Your Guide to Cuts of Beef
Whether you are planning a casual weeknight dinner or looking to serve up something special, beef is always a good choice. Beef is one of the most versatile and beloved meats available. It’s also pretty simple to cook. But how do you choose the perfect cut of beef? And which cuts of beef are the best for grilling? Use our cuts of beef guide to learn the answers to these questions and more.
How to Choose a Cut of Beef
Not all beef is created equally. Quality and flavor vary drastically between different cuts of beef, depending on the age and diet of the cow, and how much fat is present in the meat. To choose the best cut of meat for your specific taste or recipe, you need to first understand the different terminology used.
If you have ever taken a close look at meat at the butcher shop or grocery store, you have probably noticed that the more expensive cuts are swirled with white. These white lines are a type of fat. The more marbled the cut of beef, the more fat it has — and that’s what you want because fat is what gives your beef a juicy, flavorful taste.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed a grading system for beef. Before it is packaged or sold, a cut of beef is rated according to two separate standards: quality and yield. Quality refers to how the cow was raised, as well as the resulting tenderness and flavor of the meat. The yield represents how much of the meat is usable and lean. There are numerous variants of each grade of beef, but the four primary grades of beef are prime, choice, select and standard.
- Prime: If you have ever ordered a steak at a high-end restaurant, you probably had a prime cut of beef. Prime beef comes from young cattle that have been well-fed, resulting in slight to abundant levels of marbling. The resulting product is very moist and full of flavor.
- Choice: Choice beef is less marbled than prime, but is still considered high-quality. Unlike prime beef, you can easily find choice beef in supermarkets and at butcher shops.
- Select: Cuts of beef rated select are leaner than prime and choice cuts, making it less tender and juicy. It has very little marbling.
- Standard and commercial: Standard and commercial ground meat are less tender and flavorful than prime, choice and select cuts. Store brand meats or ungraded cuts usually fall into these categories.
After standard and commercial, there is utility grade, cutter grade and canner grade beef. Utility, cutter and canner beef are not typically sold directly to consumers but used instead in processed food items or as one component of generic ground beef.
There are three age groups for cuts of beef: fresh beef, wet-aged beef and dry-aged beef. Rather than referring to the age of the cattle, beef aging refers to the process by which that meat has been aged before it is sold or packaged.
- Fresh beef: Fresh beef is straight forward — it is beef that has been recently butchered and then shipped or sold shortly after.
- Wet-aged beef: Wet-aging is a process where cuts of beef are vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag and left to age in the freezer or during shipment from processor to store.
- Dry-aged beef: Dry-aged beef is highly sought after and is usually only found at restaurants or specialty butcher shops. Dry-aging is a process where beef is contained in a very specific, controlled atmosphere and left to dry, making the cut of meat very moist and full of interesting and complex flavors. Dy-aged beef can sit for anywhere from one week to several months, but most meat-eaters consider 30 days to yield the best taste.
Grass-fed, Kosher and Organic Beef
Many other descriptors can describe cuts of beef. Some of the most common ones include grass-fed beef, kosher beef and organic beef.
- Grass-fed: Grass-fed means the cattle your cut of beef comes from were fed a diet of grass, rather than corn or grain. Grass-fed beef is said to be leaner and better for you, due to the increased levels of omega-3. It is also more expensive than grain and corn-fed beef.
- Kosher: Kosher beef is beef that goes through a process of preparation to be considered pure by standards of Jewish dietary law.
- Organic: Organic foods are rising in popularity. In fact, organic food accounts for 4% of all U.S. food sales. Organic beef is cattle that were raised in better quality conditions, according to a set of regulations established by the USDA. There are different levels of organic meat. “Organic” is at least 95% organic, while “100% organic” is just that.
Different Cuts of Beef
There are eight main parts of a cow — considered primal cuts —that get broken down into your favorite subprimal cuts of beef.
- Chuck: Chuck comes from the shoulder area of a cow. It is tough and flavorful. You have probably had a ground chuck hamburger before.
- Rib: The rib portion of a cow encompasses both the ribs and backbone and is responsible for some of the most marbled meat cuts. Ribeye and short ribs are found here.
- Loin: Loin is the most tender and often most sought after portion of the cow. It’s between the ribs and the round. Short loin and sirloin get broken down into some of your favorite steaks: porterhouse, T-bone, tenderloin and more.
- Round: Round refers to a cow’s rump and hindleg areas. Round meat — including round steaks, round roasts and ground round — are usually among the most inexpensive cuts of beef.
- Flank: The flank is a tough, boneless portion of beef found below the cow’s loin. Flank steak is a popular cut from this area because it is both lean and flavorful.
- Short plate: The short plate also has short ribs, and is where you’ll find the flakier, thin beef used in tacos or on sandwiches.
- Brisket: Brisket is taken directly from a cow’s breast. Although this cut is tough and fatty, it is among the most popular because it easily transforms into a moist, flavorful dish if cooked and seasoned correctly.
- Shank: In front of the brisket is the shank, which produces hearty beef for stews and soups.
Best Cuts of Beef for Grilling
Wondering how to cook cuts of beef? We suggest firing up your grill or smoker. That being said, any grillmaster will tell you that some cuts of meat are better suited for grilling than others. These are some of our favorite cuts of beef for grilling.
