It is no secret that Australians do love their red meat.
I thought to use this blog as an opportunity to talk about the different beef cuts – the cuts that you are most likely to see at your local butcher. This should be the best guide for you when you are next at the butcher or your supermarket and wondering what beef cuts to pick up. Just remember, if you pick up one of the tougher cuts then you will need several hours or a day of long and slow braising but it is worth it!
Osso Bucco comes from the shank (below the knee) on the hind (back) leg.
When this meat is cut into steaks that are still on the bone, it is called osso bucco.
Gravy meat is the osso bucco with the bone removed.
The leg is the toughest area of the animal because it does the most exercise. Exercise is why this cut is so delicious when cooked properly, i.e. braised (slow, moist cooking for a longer time).
The shin is osso bucco too. The only difference is that the shin is cut from the foreleg as opposed to the hind leg.
The best cookery method for osso bucco and the shin is braising.
The silverside cut is located in the thigh area of the leg. It has a silvery membrane (hence the name). Silverside is located next to the topside cut. Compared with veal, lamb and pork, beef is older and larger, hence it is broken into more cuts. For this reason, silverside is a cut within the beef leg whereas younger animals, apart from veal, are not broken down into such detail.
Silverside may not be considered a popular cut which is why it’s cheaper than other cuts of beef.
Best cookery methods are slow roasting roasting and braising.
The topside cut is located in the thigh next to the silverside. Topside is more tender than the silverside
Best cookery method is slow roasting.
The flank is located in the stomach of the animal. This particular cut (in its whole state) defies my message of ‘tough cut means slow roast or braise’.
The reason I say this is because grilling and pan frying are ideal cooking methods for this cut. Even though it may be a little chewy, in my opinion the chewiness adds character to the overall eating experience, in addition to its incredible meaty flavour.
The brown and tasty exterior of this meat is important to the overall eating experience. The key to successfully grilling or pan frying this cut is to make sure it is cooked to medium-rare inside (at the most). Sear and cook slowly. Cooking it any further than medium-rare will cause it to be dry and tough.
Why is the skirt and flank area so tasty?
There is a lot of connective tissue in this area. This means flavour. Whether it is tender from braising or cooked by grilling (so still a little on the chewy side) the connective tissue breaks down and this is why you can really enjoy eating this very versatile cut.
The skirt actually comes from inside the flank. Although it is much leaner than the flank, it has similar qualities, which means its treatment should be the same as the flank cut. The skirt, as with the flank, is chewy, but its chewiness and flavour makes for a very enjoyable meal. The stomach area is often regarded as the tastiest part of the animal.
The skirt cut also defies the message of ‘tough cut requires slow roast or braise’. By now you will be aware that slow cooking meat (whether pan frying or grilling) is instrumental to this type of cut. I have cooked this cut many times and I have found that the best cookery methods for the skirt cut as a whole piece is slow cooking by grilling or pan frying. That is initially sear on high heat to brown both sides before turning down the heat to gently cook the interior. Again, as with the flank, cook this meat to medium-rare at the most.
Having said the above, the skirt, being a tough cut, is fine to braise. It’s just my opinion that more justice is done to this cut if grilled or pan-fried.
From experience, if braised, it lacks the taste of the dry heat cooking methods (grilling and pan frying) where the browning of the exterior and the juicy and pink interior really shine through. Also the chewiness that comes from these dry heat cookery methods also adds to the eating experience. If you braise this cut your result is a very tender piece—to the extent that it melts in your mouth. It is very important to cut against the grain.
The blade is part of the shoulder blade bone of the cow. It always has a strip of nerve tissue in the centre of the meat. Either cut around it or just leave it for your guests to cut around it.
As with the leg, this cut is from an exercised area of the animal. What is different about the shoulder area (compared with the leg) is that there is a higher fat percentage on this section of meat. This means there is more moisture.
Also, its connective tissue produces good gelatine content during a slow roast and braise, which also contributes to a very satisfying moist meat.
Another use for blade is to thinly slice it into steaks and quickly pan fry or grill on both sides. Understandably, the meat will be a little chewy but extremely tasty. The key is to slice it very thin so it can be seared quickly on both sides till browned, then removed from the heat. This works out to be an inexpensive and delicious meal.
Chuck is a cut from the neck bones to under the shoulder of the cow. As with the blade, the chuck is very tasty with a good level of fat and gelatine content. Both cuts are great for slow roasting or diced for braising/stewing.
The most suitable cookery method for a whole chuck is slow roasting. For diced chuck, try braising/stewing in the oven for 6-8 hours or until tender.
When it comes to diced chuck, I use it when I make beef bourguignon.
The brisket is located in the stomach area of the animal—in front of the flank and skirt. Brisket is large and thin. It is also fatty, packed with gelatine and tough so it requires long and slow cooking. It is unbelievably moist, tender and tasty if braised for several hours.
I just want to say here that if you do hear that a cut of meat is “packed with gelatine and tough”, this is what you want to hear because cooking it the way that I have suggested will mean you end up with a delicious result.
Let’s move away from the tougher area of the animal to the tender territory.
The beef rump is located at the lower back of the animal, at the top point of the hip bone. It is the least tender cut of the tender cuts. This cut will be slightly chewier than other tender cuts yet it contains more flavour for the same reason that it may be chewier—it has more connective tissue. Usually rump is the cheapest of the tender cuts.
The best cookery method for a whole rump is a slow roast. If the rump is cut into steaks, it is ideal for grilling and pan frying.
The sirloin cut, which is also known as strip loin, extends from the rump to the rib section. The animal has two loins that run on either side of its spine. This area produces many cuts. Off the bone, as a whole piece, the sirloin is perfect for roasting. When the sirloin is cut into boneless steaks, it is called a New York Cut or a Porterhouse. If the sirloin is left on the bone with meat on the other side of the bone (the tenderloin) and it is cut into steaks, it is called a T-bone steak.
The best cookery method for a whole sirloin is a slow roast. If the sirloin is cut into steaks (which will now be called porter house or New York Steaks), it is ideal for grilling and pan frying.
Underneath the sirloin lies the most tender cut of the animal—the tenderloin, which is also known as the eye fillet. This section of meat does very little exercise because the muscle is surrounded by kidneys. The tenderloin is long and thin. What separates the tenderloin and the sirloin is bone. If the butcher cuts the sirloin plus the bone plus the tenderloin into a steak, it is called a T-bone steak. It is interesting to note that despite the tenderloin being the most expensive and popular cut, being the least exercised area of the animal, means it has the least amount of flavour. Because of this, chefs will mostly add seasoning, marinades or sauces to complement and enhance the flavour of this very tender meat.
Tenderloin is a popular cut because, if cooked properly, it is incredibly tender (as the name implies). It may be roasted whole, pan fried or grilled as steaks.
The Scotch fillet is a whole cut, located in the rib section. It lies between the sirloin area and the shoulder area.
What makes the Scotch fillet so tasty is its relatively high fat content, which keeps the meat flavourful, moist and tender.
Usually the Scotch fillet is the second most expensive cut (the tenderloin being the dearest). The Scotch fillet may be cut into steaks.
If the bone is left on the steak with the bone protruding beyond the actual meat, it is called rib eye steak or beef cutlet.
The above can be grilled or pan fried. If left whole then it can be roasted.