Primal Cuts: Beef

Primal Cuts:  Beef

Have you ever wondered how so many different cuts of meat can be sourced from a single cow? Not only this, but where specifically do we find each cut of beef on a cow? With so many different cuts, it is helpful to understand where each cut of meat comes from. In this way, you’ll be more equipped when deciding which cut to use for any particular occasion, as well as how to properly prepare it.

In this post, we will discussing different cuts of meat, as well as helpful information relating to each specific cut.


The Beef Basics

When a carcass is cut, they are first split down the middle into two halves. Once this is done,  each individual side is divided between the 12th and 13th ribs. The two halves from the front of the cow are considered the forequarter, while the two halves from the back of the cow are considered the hindquarter.

The main cuts of beef one will find in each section are known as “primal cuts” of beef. These primal cuts are then broken down even further into “subprimal cuts,” which are then used to cut individual portions for restaurants and retail.

Now, we will explore which primal and subprimal cuts are found in each section of the cow, along with the specific names of the retail cuts produced by each, since these will be the names you will be most familiar with.


Forequarter Cuts

  • Chuck
    From the very front of the forequarter, the Chuck primal cut contains parts of the neck, shoulder blades, and upper arm. It is generally considered to be a tough meat due to a large amount of connective tissues; however, it is also extremely flavorful due to a high fat content. While there are some cuts that are good for grilling, such as the Top Blade and Shoulder Steak, there are also cuts from the chuck that are amazing for a pot roast or slow-cooked stew. Along with this, the meat from the Chuck is also used to make ground beef for hamburger patties. Some other commons cuts from the Chuck include Cross-Rib Chuck Roast and Country-Style Ribs.


  • Rib
    The region between the 6th and 12th ribs makes up the Rib primal cut, which includes well-known cuts of meat such as Ribeye, Skirt Steak, and Short Ribs. The meet from this primal cut is known to be very tender, as well as incredibly delicious due to its high degree of marbling. With a variety of subprimal cuts, the Rib primal cut offers beef cuts for any cooking situation, be it grilling, roasting, searing, or frying.


  • Plate
    Being located directly below the Rib primal cut, the Plate primal cut section also offers short ribs. Along with this, also located in the Plate primal cut is the Skirt Steak, which can be cooked quickly, and delivers an amazing flavor.


  • Brisket
    Despite having great potential for flavor, the Brisket primal cut is usually very fatty and tough, and therefore need to be slow-roasted to perfection. Consisting mainly of the chest and pectoral muscle, the Brisket primal cut is thick and meaty, and tends to work best being cooked for a long time at low temperatures. Brisket is also the common choice for traditional corned beef and pastrami.


  • Shank
    Located in both the forequarters and hindquarters, the Shank primal cut is from the legs of the cow. As one of the toughest cuts of meat, it’s usually only used in soups and stews that need a long and slow cook.




  • Short Loin
    In the Short Loin region of the cow, one will find some of the most widely enjoyed and expensive cuts of meat. Popular cuts from the Short Loin include the T-Bone, Porterhouse, and New York Strip. These cuts of meat tend to be best cooked using dry-heat methods and grilling.


  • Sirloin
    Less tender than Short Loin, but arguably more flavorful, the Sirloin is located in the hindquarter, from the 13th rib to the end of the hip. These cuts of meat are generally not the best for slow cooking methods, and instead are best grilled, seared, or fried. Beyond this, the Sirloin primal cut can be split into two smaller regions, the top and bottom. The top Sirloin cut includes cuts such as the Top Sirloin Filet and Pin-Bone Steak, while the bottom Sirloin cut includes well-known meat cuts such as Tri-Tip and Ball-Tip Steak.


  • Tenderloin
    Situated amongst the Short Loin and the Sirloin, even sharing the same parts of meat, is the beef cut considered the most tender part of the cow. The Tenderloin cut is also where the highly sought after Filet Mignon is found. Since the meat found from the Tenderloin is already extremely tender, it tends to need only a quick cook at high heat.


  • Flank
    Found on the underbelly of the hindquarter, the Flank primal cut is known to be incredibly tough, and therefore needs proper attention when cooking, in order to make sure to not overcook it. Despite this, being an especially long and flat steak, the Flank primal cut can be easily marinated and sliced thin to produce a delicious meal. Along with this, Flank steaks have been getting increasingly more popular since it is so lean.


  • Round
    Much like the Flank primal cut, the Round primal cut is an extremely lean and versatile cut of meat. Along with this, the Round is also subdivided into three sections, the top, the bottom, and the knuckle. Some popular cuts from the Round include Round Steak and Eye of Round.