Beef Cuts – What are you Buying?

I’ve been working on ‘not shopping’.

That means reducing trips to any kind of commercial supermarket and concentrating on buying direct from farmers and producers to supplement what we grow ourselves, then ‘top up’ with market visits. It takes a bit of jiggling, but it’s worth it.

Recently, I joined with friends and bought a cow. Well, I only purchased 1/4 cow.  Grass fed, and raised in Kyogle (a small country town in Northern NSW well-known for both beef farming and dairying)  and butchered to our specs. Thank goodness, because although butchering is a skill I’d LOVE to explore, I think starting with something smaller than a cow would be more suitable.

These days, most people are content to swoop into the supermarket, pick up sanitary, plastic-wrapped slabs of meat and swoop back out again. If this is your style, then this post is not for you.

Step away now.

My thoughts are that by shopping in swoop style, there’s probably little thought given to the breeding or background of the animal, the farm, or the conditions in which the animal lived before it became dinner fodder.  And with the current emphasis on ethical eating and looking at where our food really comes from, I don’t personally find this approach well… palatable.

So let me ask you: how much do you know about meat cuts? Do you venture past the topside roast and fillet steaks?

So, in the goal to convert you to anti swoop style shopping, here’s a quickie catalogue of cow cuts.

The prime cuts are the ones best used for roasting. These are the ones you find at eye level in the supermarkets. Rib eye, scotch filet, sirloin, rump. They are the most tender cuts because they from the less used muscles along the back of the animal. The more active muscles, such as the shoulder, flank, and leg will produce beef that is a little less tender, but very flavourful because they have more marbling. Marbling means fat and fat means flavour and flavour means good. But you already know that, right?

Finally, the cuts from the front of the animal – chuck and round and shin – are from body parts that are heavily exercised and do more work. This means they are less tender, and wonderful for slow cooking. Good slow cooked beef gives that incredible mouth feel of soft, almost gelatinous moistness that comes down to one thing: sinew. Sinew breaks down and softens with slow cooking and as the proteins change the result is wonderfully soft meat that pulls apart with your fork.

Since the most tender cuts are the prime cuts and make up only a small proportion of a carcass, they are most commonly sought and usually command a higher price than other cuts. The price usually drops as you move down the animal, with chuck, short ribs, shin, oxtail, cheeks, neck at the bottom of the scale in their sinewy deliciousness.

So, tell me.

Would you be prepared to bulk buy meat?

Do you only buy prime cuts?

And if you were to buy in bulk, what would you do with all the scraggy bits?  Or would you prefer not to even think about it?

10 responses

  1. I grew up on a cattle property, and therefore we would get the whole beast in the freezer come kill time. I still occasionally get an esky from my sister’s (thanks Bush Babe) and one time I got something labelled “Corned Beef” but upon thawing was discovered to be “Tongue”.

  2. I don’t mind the bits you have to slow cook like the tail and shins and cheeks but I’ll admit I have a really tough time eating the guts. Tripe? Can’t get it down without gagging. I know it’s emotional but throwing up trying to eat something makes no sense to me. I find the cheaper cuts to be full of flavour and if they’re carefully (and slowly) cooked, they are so much better than the fancy cuts.

    That said, I’m not averse to a slow roasted fillet of beef cooked to rare/medium rare.

    Congratulations on the new acquisition. Now, you still have part of a dairy cow and you have chickens?

  3. I barter with a hunter friend, in exchange for some of the meat, I will process his deer (he has to field dress it, as I do Not deal with guts or heads). The best cut for a roast is the tenderloin, the rest is chopped into carne picada or blended with beef fat and ground into hamburger. Anything but the tenderloin is too tough for a roast.

  4. I’ve started experimenting just recently with different cuts and last night made a curry in the pressure cooker using ‘gravy beef’. Just wondered if you know where on the animal this is from?

  5. Hello Rhubarb! It’s been a while since I’ve ventured past your blog! Am so glad to read your posts about vintage cookbooks. I love cookbooks. My newest one (altho I haven’t ventured to cook from it yet) is “Jerusalem” at this link: http://www.amazon.ca/Jerusalem-A-Cookbook-Yotam-Ottolenghi/dp/044901567X

    We have purchased 1/2 a cow for years. We’ve never been asked whether we’d like the tongue or the heart & I tend to take the liver and give it away to others. More recently, we’ve been purchasing 1/2 a bison which, in my view, tastes very similar to beef but eats more natural foods, is less vaccinated, and the meat is significantly less fatty than beef. A 3 lb roast bison cooks in almost 1/2 the time of a roast beef.

    Hope all is well with you!

    • It’s so lovely to see you again! I’ve missed you. Can you please send me your email address, I would love to be in touch again, and lost my contacts list a few months back (which has caused no end of angst!)

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