Beef cattle are big animals; so big that it takes butchers years to learn to fully appreciate the unique characteristics and diverse qualities of each delicious part. A butcher I’m not, but as a cook and a shopper I’ve found it immensely satisfying to explore the world of lesser-known cuts. Branching out beyond the most popular is a great way to avoid waste and to get a great beef dinner without breaking the bank. And in the process of trying out new cuts, I’ve renewed my respect for the animals that give us this great food.
Next time you’re in front of the meat case, take a good long look and ask your butcher what he or she thinks is special about any unfamiliar cuts. It could be the beginning of a very rewarding culinary adventure, and you’ll probably save a few bucks, too. Here’s a little background to get you started. Your local meat case may not have all of these cuts, but you can ask your butcher what’s good for your recipe or dinner plans.
Cut from the underbelly of the animal, this long, lean steak is famous for its beefy flavor and juicy, toothsome texture. It can be dry if cooked much past medium, so keep the heat high and the cooking time short—grill, cast-iron pan or broiler all work well. This cut is outstanding in Skillet Skirt Steak Fajitas with Jicama Salsa
where it gets matched with strong south-of-the-border flavors and lots of great veggies.
Denver Cut/Beef Chuck Blade Center Steak
Chuck steaks aren’t known for being tender and juicy, but this chuck blade definitely is. That’s because the butcher cuts it from a particularly tender muscle found in the chuck roll area of the animal. Decent marbling means that it can be marinated and then grilled or pan seared, or savor its superbly rich flavor with very minimal cooking, as in Vietnamese-Style Beef Soup
Beef Short Ribs (English Style)
These big, generous, extremely flavorful ribs come from the ends of the rib roast and are sometimes known by their German name, flanken. There’s lots of meat here, although much of it is layered between fat; long, slow cooking will melt most of the fat and leave the meat appealingly rich. Braising is a classic treatment for short ribs, but you can also opt for a less traditional treatment like these awesome Spice-Rubbed Beef Short Ribs
Lean tri-tip comes from the sirloin, a meaty area that’s located between the loin (midsection) and round (hindquarters) of the animal. Like other sirloin cuts it’s very flavorful and remains tender if not overcooked. A grill or screaming-hot cast-iron skillet on the stovetop will sear the outside and leave the interior a juicy medium-rare. Try Seared Tri-Tip Steaks with Garlic Bread, Tomato and Basil
for this cut at its best.
Sirloin Tip Steak
This steak isn’t as tender as some sirloin cuts but gets high marks for its deep beefy flavor. Be sure to marinate for tenderness, then grill it and slice thinly against the grain. You can also cut it into cubes (there’s satisfyingly little gristle or fat chunks to cut around) and use it in chilies, curries and other quick stews. We did the latter in Spicy Beef and Potato Curry
with wonderfully flavorful results.
Here’s a truly great steak with a unique flavor profile: It “hangs” between the rib cage and loin cage quite near the animal’s kidney, imparting to it a distinctively rich, gamey flavor. It’s a long, thin cut that looks a bit ragged around the edges, but it’s deliciously juicy when cooked right: seared to no more than medium rare and thinly sliced across the grain. Hanger’s bold flavor is ideal in highly seasoned dishes like Five-Spice Hanger Steak with Rice Noodles
Boneless Shoulder Roast/English Roast
The shoulder area (“chuck”) of the animal delivers some of the best value in beef. Despite its name, shoulder roast is usually too lean for roasting, but it does exceptionally well when braised as pot roast. Try it in a veggie-packed Mediterranean Pot Roast with Garden Vegetables
Chuck Eye Steak/Chuck Fillet
There’s no way of denying it: This cut has some considerable veins of fat. But once you’ve made your way around those (use a sharp knife) you’re in for a really big reward: meltingly tender, fabulously rich meat with mouth-filling flavor. Marinating it and grilling it either as a steak or as kabobs is a superb idea, or try it in a quick sauté like Stir-Fried Beef with Hoisin and Asparagus.
Flat Iron Steak
This shoulder cut wins friends fast: Good marbling and full beef flavor means it’s tender enough for grilling but also robust enough for long, slow braising or roasting. A line of sinew sometimes runs horizontally through the cut; it will melt during slow-cooking, but should be cut out by your butcher if you want to grill the steak. This cut is irresistible in Cedar-Grilled Flat Iron Steaks with Coffee Rub
These ribs come from the bones that you see in a standing rib-roast or rib-eye steak, and they share the same rich flavor and generous marbling of those cuts. As with most ribs, slow cooking is key to getting melt-in-your-mouth results. You can wrap them in foil and slow bake them, or try a simple, flavorful braise like Pepper-Pot Beef Ribs with Collards
Are you ready to get friendly with some unfamiliar cuts? Let us hear about your favorites.