Sadly most people will never go to a butcher to have meat cut to their liking and settle for what is on the grocery store shelf. I’m here to tell you that you are doing yourself a disservice and it’s time to start loving your meat (you know what I mean). The cow is one of the most versatile food sources we have so taking the time to learn the different cuts can open up a new world in your kitchen.
The general rule in understanding steaks is that the less exercise the area gets, the more tender the meat. T-Bone, porterhouse, rib-eye and filets are going to cost you much more per pound but that doesn’t mean with a little work the other cuts can’t be just as delicious. With proper preparation, a flat iron or top sirloin steak can produce an amazing meal. Some of my favorite recipes involve flank or skirt steak which are by nature very tough cuts. A little marinade goes a long way.
For roasts the same rule applies but the joy of slow cooking can turn almost any cut into a meal that is fork tender. Premium cuts (top loin, tenderloin) can handle dry heat cooking but when moving into cuts around the leg (pot roasts) you are dealing with more connective tissue so slow, moist heat cooking is the preferred method. One key thing to remember here, fat equals flavor so don’t let it scare you away.
Beef ribs aren’t nearly as popular as their pork cousins but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. The can be broiled, grilled or smoked (my recommendation) so pick what works in your environment and go. They have much more meat than pork ribs which makes them a favorite for those of us with big appetites.
Brisket is a cut that should not be taken on unless you really know what you are doing. I’ve had more than a few briskets that had the consistency of shoe leather because they weren’t prepared properly. On the flip side, when a brisket is made with the necessary amount of love, it is one of the most amazing things you will ever eat.
Ground beef is a staple in most households so this is an area that you really need to pay attention to. You will see the ground beef broken down into one of these fat categories:
Fat can add a ton of flavor to dishes so don’t immediately jump for the most lean you can find. My recommendation is to use leaner beef for dishes that are getting flavor from other ingredients like stuffed peppers or spaghetti. If you are making burgers you are going to need fat to give you juicy finish that doesn’t taste like a hockey puck.
I hope I can bring some new life to your dinner planning and encourage you to dive even deeper than I have gone in this article. My best piece of advice is to find some time to schmooze your local butcher. Most are happy to share their expertise because they know they are creating a long term relationship that will keep you coming back to try new things. Be adventurous! Break out of the old habits of taking what your grocery store has on sale. With a little hard work you can turn the toughest piece of beef into something your family will be begging you to make again.