The beef carcass (the very unappetizing yet correct way to describe the cow once it’s ready for butchering) is divided first into halves – with a horizontal cut from nose to tail along the backbone – and then cut across between the 12 and 13th ribs into quarters – forequarters (front) and hindquarters (back or butt). From those quarters will come the primal cuts or primals.
The primal cuts are the larger, primary cuts that are made from the carcass. Those first cuts will later be divided into steaks and other secondary cuts. Below we explore the main cuts and primals, what they look like and how they taste.
The entire shoulder and neck section of the cow/steer, the chuck is the largest of all primals, and most hard working, as it’s responsible for the movement of the animal. With loads of beefy flavor, but also loads of connective tissue and collagen, the Chuck contains some of the toughest cuts and those that are best suited for long cooking methods like braising, stewing or roasting.
Popular cuts from the Chuck: chuck roll, chuck roast, chuck eye roll, Delmonico steak, chuck eye steak, chuck short ribs, country-style ribs, top blade steak, flat iron steak, shoulder center roast, shoulder tender, clod heart, edge roast.
Cut from the middle of the animal and containing the tender longissimus dorsi muscle, the rib section contains some of the most sought-after cuts – tender, well-marbled and full of beefy flavor.
Popular cuts from the Rib: rib eye roast, ribeye steak, ribeye cap steak, rib short ribs, Delmonico steak, prime rib, rib roast, back ribs.
Made up of the lower leg and the pectoral muscles, the brisket primal incudes the shank.
Popular cuts from the Brisket: brisket, brisket flat, crosscut shanks, osso bucco.
Home of the short ribs and the flavorful skirt steak.
Popular cuts from the Plate: short ribs, outside skirt steak, inside skirt steak, rib fingers
The most tender – and typically the most expensive – steaks come from the loin, where the prized tenderloin comes from. The cuts from the loin are soft and buttery, but because they don’t have much fat, they’re also mild and not super beefy.
Popular cuts from the Loin: tenderloin roast, tenderloin steak, strip steak, strip loin, filet mignon, hanging tender, hanger steak, tenderloin tips, top loin roast, top loin steaks, top loin filet, porterhouse steak, T-bone steak, top sirloin filet, sirloin, sirloin roast and sirloin steak, sirloin cap roast and steak, tri-tip roast and steak, flap steak, short loin.
The entire back leg section of the animal, the round is the largest primal, with the meaty top part consisting of the most tender cuts. Hard-working, the muscles tha make the Round do not have as much connective tissue as the front-leading chuck, making it more tender.
Popular cuts from the Round: sirloin tip roast and steak, ball tip roast, round tip roast and steak, London roast, Manhattan steak, Tucson cut, top round roast and steak, bottom round roast and steak, outside round, heel, bottom round rump steak and roast, eye of round roast and steak, rump roast.
The wall of the abdomen, this hard working primal is thin and strong, bearing the weight of the entire animal, developing lots of flavor, connective tissue and grain.
Popular Cuts from the Flank: sirloin flap, bavette, flap meat, flank steak, inside skirt steak, fajita meat.