Know Thine Bovine

Know Thine Bovine

Beef header

Meat. Fire. Manliness. This we know. But there comes a time in a man's life when knowing more than just “meat is good served hot” becomes essential. Learn the basics and beyond as we break down man's best friend. Best friend that we eat, that is.

By Robert Fure

Is there anything more manly or more delicious than beef? Don't bother answering, we all know the answer. Over our long history as creatures who could walk upright, we've longed to slap some red meat on the fire and savor that sweet taste. Combining the manliness of hunting and providing, the talent and technique of fine cooking, and the harnessing of fire, making a good steak or beef dish is the pinnacle of being a man.

While we're sure you've noticed there's a few different looking slabs in your butchers display, do you know just how complex the meat puzzle is? Join us as we explore the variety of cuts and the best way to prepare each for the perfect meat meal.

cow diagram

Meet Mr. Cow

Is it any wonder cows are worshiped in some parts of the world? They gift us succulent roasts, delicious thick-cut steaks, divine ribs, and even milk to wash it all down. I say the best way to celebrate these bovine deities is to become one with them through diet. Sorry cow, you're just too damn tasty to live.

Our friend the cow, after the shoe making material has been removed, is divided up into several large “primal cuts,” which are the large sections that are later cut down even further to give us what is commonly referred to as, surprise surprise, “a cut.”

Meet Chuck

This area is the upper front shoulder of the beast. As a major muscle group, it is well exercised and composed mostly of muscle with relatively little fat. What it does have is connective tissue, such as collagen, that breaks down during cooking and brings more flavor to the meat.

The Cut – From this area of the cow comes the “Flat Iron Steak,” which has risen in popularity in recent years. This is a really tender, flavorful steak that can be prepared on the grill, in the skillet, or in the broiler. This is a personal favorite of the staff of Primer due to its modest cost, high flavor, and tenderness. Marinate and grill for 6 minutes a side.

Other Notable Cuts – Pot Roast, Chuck Steaks, Boneless Short Ribs

The Prep – While steaks cut from this area can be prepared on the grill or broiled, you may want to go with larger cuts (roasts) and slow cook them to completely break down any collagen and get a soft, flavorful dish.

Rib Stickin' Good

The next primal cut is the aptly named “rib” area. I feel like maybe you already know why. This area balances muscle and fat nicely and can be prepared any number of ways. Many recipes will direct you towards roasting, broiling, and grilling.

The Cut – Back Ribs. Is there anything more satisfying than tearing soft, flavorful meat straight from the bone? I don't think so. Slather these bad boys in barbecue sauce and slap them on the grill or wrap them in foil and cook in an oven or closed top grill for soft, succulent bits.

Other Notable Cuts- Rib Roast, Rib Steak, Rib-eye Roast, Rib-eye Steak.

The Prep – When dealing with the ribs, you'll want to, obviously, roast your roast sections (slow cooking is not required) and when dealing with all the other cuts of steaks and ribs, toss them on a hot grill.


Get Short Loin

Located just aft of the ribs, this section of meat is your wheelhouse when ordering at a steakhouse. Rich in fats that bring tenderness and flavor, cuts from this area respond well to virtually all styles of cooking and do not require long exposure to heat to achieve a full flavor.

The Cut – The Porterhouse is the king of all steaks. Cut from the rear of the short loin, this steak is composed of a strip loin steak, a t-bone, and a tenderloin. To be called a Porterhouse, a t-bone steak must have government regulated amounts of each. You may know the tenderloin by its other, more common name – filet mignon.

Other Notable Cuts – Filet Mignon, T-Bone Steak, Top Loin Steak, Tenderloin Roast

The Prep – You can prepare this almost any way imaginable. When in doubt, default to the grill, my friends. Fire cures all.

Meet Sirloin

Sirloin comes from the hip region of this beautiful animal and these cuts are often best sauteed, pan fried, or grilled. Lately, it has become popular to grind sirloin and mix it with chuck for a high-class hamburger.

The Cut – Tri-tip Steak. Dry roast or marinate and grill this long, thin steak for a delicious meal. This cut responds very well to different marinades and cooks quickly.

Other Notable Cuts – Tri-Tip Roast and Top Sirloin Steak.

The Prep – Again, you're almost always better off grilling these, but when sliced thin or cut for presentation, they can be prepared on the stove top.

Top Round Steak

Round Town

The round comes from the hindquarters of the cow and, like the Chuck, has a fair amount of collagen to be broken down. These lends the meat from this area for long, slow cooking lengths. Much of what you'll cut from this area is perfect for roasting.

The Cut – Top Round is the most tender part of the round and is excellent when prepared as a pot roast. Served with roasted carrots, potatoes, and gravy, this is a nice hearty dish with hearty tones that take one back home.

Other Notable Cuts – Bottom Round Roast, Bottom Round Steak, Eye Round Roast, Round Tip Steak, Sirloin Tip Center Roast, Sirloin Tip Side Steak.

The Prep – Any steaks from this area can be braised or grilled, though mostly you'll be dealing with the long slow cooking of roasts.

Shank the Brisket

From the front leg of cow, below the Chuck, comes the shank and brisket cuts. Often used for stewing or to make, you guessed it, Beef Brisket, these areas are less popular though delicious when prepared correctly.

The Cut – Brisket front cut, slow roasted, makes an excellent and tender roast. Though Brisket, covered and slow cooked, makes one hell of a sandwich.

Other Notable Cuts – Shank Cross Cut, Brisket Flat Cut.

The Prep – Slow cooking all the way, baby.

Clean Your Plate

This stewing meat comes from the belly area of the cow and has a rich, beefy flavor. Most often you won't be served this in any form other than stewing meats.

The Cut – Cubed beef.

Other Notable Cuts – None, really.

The Prep – Coat with flour, brown, stew. Game over.

Flanking Maneuver

The Flank part of the animal comes from an area I'm not quite comfortable talking about. No, it's nothing disgusting, just some muscular, lean, and flavorful beef. Great for those on a muscle building diet as its rich in vitamins, protein, and has a low fat content.

The Cut – Flank Steak. Often called the “London Broil” when ordered, this is a good broiler steak that can be cooked in a few ways and takes marinades very well.

Other Notable Cuts – Skirt steak.

The Prep – For a flavor burst, marinate these steaks between 4 and 12 hours and then grill.

A close up of flat iron steak
Photo by Jace Hentges

Bon Appétit

There you have it, friends, a basic run down of all the primal cuts of meat we can carve off a cow as well as some of your best options when selecting a cut. My personal recommendation is the delicious Flat Iron Steak, marinated for four hours and wrapped tightly in plastic wrapped, then grilled over a fairly hot flame. With this knowledge, it's time to conquer the Steakhouse (order the Porterhouse) and the meat market. Oh, and if Jimmy from accounting starts babbling about “marbling,” you just tell him any short loin has a sufficiently high fat content and that the real determining factors are time and heat. Take that back to the cubicle and smoke it! (Oooh, smoked spare ribs!)