While grilling beef is an essential and needs to be put on the grill. And with the right cooking method your grill gets the best flavors out of the beef cuts. The variety of beef cuts provides you with the meat best fitting for your personal preferences. The problem is: which cut should you choose? Since beef is used worldwide for a long time and is integral part in many BBQ cultures the number of cuts is enormous. With this guide we want to bring the most common cuts closer to you.
An overview of the most important beef cuts
The skirt steak is a cut from the diaphragm muscle of the beef and thus comes from the breast or belly area. The structure of skirt steak is firm, its fibers are coarser, and it has a distinctive marbling of fat. Even if it is not considered as a tender cut it’s recommended. Thanks to the amount of fat, it is juicy and get an aromatic flavor due to high stress of the cattle. But in this cut the flavor varies. The outer parts of skirt steak are usually a little bit more tender and more flavorful than the inner parts. Due to its structure skirt steak is perfect to sear or grilling but could be also braised. Typical dishes with skirt steak are fajitas, carne arrechera or churrasco.
The brisket is cut from the breast or lower chest of the beef and is usually a bigger piece of meat. Characteristic for this big piece of beef are the two muscle strands, the bigger flat and the smaller point, and a fat cap. If all these parts of the brisket are combined, it is called full packer brisket or packer cut. Since a brisket consists of mostly long fibers you must choose a careful and time intensive cooking method to ensure the best result. Brisket is usually used for corned beef or pastrami but cooked in a smoker as smoked brisket it’s part of the holy trinity of BBQ.
Flat Iron Steak
A flat iron steak is a relatively modern cut of beef, but you shouldn’t overlook it. It is a thinner piece and cut from the chuck or the shoulder of the beef. After removing an inner tendon, the form of the cut reminds of an old-fashioned flat iron, hence the name. A flat iron steak should be your choice if you are looking for a tender but flavorful cut. Due to its thinness, it is perfect for grilling or searing, but you should keep an eye on the time to prevent it from overcooking.
The most imposing cut of beef you could slam on the grill. Basically it is “just” a rib eye steak, but the remaining rib bone gives it its primal look and size. Leaving the trimmed bone gives a tomahawk steak an impressive size to serve enough meat for two persons or just one very hungry person. The flavors of a tomahawk are quite versatile and provide juicy and tender qualities. And thanks to the bone a unique hint is also added while grilling. Regarding grilling: you are going to spare some time to grill a tomahawk, because its thickness greatly affects the cooking time. The name of this cut derives from the tomahawk, an axe used by native Americans which resembles the cut.
Rib Eye Steak
The rib eye is a typical American cut. It is separated from the upper rib cage area and freed from the bone. It unifies different muscle strands from the back of the cattle and is only lightly worked by it. Due to that a rib eye steak gets two characteristic traits: a rich yet tender flavor and a beautiful fat marbling. While the flavor speaks for itself the fat makes the rib eye suitable for high seared or grilled cooking. The name of this cut is not derived from the grease eye but from a muscle strand which resembles an eye. Additionally, the French entrecôte is very close to the rib eye and both cuts don’t differ to the eye of the beholder.
If you laid an eye on a T-Bone Steak, you chose one of the traditional cuts. It is chopped from the lower back from the cattle, the short loin, and is defined by muscle strands and the namesake t-shaped bone. The aforementioned bone separates the two muscles into a bigger strip loin and a smaller filet. While the strip loin must have a fat cap, the filet is limited by its size. For this cut to correctly be called a T-bone steak the filet size must be 0,5-1,2 inch thick. Regarding flavors the T-bone brings in the best of two worlds. You get a bigger aromatic strip loin and a small chunk of filet, the most tender part of the beef.
The porterhouse steak is what could be defined as a classic cut for steakhouses. Just like its “little brother”, the T-bone steak, the porterhouse steak is from the short loin. It is cut from the lower part of the cattle’s back than a T-bone Steak, granting the typical form with a t-shaped bone that separates the strip loin from the filet. But in this case the ratio is different and a cut from the short loin can only be called porterhouse steak if the filet part is bigger than 1,2 inches. This way the roast beef and filet parts are balanced, granting you two different cuts at the same time. The aromatic strip loin and the tender filet are enough for two persons or yourself if you are hungry.
Even if sirloin steak is not considered as a high quality cut it has benefits. It is cut from the hip and a less strained muscle of the cattle. This makes sirloin steak a cut with little to no fat marbling and though a leaner piece. The own flavor of sirloin steak is due to that less intense as in other cuts and comes from the meat itself. Perfect if you are searching for a leaner piece of beef to grill or sear or if you want a combination like surf’n’turf.
Choosing filet steak, you get the most expensive cut of beef possible. It is cut from the tenderloin a muscle located underneath the back and ranging from its mid to the rear leg. Since it is effectively never used it has little to no fat and is the most tender part. Its flavor is less intense as in other, more fatty cuts, but it keeps a unique and succinct flavor.
From the whole filet and it’s tapered shape you can cut smaller variants of filet. From the small tip of the filet you can create a filet mignon while the even shaped middle piece could be served as medallions. The broader tenderloin head can be cooked as chateaubriand.
Cut from the short loin the strip steak is from a part that the cattle barely use and due to that a quite tender piece. It only shows no real fat marbling instead the fat is located in the muscle itself granting the cut a hearty flavor and moisture. If it is not trimmed, a small fat cap could be found on the meat. If you are looking for an intense and juicy piece a strip steak is your choice and perfect to be seared.
This cut is taken from the rear part of the beef’s belly and relatively thin in comparison to other cuts. It has a distinctive marbling of fat and is composed of mostly very long fibers due to being well-exercised by the cow. This makes a flank steak a flavorful but chewy cut which is best served seared at high heat and then cut in thin slices. For the best result it is cut against the fibers to balance its chewy texture.
The tri-tip is cut from the sirloin and a quite special cut. The cut is in triangular shape and beside a fat cap rests meat mostly consisting of muscle and only intramuscular fat. This makes the tri-tip a quite tender cut with an intense taste. It is perfect for searing and roasting fully taking advantage of the special consistence.