Who doesn’t love a perfectly seared steak right off the grill? Depending on what you are looking for, there are several types of steak suitable for your grill or smoker. Whether you are celebrating a life milestone or just cooking up a weekend meal for your family, there is a type of steak for everyone, including:
- Top sirloin
- New York strip
Loaded, juicy cheeseburgers are an American staple for a reason — but did you may not know there are actually different types of ground beef. Ground beef is classified based on the level of fat present. The most popular types of ground beef are:
- Ground round: Ground round is a low-fat grind, resulting in tougher meat that requires plenty of spices or marinade to enhance the flavor.
- Ground chuck: Ground chuck is considered by burger aficionados to be the best choice grind for hamburgers due to its abundant fat and flavor.
- Ground sirloin: Ground sirloin is tender and indulgent. It is the preferred choice for non-hamburger dishes that call for ground beef, like lasagna or meat sauces.
- Ground beef: If a package is labeled as just “ground beef,” it probably refers to this affordable, high-fat, soft grind.
Barbecue pitmasters and meat-lovers around the world can agree on one thing: nothing beats a beef brisket when its cooked low and slow all day long. The longer your beef brisket sits on the heat, the juicier and more melt-in-your-mouth delicious it becomes. Pair it with your favorite barbecue dry rub or sauce to get that picture-perfect brisket bark on the outside. For ideal results, smoke your brisket on a wood pellet smoker.
Properly cooked beef ribs slathered in a quality sauce can rival even the best pork ribs. Beef ribs are usually larger and more flavorful than pork ribs, and they do not take too long to smoke. Many Texan smokers and Korean BBQ enthusiasts prefer the meatiness of beef ribs over pork. Whether you prefer a sweet, smoky sauce or a tangy vinegar marinade, beef ribs are always a good choice.
Tenderloin is one of the best cuts of beef for grilling. Because it is so tender, you don’t have to do a whole lot to a cut of tenderloin to make it taste great. Tenderloin can be enjoyed right off the grill grate, as a salad topper or on a sandwich. Prefer something a little more upscale? You can cook a delicious filet mignon — a fine dining staple — right at home on your grill.
How to Prepare Beef for the Grill
Once you have chosen your perfect piece of beef, you need to prepare it for the grill. Although preparation varies depending on the cut you choose and your preferred cooking method, there are typically three steps to preparing a cut of beef: trim the excess fat, pat it dry and season it.
- Trim: Yes, fat is what gives beef its mouth-watering flavor. However, too much excess fat — specifically on steaks — can make cutting and chewing your meat challenging. For those grilling steaks for guests, families with young children or just anyone trying to eat healthier, trim away the fat with a knife before you get started.
- Dry: For a crisp, hard sear on the outside of your meat, take the time to pat it dry with a paper towel before placing it on the grill. Patting it dry absorbs all excess moisture, leaving you with delicious grill lines and an exceptionally flavorful exterior.
- Season: The final and most important part of the beef preparation process is to season your meat thoroughly. Salt and pepper are the minimum seasonings you should apply. Consider a dry rub, marinade or sauce for a more robust flavor profile.
The Best Methods for Grilling Beef
It’s no secret that grilling your beef is one of the best ways to bring out its natural flavor. However, there are several different ways to grill beef. Different processes yield different results and tastes — experiment with new techniques until you find your new favorite.
Flavor With Wood Pellets
- Competition blend: Our competition blend is a mixture of oak, hickory and cherry wood pellets for a unique combination of flavors.
- Hickory: Hickory pellets are smoky and great for beef, pork and poultry.
- Mesquite: Mesquite is a sweet and tangy flavor, ideal for beef and poultry.
- Pecan: Pecan pellets provide a subtle, nutty flavor to your beef, pork and poultry.
Thick cuts of beef, like ribeye and tri-tip steaks, benefit from a grilling technique known as reverse searing. This is where, instead of cooking the steak directly over a high-heat flame, you first cook your steak indirectly on the outside area of the grill grate — the part not touched directly by flame. Do this until the steak is brought up to a consistent temperature all the way through. Then, place it directly on the high-heat flame for a hard sear on both sides. Afterward, be sure to let it rest before cutting so the juices can properly distribute. Reverse searing is a great way to keep your steaks from becoming too dry or tough, while still maintaining a pretty fast cook time.
Large cuts of beef, like brisket and rump roast, benefit from a few hours in the smoker because it adds flavor and tenderizes the meat quickly — but you can smoke any cut of beef to get a unique flavor that cannot be replicated. You can use wood pellets, lump charcoal or briquettes as fuel for a smoker, each one leaving you with a slightly different smoky flavor than the other.
Low and Slow
The low and slow grilling technique is ideal for tough or thick cuts of beef, as well as when you want to infuse as much flavor into your beef as possible. To grill something low and slow means it sits on the grill grate or in a smoker on a very low heat for a very long time. The end result is tender beef that falls off the bone.
Get the Most out of Your Beef With a Grilla Smoker
No matter what cut of beef you prefer, grill it right with a Grilla Grills wood pellet grill or smoker. At Grilla Grills, we created our smokers to be intentionally different from the rest — affordable and reliable, but with zero compromises where quality and amazing flavor are concerned. Not sure which grill is the best fit for you? Get in touch with our support team — we are happy to help you make the best decision.