A-Z of beef

A-Z of beef

Beef is one of the most popular meats available, but which cuts of beef are the best—and which are the most underrated? 

The best beef comes from young animals, but even so it must, after slaughtering, be matured or "hung", at low temperatures, to tenderise the meat with the minimum loss of weight and to improve its keeping qualities.

At one time, a hanging period of 12–14 days was considered ideal, but with the trend towards slaughtering younger animals, the hanging period is now a good deal less. On properly hung beef, the lean meat should be plum red in colour and slightly moist.

Very bright red meat denotes that the beef has not been hung sufficiently and is therefore not as tender as it should be, also the flavour will not be as good. For well-hung beef it is essential to visit—and usually to know—a good independent butcher who will provide well-hung beef to order if not on a regular "everyday" basis.

a-z of cuts of beef

Dark red, lean and sinewy beef indicates cuts from an animal not of prime quality and likely to be tough. Such cuts are, however, suitable for slow cooking, provided they are well flecked with fat, which will give tenderness, heighten flavour and prevent the meat from becoming too dry.

Cuts of beef—and the names by which they are known—vary considerably in different parts of the United Kingdom. In Scotland and the North of England, for example, leg and shin of beef is known as hough.

Many traditional cuts, which are favoured for stewing or boiling, are not as popular as they once were. Therefore such cuts, especially ones with a high gristle content, are minced. Independent butchers sometimes use these tough cuts to make excellent sausages or burgers.

The cuts and joints mentioned here may not always be available from your local supermarket, which will specialise in prepacked meats, but a good butcher will supply any of them given a few days’ notice.


The best cuts

the best cuts of beef

Bladebone: Sold as braising steak and often included with chuck which is similar (in Scotland, the blade and chuck together are known as a shoulder). Many butchers dice blade of beef and mix it with chopped kidney to be sold as steak and kidney. Blade is also excellent for slow-cooked casseroles and stews.

Brisket on the bone: A whole brisket weighs 7.25–8.16 kg/ 16–18 lb; it is usually cut up into joints, ideally of 2.05–2.27 kg/ 4ó–5 lb because of the amount of bone and meat. Choose a joint with a good proportion of meat to fat and bone. Cook by boiling, pot-roasting or braising. Brisket rolled, boned and rolled joints are suitable for slow pot-roasting and braising. Brisket is an excellent economical buy,especially when catering for large numbers. Ask the butcher to trim the joint of excess fat. Traditionally, brisket was readily available salted, but this is now not as common. High-quality butchers still offer salted beef. The meat is then boiled with vegetables and it may be pressed to serve cold.

Chuck: This is the more tender cut of stewing steak and is also suitable for braising, known in the North of England as a chine. Braise, stew or use for pie and pudding fillings.

Clod or sticking: Also known as neck. This muscular cut is useful for stewing or casseroles. It is usually fairly inexpensive but has a high proportion of gristle which must be trimmed off.

Fillet: This lean and boneless piece of beef, which lies below the ribs of the sirloin, is the most expensive. It is usually sliced into steaks of about 175–225 g/6–8 oz each. Tiny flecks of fat running through the lean are good signs  that the steaks will grill well. It can also be ordered whole or in large portions for such dishes as boeuf en croûte, larded with thin strips of bacon fat.

Flank: Not to be confused with thick flank or top rump, this is an inexpensive, fatty joint. It is used mainly for minced beef, sausages and burgers.

Fore rib: One of the larger roasting joints, fore rib can be cooked either on the bone or boned and rolled.

different types of beef

Leg: This always refers to one of the hind legs, which contain a large proportion of tissue and gristle. The meat is lean and has a good flavour but it needs long and slow cooking. It makes excellent, full-flavoured stews and casseroles, and it is also used for consommé and beef tea.

Shin: This comes from the foreleg and is usually fairly gristly. It is normally sold for stews, casseroles, puddings or pies and, because of its high gelatine content, for brawns. Shin is a relatively inexpensive cut of beef, but also wasteful.

Silverside: This boned joint is traditionally used for spiced or salted beef for slow-boiling to serve hot or, after pressing, cold. Unsalted, the joint may be potroasted or barded and used for boeuf à la mode.

Sirloin: This is the traditional roast beef of old England. It is the ideal roast for quick cooking and tenderness, but also the most expensive. Can be bought on the bone or boned and rolled. It is sold with the fillet attached; if bought on the bone, the fillet can be removed and cooked separately.

Skirt: Taken from the flank area, this is a coarse-grained cut which is suitable for stewing or braising. Goose skirt is a thinner, flat cut from the same area and this tends to have a lower proportion of gristle and membranes.

Top and back rib: Usually known as middle rib, this cut comes from the ribs between the fore ribs and the shoulder. The joint is divided into two: top and back ribs which are partially boned and rolled for easier carving. These joints have less bone than fore ribs do and they are good slow-roasted.

Top rump: A large joint from the hind leg, also known as thick flank. It is usually cut into two joints and tied with fat. May be slow-roasted at low temperature, but is better pot-roasted. Can also be sliced for braising or cubed for casseroles and stews.

Topside: A very lean, boneless joint with a fine grain to the meat. It is best slow-roasted or pot-roasted, but it may also be braised. If topside of beef is used for roasting, ask the butcher to tie a piece of good larding fat round the joint to keep it moist during cooking.

Wing or prime rib: This large joint, from between the fore ribs and sirloin, is one of the most expensive cuts. It is an excellent joint for roasting (a standing rib roast), weighing 1.8 kg – 5.45 kg/ 4 – 12 lb. It should have a good eye muscle of meat and a good outer layer of firm and creamy yellow fat.



which cut of steak to buy

Châteaubriand: This tender, expensive steak is ideally about 3 cm/1. in thick and is cut from the centre of the fillet. Grill or fry. It is generally large enough to serve two people.

Entrecôte: The lean, tender eye muscle from a boneless sirloin. Usually 2.5–3.5 cm/1–1ó in thick, and one of the most popular steaks as it can be cut to uniform weight and size.

Fillet: Small steaks from the thin end of the fillet or the eye of meat from the thicker end of the fillet are known as filet mignon or tournedos. Tournedos are usually barded, tied and skewered to keep their shape during cooking.

Porterhouse: A thick steak cut from the chump end of the sirloin, containing part of the fillet. Usually 1.5–2.5 cm/.–1 in thick, this steak is excellent for grilling, especially over charcoal. Make sure the butcher trims off all excess fat.

Rump: This is considered the best-flavoured steak, excellent for grilling, or frying with onions. This steak should have about 5 mm/. in fat on the outside edge and no gristle.

T-bone: This thick steak is cut on the bone, from between the chump end and wing rib. It is usually cut to serve two portions, but may also be cut out as individual steaks. Grill or fry.