additions to pots of soup or beans.
Different regions have their own specific names for pork cuts. For example, the Boston butt is actually a cut from the shoulder, while the blade steak is a cut from the shoulder blade. The chistruga is a triangular cut from the belly that’s popular in Eastern Europe.
The way you cook your pork cut will affect its flavor and texture. Here are some cooking methods to consider:
- Grilling: This method is ideal for leaner cuts like the loin chops or tenderloin.
- Slow Cooking: This method is ideal for tougher cuts like the shoulder or leg.
- Smoking: This method is ideal for fattier cuts like the bacon or pork belly.
- Pan-Frying: This method is ideal for thinner cuts like cutlets or boneless loin.
Notes on Flavor and Texture
- Fattier cuts like the side/belly will have a more intense flavor and marbling.
- Tougher cuts like the shoulder or leg will need to be cooked slower to become tender.
- Bone-in cuts like the shoulder or ham will add flavor to soups or stews.
- Smoked cuts like bacon or ham will respond well to marinated flavors.
What’s the Beef with Better Cuts vs Cheaper Cuts?
When it comes to buying meat, there’s a lot to consider. One of the most important factors is the cut of meat. While cheaper cuts may seem like a good option to save money, they often lack the tenderness and flavor of better cuts. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between better cuts and cheaper cuts:
Better cuts of meat are generally known for their tenderness, flavor, and versatility. These cuts come from muscles that are not used as much, which contributes to their tenderness. They also tend to have more marbling, which adds flavor and moisture. Some of the most popular better cuts include:
- Striploin: This cut is incredibly tender and has a lot of natural flavor. It’s perfect for grilling and can be easily paired with veggies for a tasty weeknight meal.
- Sirloin: This cut tends to be a bit less tender than striploin but is still a great option for grilling. It’s also a good choice for bulk buying and butchering at home.
- Ribeye: This cut accounts for a major portion of the beef sold in the US. It tends to be thick and robust, with a band of internal fat that teases the taste buds. It’s perfect for grilling or pan-searing.
- Flat Iron: This cut is incredibly tender and flavorful, with a lot of marbling. It’s a great option for those who want a tasty steak without breaking the bank.
- Tenderloin: This cut is the most tender of all beef cuts and is incredibly delicate. It’s perfect for special occasions or when you want to impress your guests.
Cheaper cuts of meat tend to come from muscles that are used more often, which makes them tougher. However, with the right preparation, they can still be delicious. Here are some of the most popular cheaper cuts:
- Flank: This cut tends to be a bit tougher but has a lot of flavor. It’s perfect for marinating and grilling or broiling.
- Ribs: This cut tends to be a bit fatty but has a lot of flavor. It’s perfect for slow cooking or smoking.
- Chuck: This cut tends to be a bit tougher but has a lot of flavor. It’s perfect for stews and pot roasts.
Buying and Preparing Meat
When buying meat, it’s important to consider the cut and the quality. Look for meat that is fresh and has a little bit of internal fat. If you’re buying in bulk, consider butchering the meat yourself to save money. When preparing meat, be sure to:
- Marinade: This can help tenderize tougher cuts and add flavor.
- Grill: This is a great way to cook better cuts of meat.
- Slow Cook: This is a great way to cook cheaper cuts of meat.
- Ensure Proper Resting: This will help the meat retain its juices and tenderness.
So there you have it- an overview of what a cut of meat is and how they’re divided.
As a final note, don’t be afraid to experiment with different cuts of meat. You might just find your new favorite!