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Know the Basics of Beef Cuts
The key for understanding beef cuts—and how to use them— is knowing where the meat originates on an animal. Location determines a cut’s characteristics and recommended cooking techniques.
Meat is basically the muscle tissue of an animal, made up of water, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Muscles are made up of fibrous cells.
According to Chris English, president of the Hawaii Cattleman’s Association, the more tender cuts of beef are found in the “middle meat” of a steer, or the rib and short loin areas. It’s where the least body movement and stress occurs.
Meat from the shoulder and hind areas, in comparison, has more collagen and elastin. These muscles do the most work and so their cuts are less tender.
Middle-meat cuts include a variety of steaks: New York strip, porterhouse, rib-eye, sirloin, t-bone and tri-tip.
“These steaks have marbled fat that’s in between the muscle fibers, details English, who is pasture and livestock manager at Ponoholo Ranch in North Kohala. “This marbling makes steaks juicy and flavorful.”
Tender, middle-meat cuts are best prepared using dry heat over a short time—grilling, broiling, pan-frying and sautéing. English says that grass-fed beef, which is leaner, requires a shorter cooking time in comparison to grain-fed beef, so keep this in mind to avoid overcooking.
Cuts with more connective tissue—round steak, swiss steak, boneless chuck (pot roast) and rolled rump—need slow, moist cooking to break down muscle fibers. They respond best to braising, stewing, pot roasting and pressure cooking.
English stresses that “end meats,” either from the chuck or round areas, can be just as tender and flavorful as from the rib and short loin, they simply require different cooking techniques.
Beef Cut Tip: Try Flat Iron Steak
English recommends trying an under-appreciated cut taken from the chuck primal of the steer; it’s called the “flat iron steak” or “shoulder top blade steak.”
“Through beef research, muscle profiling has discovered this cut is more tender than first thought…and it’s flavorful too. It’s historically been used as pot roast or ground beef,” he shares. The flat iron steak is tender enough to be cooked on the grill with high, dry heat.
Grass-Fed Beef Recipe
Grass-Fed Flat Iron Steak | By Chef Paul Heerlein
* Image courtesy of Wikipedia from a US Government Public Domain file.