WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT WHAT PART OF THE ANIMAL MY CUT COMES FROM?
1) In general, the muscles that the steer uses to get around are more exercised and are usually tougher. Conversely, the least-used locomotive muscles are the tenderest. You’ll be able to see that when you look at the map and see where the tenderloin is (think filet mignon).
2) When you know what part the cuts come from, you’ll also understand better about the price.
3) You now have one more way to impress your friends.
On the meat map below, I’ve included the most popular names you’d recognize and that most people use in their everyday cooking. There are some cuts that have many names, depending on where you live, so you might know some of these by a different name.
And where do they get some of those names, anyway??
It’s pretty easy to tell where a rump roast comes from, but what about a chuck roast? Or the brisket?
THE MEAT MAP
In general, the cuts from the parts of the animal that don’t get used for walking are going to be the most tender. Looking at our guy above, the back is where you’ll find the most tender, hence the most expensive, cuts.
Steaks: from most tender (and $$$) to lesser:
Rib eye steak
KC strip (sometimes called NY strip)
HOWEVER….counter-intuitively, the most flavorful cuts come from the most-worked parts of the animal, so there’s a trade-off between flavor and tenderness.
If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you know I’m suspicious that I didn’t inherit the meat cooking gene from my mom and grandmothers. I can’t tell you how many times I was frustrated in my early years of cooking grass-fed beef because I may have just as well sent the kids outside with the roast to play football after the meal. It was that tough.
These days, I know that grass-fed beef has to be cooked using lower and slower temps than conventional beef. There is usually less marbling within the meat fibers due to no grain being fed, so if you cook it too hot, those fibers will shrink rapidly and become tough. Voila — a football.
Here’s a very helpful quote about this from one of my favorite meat cookbooks, Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat by James Beard Award-winning chef, Deborah Krasner:
You see that thing she said about the thermometer?
THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO NOTE.
You must cook grass-fed beef LOW AND SLOW. You can’t haul off and throw it in a hot pan or on the hottest part of the grill or at the ‘normal’ oven temp of 350. This is how to create a shriveled-up football.
Even when you’re not roasting which is where you’d use the meat thermometer, this rule applies. Turn down the heat, and you’ll probably need shorter cooking times, too. I will go into more details in future posts on specifics for different cuts and cooking methods.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO PREPARE EACH CUT?
Once you’ve selected a cut, you need to know what type of preparation will bring out the best flavor and tenderness.
Here’s a list of some handy meat cooking terms courtesy of Prestons Master Butchers and The University of Minnesota Duluth websites:
Bake — To cook by dry heat, usually in the oven.
Braise — A method of cooking in which very little liquid is used and the food is cooked over several hours in a sealed pan. Tougher cuts of meat are better prepared this way.
Broil — To cook on a grill under strong, direct heat.
Marinate — To flavor and moisturize pieces of meat, poultry, seafood or vegetable by soaking them in or brushing them with a liquid mixture of seasonings known as a marinade. Dry marinade mixtures composed of salt, pepper, herbs or spices may also be rubbed into meat, poultry or seafood.
Pan-Broil — To cook uncovered in a hot fry pan, pouring off fat as it accumulates. (And, frankly, there are hardly any grass-fed cuts I’d recommend pan-broiling.)
Pot Roasting — A cooking method by which moist heat slow cooks the food after first being browned in butter or some other fat, and then covered and transferred to the oven.
Roasting — The cooking of meats, fish, poultry, or game by exposing them to the heat of an open flame, over a grill, or the radiant heat of an oven.
Simmer — To cook slowly in liquid over low heat at a temperature of about 180°. The surface of the liquid should be barely moving, broken from time to time by slowly rising bubbles.
Stew — A method of cooking by which meat and/or vegetables are barely covered by a liquid and allowed to cook for a substantial period of time.
And don’t forget good old Pressure Cooking. With today’s twist called the Instant Pot, so many tougher cuts can be reduced to fork-tender ‘where-have-you-been-all-my-life’ culinary experiences.
I hope this little manual helps make you more comfortable in knowing how to choose just the right cut and what method to use for that next family meal.
Leave a comment down below and let me know if this was helpful. I’d love to hear any tips you have, too, for cooking Pasture Nectar grass-fed beef. Some of our customers are great meat cooks!