A Guide to the Different Cuts of Beef

Beef comes from cows that are raised and slaughtered for their meat. But not all beef is the same. Depending on which part of the cow it comes from, beef can vary wildly in texture, fat content and flavor. For both cooks and consumers, it’s helpful to understand the differences between cuts of beef and how to identify them.

The 8 Primal Cuts

There are 8 major sections on a cow where beef cuts are sourced from. These are known as the primal cuts:

  • Chuck
  • Rib
  • Loin
  • Sirloin
  • Round
  • Flank
  • Short Plate
  • Brisket

Within these primal cuts are various subprimal and portion cuts that make up what you find at the grocery store.


The chuck comes from the shoulder and neck area of the cow. It contains a lot of connective tissue, which requires long cooking times to break down and tenderize the meat.

Popular chuck cuts:

  • Chuck roast – For pot roasts or stew meat
  • Chuck steak – Can be braised
  • Shoulder steak – Often ground or cubed
  • Blade steak – Good for grilling


The rib primal comprises the upper rib cage of the cow. This area doesn’t get much exercise, so the meat is very tender and marbled with fat.

Popular rib cuts:

  • Ribeye steak – Most tender, well-marbled steak
  • Rib roast – Elegant roasts like prime rib
  • Short ribs – Ideal for braising
  • Back ribs – Meaty ribs perfect for barbecue


The loin runs along the spine of the cow from the ribcage back through the sirloin. As it doesn’t get much exercise, loin cuts are very tender.

Popular loin cuts:

  • Tenderloin – Extremely tender, sold as filet mignon steaks
  • Strip loin – Sold as New York strips, excellent for grilling
  • T-bone steak – Contains both strip and tenderloin
  • Porterhouse steak – Large T-bone with more tenderloin
  • Tri-tip roast – Flavorful cut ideal for grilling


The sirloin is located near the hip of the cow. It’s less tender than loin cuts but still suitable for grilling.

Popular sirloin cuts:

  • Top sirloin steak – Lean and moderately tender
  • Bottom sirloin – Often sliced thin or cubed for kabobs
  • Tri-tip steak – Good for grilling whole
  • Ball tip roast – Economical roasting cut


Round cuts come from the back leg of the cow. This area gets a lot of exercise, so cuts from the round tend to be lean and tough.

Popular round cuts:

  • Top round roast/steak – Lean, benefits from marination
  • Bottom round roast – Good for pot roast
  • Eye of round roast/steak – Very lean; slice thinly against the grain
  • Round tip roast/steak – Good for marinades before grilling


The flank comes from the cow’s abdominal muscles. It has a very meaty beef flavor but can be fibrous.

Popular flank cuts:

  • Flank steak – Often marinated and grilled quickly
  • Skirt steak – Thinly sliced for fajitas or chili

Short Plate

The short plate is located under the ribcage of the cow. It contains a lot of tough connective tissue.

Popular short plate cuts:

  • Short ribs – Ideal for braising into tenderness
  • Skirt steak – Often used for ground beef
  • Hanger steak – Has a loose grain; slice thinly


The brisket comes from the chest area between the front legs of the cow. It contains a lot of connective tissue and fat, which requires long cooking times to break down.

Popular brisket cuts:

  • Whole brisket – Iconic Texas barbecue cut
  • Brisket flat – Leaner section ideal for smoking
  • Brisket point – Fattier, more moist section

Other Primal Cuts

  • Shank – Tough leg cut best used for stews and braising

  • Plate – Belly area; used for short ribs and skirt steak

The next time you go shopping for beef, use this guide to identify where the cuts are coming from on the cow. Understanding the primal source will help you select the right cut for your desired cooking method.

Identifying Cuts at the Grocery Store

When shopping for beef, here are some tips for identifying different cuts:

  • Color – Bright red vs dark purple indicates age of beef. Darker means older.

  • Marbling – White streaks of fat within the red meat. More marbling means more tender and flavorful.

  • Thickness – Thicker cuts tend to be tougher while thinner cuts cook faster.

  • Grain – Direction of muscle fibers. Cut against the grain for tenderness.

  • Label – Check labels for primal source (chuck, rib, etc) and recommended cooking method.

Best Cooking Methods by Cut

To get the most flavor and tenderness out of your beef, match the cut with the right cooking method:


  • Ribeye
  • Strip loin
  • Tenderloin
  • Sirloin
  • Flank
  • Skirt
  • Tri-tip


  • Ribeye
  • Strip loin
  • Tenderloin
  • Top sirloin


  • Ribeye
  • Strip loin
  • Tenderloin
  • Skirt
  • Flank
  • Hanger


  • Chuck roast
  • Short ribs
  • Brisket
  • Round cuts
  • Shank


  • Rib roast
  • Tri-tip
  • Round cuts

Ground Beef

  • Chuck
  • Round
  • Short plate

With so many cuts to choose from, exploring different types of beef keeps home cooking exciting. Use this guide to make informed choices at the grocery store and match beef cuts with preparation methods that highlight their unique qualities.

Beef 101: The Beginner’s Guide to Every Cut of Beef


What are all the cuts of beef called?

There are 8 main primal cuts of beef: chuck, rib, loin (consisting of the short loin and the sirloin), round, flank, plate, brisket, and shank. Divided by groups of muscles, the meat from each primal has its own unique flavor, texture, and level of fat and marbling due to how hard the muscles were worked.

What is the best cut of beef?

These cuts—ribeye, New York strip loin, and filet mignon—can certainly be dubbed the best, and few will disagree. “Filet is the most tender cut, but has the least amount of flavor. Ribeye is the most flavorful, but the least tender of the three, and New York is in the middle.” Flannery explains.

What is most tender cut of beef?

The most tender of all cuts of beef, tenderloin steaks are lean and known for their delicate, butter-like texture and thick cut. These mouthwatering steaks are so tender they can be “cut with a butter knife.” Tenderloin steaks are commonly known as filets or filet mignon.

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