What is Beef Belly? A Guide to This Delicious Cut

Beef belly, sometimes called navel or flanken, refers to a fatty, flavorful cut of beef from the belly region of the cow. With ample marbling and a large fat cap, beef belly transforms into a succulent, beefy treat when prepared properly.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about beef belly including:

  • Where it’s located on the cow
  • Characteristics and texture
  • Best cooking methods
  • Flavor profile
  • Nutrition
  • How to prepare and serve
  • Popular uses
  • Where to buy

Where Does Beef Belly Come From on the Cow?

Beef belly is cut from the belly of the cow, between the brisket and plate regions. It sits underneath the loin primal and runs along the bottom of the ribs.

This location gives beef belly a few signature traits:

  • Generous fat cap on top
  • Heavy marbling throughout
  • Contains part of the abdominal muscle
  • Rectangular shape with one thin side

On the cow, the belly provides protection for the organs and bones in the underbelly region. It contains a mix of fat and muscle tissue.

Characteristics of Beef Belly

Here are some key attributes that set beef belly apart from other cuts:

  • Extremely marbled – Abundant thin streaks of fat integrated throughout the meat. This marbling provides moisture, flavor and tenderness.

  • Thick fat cap – A hearty layer of fat on top that bastes the meat while cooking.

  • Tender muscle fibers – Less connective tissue since it’s from a less worked area than other cuts.

  • Rich beefy flavor – The marbling gives beef belly a distinctly beefy, savory taste.

  • Juicy and succulent – When cooked properly, beef belly becomes exceptionally moist and tender.

The combination of qualities makes beef belly a prized cut to many cooks and diners.

Best Cooking Methods for Beef Belly

While beef belly is versatile, these cooking methods are best suited to bring out its full potential:

  • Smoking – Smoking whole yields tender, mouthwatering burnt ends. Cook low and slow up to 190°F.

  • Braising – Braising chunks in liquid transforms them into fall-apart tender morsels.

  • Grilling – Quick grill over high heat yields caramelized exterior with tender, juicy interior.

  • Curing – Curing makes phenomenal homemade pastrami or bacon.

  • Sous vide – Cooks evenly edge to edge and intensifies flavor.

  • Stews and chilis – Adds rich, beefy depth when simmered in stews, chilis or sauces.

Beef belly does wonderfully when cooked low, slow and moist. High, dry heat works too but watch closely to avoid overcooking.

Flavor Profile and Texture

When prepared properly, beef belly offers an unrivaled savory, beefy flavor. During cooking, the fat bastes the meat keeping it incredibly moist and tender.

Here are some details on the flavor and texture:

  • Deep, rich beefy taste from ample marbling
  • Juicy, succulent and fork-tender
  • Buttery flavor and mouthfeel from rendered fat
  • Crispy, caramelized exterior when seared
  • Robust smoky notes when smoked
  • Intensified meaty flavors when braised or stewed

Beef belly is best cooked to medium or beyond, around 145°F up to 203°F for ultimate tenderness.

Nutrition Information

Like many fatty cuts, beef belly is high in calories and fat. A 3 oz serving provides:

  • Calories: 245
  • Fat: 18g
  • Sat. Fat: 7g
  • Protein: 15g
  • Carbs: 0g

While rich, enjoyed in moderation, beef belly can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

How to Prepare Beef Belly for Cooking

Preparing beef belly is simple:

  • Trim – Trim off any bone, silver skin or excess hard fat. Leave a 1⁄4 inch layer of fat cap.

  • Portion – Cut into sizes appropriate for your cooking method. Large pieces for smoking or braising. Small cubes for stew.

  • Season – Season all over with salt, pepper and spices or rub.

  • Refrigerate – Chill until ready to cook if not cooking immediately.

  • Bring to room temp – Take meat out of fridge at least 30 minutes before to take chill off before cooking.

Then cook using your preferred method until it reaches desired doneness, between 145°F up to 203°F.

How to Serve Beef Belly

Beef belly can be served in many delicious ways:

  • Smoked, sliced and sauced as burnt ends
  • Diced in stews, chili and braised dishes
  • Grilled or seared steaks and medallions
  • Chopped or shredded for tacos, sandwiches, nachos and more
  • Homemade pastrami or bacon
  • Bone broth using bones and trimmings

Serve it as the highlight of the dish or use it to add beefy richness to soups, beans, vegetables and more. Beef belly takes well to many global flavors.

Popular Uses for Beef Belly

Beyond everyday meals, beef belly shines when used for:

  • Burnt ends – The most popular preparation; smoke whole then cube and sauce.

  • Stew meat – Adds hearty beef flavor when braised in stews.

  • Chili – Diced beef belly gives chili tremendous depth.

  • Sandwich meat – Especially when cured into pastrami or bacon.

  • Broths and stocks – Bones add rich body when simmered into broths.

  • Charcuterie – Cured beef belly makes phenomenal pastrami or bacon.

Both professional chefs and home cooks prize beef belly for the amazing results it produces across many applications.

Where to Buy Beef Belly

Beef belly used to be harder to source, but with its growth in popularity, there are now several options to purchase high quality beef belly:

  • Butcher shops – Ask your local butcher if they can specially source beef belly.

  • Specialty online stores – Purchase grass-fed or Wagyu beef belly from online purveyors.

  • Wholesale distributors – Source from foodservice distributors if you want large volume.

  • Farms – Check directly with beef producers in your region.

  • Ethnic grocers – Asian and Hispanic markets sometimes stock beef belly.

For the best results, try to find pasture-raised beef belly when possible for superior marbling and flavor.

A Tasty and Versatile Cut

Beef belly is growing in popularity for good reason – when treated right, this fatty, well-marbled cut becomes an incredibly flavorful and tender addition to many dishes. Its ability to braise, smoke, grill and cure into stellar results makes beef belly a favorite for many types of cooking.

With a beefy depth unmatched by most other cuts, beef belly is worth seeking out and experimenting with in the kitchen. Use this guide to gain confidence with preparing beef belly and incorporating it into your next recipe.

Beef Belly on a Pellet Smoker | Mad Scientist BBQ


What cut of meat is beef belly?

In the United States, what we might call beef belly is also called a navel or a plate. In the UK, they call it navel end brisket. It’s basically the equivalent of a pork belly, but on a beef.

Is beef belly tough?

Beef belly, or Beef Navel as it is more commonly called within the beef industry is the muscle at the front of the plate of the cow that attaches to the brisket. It is very fatty and can be very tough if the fat is left on when cooking.

Is beef belly the same as bacon?

Also called navel brisket and beef plate, beef belly is the same cut of the pig traditional pork bacon is made from. As they have a similar fat composition, it can be used as a substitute for brisket to make beef navel pastrami and other salumi.

Do people eat beef belly?

Beef belly is a hard-to-find cut of beef that is perfect for BBQ or smoking. It is larger and more flavorful than a typical pork belly, and it is sure to impress even the most discerning of meat lovers.

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