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EDIBLE ROUND-UP: BEEF

edible round-up

THE LOCAVORE’S GUIDE TO
Beef

BY NATALIE ERMANN RUSSELL
ILLUSTRATION BY DENNIS HEIL
PHOTOS BY KATHYRN BRASS

W

here’s the beef? Ask a butcher that question, and he’ll want to know which beef you’re talking about. There are about 75 cuts to choose from, many of which have a variety of names, depending on how any given muscle was sectioned and where the butcher learned his trade (one man’s Kansas City steak is another man’s New York strip). How to prepare the various steaks, roasts, and ribs is a challenge as well. When to grill? When to braise? When to roast?

Beef is muscle, and how you cook it depends upon how much it was used by the cow. The front (chuck) and back (round) are oft-used muscles, with plenty of connective tissue and marbleized fat (read: flavor). In general, these tougher cuts must be cooked with slow, moist heat. (Leaving bones in also adds tremendous flavor, so ask for the bones when you can.) The middle portions—where the cuts tend to be tender and more expensive—don’t involve the hard-working muscles, have a milder flavor, and can be cooked with dry heat over a shorter period of time.

Some grocery-store packaging will tell you where a cut comes from, which is helpful for something like a London broil because it can be from several different parts of the cow.

Of course, visit a neighborhood butcher or get it straight from the farm, and you can ask questions and tap into the knowledge of these seasoned experts. In the meantime, we’re providing a map of the eight “primal cuts” (the first cuts made when a butcher breaks down a steer), along with some fantastic recipes and tips from local butchers. So, you ask, where’s the beef? Hopefully, it’s in your kitchen.

Brisket

CUTS: Brisket, shank, soup bones

LOCATION:This is basically the cow’s breast, immediately below the chuck. The abundant fat prevents the meat from drying out.

INSIDER TIP: Many chefs swear by the brisket for ground hamburger meat, because it has a magic ratio of 30 percent fat to 70 percent protein. (Ask for some next time you’re at the local butcher shop.)

COOKING TECHNIQUES: In liquid (braise, or use a slow-cooker). Also very good when cured (smoked, pickled, etc.), as in pastrami and corned beef.

RECIPE

Ossobuco Milanese over Saffron Risotto

Flank

CUTS: Flank steak, often used for ground beef and London broil

LOCATION: Comes from the belly section of a hindquarter and has no bone segments. It can be tough because it has a lot of tissue.

INSIDER TIP: Experts recommend cutting flank steak against the grain (perpendicular to the lines) because those lines are actually long muscle fibers that are difficult to chew if not cut crosswise into smaller pieces.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Best cooked quickly: marinated and pan-broiled or grilled. Can also be braised.

Chuck Shoulder

CUTS: Chuck eye roast, chuck eye steak, top blade steak, chuck pot roast, mock tender, blade roast, 7-bone roast, short ribs, flat iron steak, arm pot roast, often used for hamburger

LOCATION: The forequarter containing ribs one through five—which is basically the shoulder. It is the largest primal cut.

INSIDER TIP: The chuck contains the workhorse muscles of the cow, which gives it the most flavor. The plentiful connective tissue dissolves when the meat is slowcooked and provides a special flavor profile.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Cook in liquid slow and long (i.e., braise or pop into a slow cooker).

RECIPE

Napoletan Meatballs

Short Loin

CUTS: Prime rib, rib roast (large end and small end), rib eye roast, rib eye steak, rib steak, back ribs

LOCATION: Top portion from the 6th through the 12th ribs.

INSIDER TIP: “Small end” and “large end” rib roasts refer to the size of the bones that surround it, not the actual size of the meat. The more-tender small end is actually larger than the tougher large end.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Dry-heat cooking, including grilling, broiling, roasting, pan-frying.

RECIPE

Niman Ranch Beef Tenderloin Filets Wrapped in Applewood-smoked Bacon with Gorgonzola Gratinee and Green Peppercorn Bordelaise Sauce

Short Plate

CUTS: Short ribs, skirt steak, hanger steak, often used for ground beef

LOCATION: More or less the area below the rib primal cut; it includes the bottom portion of ribs six through 12.

INSIDER TIP: The inexpensive skirt steak gets tough if cooked beyond medium; keep it at rare or medium rare and it remains quite tender.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Best cooked quickly: marinated and panbroiled or grilled.

RECIPE

Shore Diner Beef Short Ribs

Round

CUTS: Top round steak or roast, bottom round roast, eye round steak or roast, heel of round, rolled rump, rump roast, round tip steak or roast, knuckle steak, cube steak, round steak, kebabs, often used for hamburger

LOCATION: Derived from a hindquarter, it is more or less the hind legs and the rump. It is the second-largest primal cut.

INSIDER TIP: There are three major muscle groups in this section: the top round, which is where a lot of London broil comes from; bottom round, which can be turned into cube steak (great for chickenfried steak); and eye of round, which is typically a roasting cut.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Because it doesn’t have abundant marbling, much of it needs to be cooked in liquid (braising, slowcooker); however, some cuts are tender enough for roasting (i.e., high-quality top round, knuckle, and rump roasts).

Rib

CUTS: Prime rib, rib roast (large end and small end), rib eye roast, rib eye steak, rib steak, back ribs

LOCATION: Top portion from the 6th through the 12th ribs.

INSIDER TIP: “Small end” and “large end” rib roasts refer to the size of the bones that surround it, not the actual size of the meat. The more-tender small end is actually larger than the tougher large end.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Dry-heat cooking, including grilling, broiling, roasting, pan-frying.

RECIPE

Harris Family Prime Rib Roast

Sirloin

CUTS: Sirloin steak (flat bone), sirloin steak (round bone), top sirloin steak, pin bone sirloin steak, flat bone sirloin steak, cowboy steak, tri-tip, triangle steak

LOCATION: It includes bone segments of lumbar vertebrae and is often referred to as the hip area. Not as tender as the short loin region. Has many muscle groups, which means it can be cut in a myriad of ways, resulting in a great variety of cuts.

INSIDER TIP: The quality of the fat is different here than in other parts of the cow. It can become hard after cooking,so you will need to trim it out as you’re eating—not before, or you’ll lose flavor as well.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: This region can be a little tough, but still can be prepared with some dry heat. Best to broil or panfry. Also makes good stew beef.

MUST-HAVE KITCHEN
TOOLS FOR MEAT

INSTANT-READ MEAT THERMOMETER

Gauging when a piece of beef is done solely by sight is difficult to impossible. A thermometer will tell you 145 degrees for medium-rare; 160 degrees for medium; and 170 degrees for well-done.

MEAT TENDERIZER OR POUNDER

Meat Pounder

For tougher cuts of meat (from the chuck or round, for example), a little pounding can make a big difference when it comes to tenderness. Some tenderizers even have blades that can be used to infuse the meat with garlic bits.

SILICONE BASTING BRUSH

Basting Brush

Because the bristles are made of silicone, they are super easy to clean and do the job just as well (if not better) than the old kind.

MARINADE INJECTOR

Marinade Injector

This hypodermic-needlelike gadget infuses a piece of meat with your favorite marinade—and tremendous flavor.

DUTCH OVEN

This kitchen necessity is usually made of enameled cast iron or metal and is perfect for braising and slow cooking.


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