What is a Pikes Peak roast? Or a flat iron steak? It can be confusing to know what all the cuts of beef are, where they come from, and—most importantly—how to prepare them. This guide will help you become an expert when meal-planning, online ordering, and cooking!
First step to being a master beef-buyer? Understanding all the lingo. Here's a couple terms to know.
Grass-Fed and Grass-Finished - Most beef raised in the United States eat their natural diet of grass for only a short period of their life. They often eat grass, along with grain supplements, while they are young and are sent to feedlots during the last several months of their lives. There, they are primarily fed a mixture of corn and soy. Some producers claim that their beef is grass-fed, even though they feed grain by-products and still “finish” on feedlots. Our cattle are 100% grass-fed and finished, meaning they spend their whole lives grazing the food that their bodies were designed for.
Antibiotic-Free - Cattle finished in a feedlot are given regular doses of antibiotics for two major reasons: 1) to prevent illness from spreading rapidly within crowded enclosures, and 2) because antibiotics have a growth-enhancing effect in cattle, encouraging cattle to gain an excess of weight in a fraction of the time. Being antibiotic-free means our cattle are allowed to grow at a natural rate, roaming with all the space they like on large fields of pasture.
Primals, Sub-Primals, and Cuts - Primals are large sections of the whole beef side, grouped according to their location in the body (seen in the illustration above). They can be further broken down into sub-primals, then into the muscle cuts or portions that you see in our online shop or at the grocery store. It's helpful to know where the cut comes from in the beef, as it can help determine best cooking methods. Hard-working, high-use areas—e.g. the round primal—are going to be leaner and tougher. They do better when cooked slowly in a moist environment (like braising). Lower-use areas, like the tenderloin, make ideal cuts to cook with hot, dry heat (like grilling or searing).
Marbling - Marbling is the term used for intramuscular fat found within a muscle cut of beef. In other words, it’s the streaks of fat that run within and through a steak or roast. This fat renders and provides juiciness and tenderness to the meat during cooking. Ribeyes tend to have the highest degree of marbling out of the beef cuts.
USDA Grades - These are the USDA classifications of quality, based on the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the beef. When grading, inspectors primarily look at the ribeye cut at the 12th rib to judge the amount of marbling. In order from lowest to highest, the grades you'll see sold are Select, Choice, and Prime. Because grass-fed cattle are often leaner than grain-fed, a Prime rating can be difficult to achieve (luckily, we know the secrets to frequently meet Prime grade).
Dry-Aged/Wet-Aged - Aging can help create more tender, flavorful cuts. Dry-aged beef has been hung in a cold, dry environment (typically for 1-4 weeks). During this process, excess moisture evaporates leaving a more concentrated flavor in the meat and enzymatic reactions break down connective tissues to tenderize the muscle. In wet-aging, the meat is vacuum-sealed and kept cold; it does not go through any moisture loss but still benefits from natural tenderizing.
Learned the vocab? Great! Now let’s talk about the important stuff—the primals and a few of the cuts that come from them.
Located at the shoulder, this set of muscles is used every time the beef cow takes a step or bends down to take a bite of grass. For this reason, cuts from the chuck primal can be packed with connective tissues that benefit from long, low heat in order to loosen and melt away. The upside: that constant use means meat from this area is doubly rich in flavor. Unlike its partner primal, the round, the chuck holds a few pockets of steak-worthy meat—which is where we get cuts like the Flat Iron Steak.
This section encompasses rib #6 through #12, the first five being in the chuck. Because of its abundance of marbling, the rib primal is the home to some of the most desirable cuts of beef. Your first thought when it comes to ribs might be the saucy backyard barbecue offerings, but meaty beef back ribs tend to be rare as butchers cut most of the meat into more coveted ribeye and prime rib cuts.
Fun fact: ribeyes with a large bone extending out from the top are known as tomahawk or cowboy steaks.
Is there any cut of beef that is more fitting for a celebration? The prime rib is also known as a ribeye roast because—you guessed it—it’s an uncut portion of the same region where we get the steaks. One side of this cut tends to be covered in a layer of fat; score it lightly with a knife and cook with the fat-side up to encourage self-basting.
Located at the lower end of the rib primal, short ribs are one of the most versatile selections of beef. They can be cut in a variety of ways. We usually have the most common type, English cut, which are thick portions made up of one bone each surrounded by meat. They are better for slow cooking (especially braising). You can also find flanken cut short ribs, which are thinly sliced across multiple rib bones. Flanken cut is often used in Korean-style barbecue as it’s narrower slices are more suited for grilling. Boneless short ribs are also found, but these are typically from the plate or chuck primals.
