Having a basic understanding of the available cuts of beef can help expand your options when it comes to choosing what to cook for dinner. The following guide provides some essential tips; however, a good butcher shop can guide you further when it comes to preparation and specialty cuts. And of course not all meat is the same. For the highest-quality, natural beef, always choose antibiotic- and hormone-free meats that are minimally or not processed.

Beef Chart

The chart above shows the basic segments of the animal. Within each segment there are a wide range of cuts. Certain sections are good for grilling and eating as is; others are better slow cooked or sliced thin due to their tougher nature. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more popular cuts of beef.

High-End Steaks
There are four primary high-end cuts that are most popular, and for good reason; they’re typically more tender and do not need to be cooked for extended periods of time.

Ribeye is also known as the Delmonico steak or market steak, among other names. This cut comes from the rib section of the steer. The ribeye is best cooked on the grill and is also excellent when broiled or pan-fried.

Strip Steak
The strip steak goes by several names, such as the Kansas City strip, top loin, and shell steak (when sold bone in). The strip steak comes from the short loin section. The best methods of cooking are grilling, pan-frying, or broiling. There is less fat on this piece of meat than on the ribeye. Since the fat tends to drip and catch fire on the grill, it can be easier to manage over the coals.

The tenderloin is also known as filet, filet mignon, and châteaubriand (when cut as a large, center-cut roast feeding two or more). The filet comes from the short loin section and is known for being exceptionally tender. This is partly because it does not have as much connective tissue or fat. For this reason, the filet is not as flavorful as the others. Basting this steak in butter will help the flavor profile. The grill also works well.

The T-bone consists of two steaks in one — a strip steak and a filet separated by a bone. Another name for it is the porterhouse. It comes from the front end of the short loin section of the steer. The unusual shape of the bone makes it difficult for pan-frying. As a result, the best way to cook a T-bone is on the grill or to broil it. Grilling will pose a bit of a challenge, however, as the filet portion will cook faster than the fattier strip section. To solve for this, position the strip closer to the heating element of the grill.

Some of the toughest cuts of meat include the chuck, brisket, foreshank, and plate. Because of their tough nature, they are typically cooked slowly over extended periods of time using lower heat.

Two cuts of tougher meat have become very popular for grilling. The flank steak and skirt steaks are both very flavorful but contain tough fibers, and they come from portions of the animal that get a lot of work. Flank and skirt steaks have become so popular because they are typically less expensive and taste great. To make them an appealing option on the grill they are often marinated, which helps tenderize the meat. Cutting these steaks thin will also help make them easier to chew.

There is a wide range of additional options when it comes to beef. Knowing what’s available will help when it comes to making some choices at your local butcher shop. And of course a good butcher will always be willing to help you understand the basics.