To look at the short loin primal is to enter the territory of tender cuts. They’re the best splurge choices for when you want a true treat. This region is a little leaner than the ribs, which means these steaks practically beg for dry, high-heat cooking methods like grilling. They typically perform best when cooked to an internal temperature between 125°F and 145°F (rare to medium).
Depending on your region, you may also know this steak as the Kansas City Strip Steak. Boneless and lean, the strip steak is one of the easiest cuts to eat (beyond it being incredibly delicious). When cooking, keep an eye on the doneness—because it doesn’t have a lot of fat, it can overcook faster than a ribeye. Keep your thermometer nearby and don’t forget to let it rest after you take it off the heat.
These two steaks are combination cuts, both with a large “T” shaped bone across the top and middle. On one side of the bone is a strip steak, on the other a portion of tenderloin. The differentiator between the two is the size of the tenderloin: the T-Bone has a few bites of tenderloin attached, while the Porterhouse boasts an entire filet mignon portion. It’s two premium steaks for the price of… two premium steaks. These are coveted and expensive cuts, and they take culinary prowess to cook to perfection—but when you want to feel like royalty, they’re the first and best choice.
The rib and short loin both boast super impressive steaks, but the tenderloin is the king of the primals. As Alton Brown says, it’s the farthest muscle from “hoof and horn,” meaning this is a super-lean muscle that is rarely used in the animal’s daily life. It’s unparalleled in tenderness and can be lusciously buttery when cooked thoughtfully, either as a roast or in steak portions.
You might recognize this as the steak that’s traditionally wrapped with a strip of bacon. This is typically present to lend fat to one of the leanest cuts on the cow. While it may add flavor, this is a completely optional addition. Yes—filet mignons can get dry when cooked for too long, but with the right technique, they’re one of the easiest steaks to perfect. Using a hot cast iron gives you the most control and also offers the best potential outer crust. Heat it to smoking, sear the filet mignons for 2-5 minutes per side, then let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
As we move closer to the round of the animal, we start to see leaner, less tender cuts. The sirloin is the middle ground for this, containing some beautifully tender roasts and some leaner steaks.
The sirloin steak tends to be leaner and slightly less tender than its brothers, strip steaks and ribeyes. It’s a more cost-effective choice for steak night and a good choice for marinating or slicing into pieces for pasta, salads, and kabobs.
This cut is aptly named for its triangle shape (three tips). It has a loyal fan club, and for good reason! It’s as comfortable being roasted as it is being smoked or grilled. Popularized in the Santa Maria Valley of California, tri-tips are often seasoned with a blend of salt, pepper, dried garlic, and onion. Slice against the grain after cooking for the most tender bites.
Sometimes called the sirloin flap, the bavette steak shares many similarities with flank and skirt steaks. It’s a thin cut with some marbling. It does best when marinated and cooked hot and fast. It’s a good pick for fajitas or other carne asada-style dishes.
Located on the back legs, the round is the hardest working area of the beef cow. Almost all of the cuts that come from this primal are very lean, lacking even renderable connective tissue, and should be cooked with care in order to yield delicious results. Oftentimes, meat from the round is used for ground beef or tenderized for cube steaks.
The round contains many types of roasts originating from various places in the primal, but with most of the same properties and cooking techniques. Here’s some you might recognize:
In general, these are best when roasted slowly. Similarly to the arm roast, these may not ever get tender enough to shred. Instead, cook these to an internal temperature of 135°F-140°F (medium-rare). Thinly slice and serve hot or cold as roast beef.
Also known as a Round Tip Steak or London Broil. While this cut is well-suited to many cooking methods, it follows many of the same rules as the round roasts. It is a less tender cut and is best suited for medium or rarer temperatures.
Also called cubed steaks, this style of beef can actually be made with any lean, thinner cut. Our tenderized cube steaks usually come from round steaks. They are tenderized using a cubing machine (didn’t see that coming, right?), which pokes hundreds of tiny holes into the meat, disrupting the tough protein strands. This style of cut is almost exclusively used for fried beef, like country fried steak (AKA chicken fried steak).
The brisket is a key part of many different iconic dishes: smoked barbecue brisket and burnt ends, corned beef, pastrami, or Vietnamese pho, just to name a few. It’s the muscle that supports a lot of the animal’s head and standing weight, so it is laced with connective tissue and surrounded by fat.
The brisket can be found in a large, whole cut or into halves: the fattier point and the leaner flat. Both are rich in flavor and should be cooked slowly in order to become tender and juicy.
The plate is a thin, well-marbled primal that produces only a few types of steaks. Short ribs are sometimes said to come from the plate rather than the ribs.
Two sides of a whole, the inside and outside skirt steaks are often labeled in stores as “fajita meat.” They fall in the same category as bavette and flank steaks as thin cuts that respond well to marinating and quick, high heat.
The flank produces one cut: the flank steak. It’s a fairly lean primal, but a popular choice because of its diversity and quick preparation time.
Like its partner steaks, the bavette and skirt steaks, the flank is perfect for marinading and grilling or stir-frying. Unlike its partners, it also does well when braised for short periods of time, like in a carne asada chili.
We’ve talked up and down the muscle cuts that you’ll find in the beef primals—but what about everything else? For those who know where to look, there’s deliciousness (and an incredible store of vitamins and minerals) to be found in the edible organs of the cow, known as the offal. While bones don’t technically fall into the “offal” category, they too can be used to infuse flavor and nutrition with the right techniques.
Beef tongue may be more recognized by its Spanish translation: lengua. While some people shy away from the idea of eating this talkative cut, anyone who has had a bite of tacos de lengua knows that tongue is tremendously tender and flavorful. It’s a highly used muscle (obviously), but it has no connective tissue and is high in fat content. The raw tongue is topped with a thick layer of skin, so it must be boiled and peeled before enjoying. The traditional preparation method is to cover the tongue in water or stock (flavored with onion, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, cilantro stems, or other aromatics) and boil for 1-6 hours until it is cooked through and the membrane/skin peels away easily. It can then be chopped/sliced and browned in a saute pan or on a grill (or just combined with a sauce) to serve. If you haven’t yet, give the beef tongue a try.
Beef cheek, like short ribs or many roasts, requires long, moist cooking methods (traditionally braising), but can yield mouthwateringly tender and fall-apart dishes. It can come lined with fat and sinew that can be trimmed before cooking. Serve the meat in tacos, with polenta, or silky mashed potatoes for a unique showstopper.
This cut isn’t for the faint of… nevermind. Because of all the blood flow that moves through it, beef heart can have a mildly gamey flavor. It’s very lean meat and contains thick valves as well as pockets of fat and gristle that can be trimmed out when splitting the heart out into sections, which is recommended when preparing. After slicing it into thinner pieces, this cut responds well to searing to rare or medium-rare. You can also stew the beef heart, and the outcome will be somewhat like that of a chicken gizzard.
Many people either hate liver or adore it. What’s easy to love about it: the nutrition. Liver is chock-full of Vitamins A and B12, along with iron, copper, and choline (just to name a few!) The metallic flavor that can be a turn-off to some can be diluted by soaking the liver in milk for up to 2 hours before cooking, though this step is not necessary for liver lovers.
Although it’s on the tail-end of beef cuts, oxtail isn’t something to forget about. Rich in collagen, oxtails lend a luxuriously silky mouthfeel to ragus, stews, and braises. After being slowly cooked, the meat surrounding the oxtail will easily shred into succulent bites.
If you love making your own beef stock, you already know the magic that comes in bones. For bone broth, choose bones with an abundance of marrow running through them as it will render and add fat, flavor, and an unctuous mouthfeel. For the best flavor and to create purer stocks (more clear and with less impurities), follow the classical French method of roasting the bones before using them.
These are selections of beef that aren't made from any one particular primal.
The ultimate go-to for quick weeknight meals or showstopping culinary achievements; no freezer is complete without a backup supply of ground beef. You can find ground beef that ranges in lean/fat percentages, from 70/30 on the high-fat side all the way to 93/7. Hamburger that is around 85% lean is the most common and is best suited for most recipes to provide fat and flavor without making the dish greasy. Redger Farms ground beef is typically between 80-90% lean.
Stew meat is typically cubed pieces trimmed off of various roast cuts. It is an excellent choice for slow cooking into beef stews (of course), shredded beef, or chilis. The pieces tend to be lean, so cook them low and slow to give them ample time to become tender.
Sausage is made with finely ground meat, flavorfully seasoned with spices like garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, fennel, marjoram, oregano, etc. The meat is traditionally stuffed into a pork casing, which is what provides the iconic “snap” when you bite into a mustard-covered bratwurst. Grass-fed sausages can be slightly leaner than grain-fed, so make sure you keep an eye on them while they’re on the grill.
Summer sausages have been dried, smoked, or cured to make it shelf-stable at room temperature for long periods of time (but should be refrigerated after opening). It can be sliced and enjoyed with crackers and cheese.