Cooking 101: Beef
According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, more than eight out of 10 people eat fresh beef regularly at home (an average of 1.7 times per week). If you’re a meat eater new to cooking, the many cuts of beef and ways to cook them might be overwhelming. For inspiration and information on beef dishes, which cuts to use and how to prepare them, read on. This guide will help you beef up your cooking repertoire.
There are two cooking methods for beef: Wet/moist heat and dry heat. Generally, dry heat (for more tender cuts) includes grilling, broiling, roasting and pan-frying. Wet/moist heat includes braising, stewing and pot-roasting.
Cutting through the confusion
The tenderness (or toughness) of the cut varies with the animal's body part. For example, a cut from an area that has a lot of muscle tissue is tougher than a cut from an area that is used less often (less muscle), resulting in a tender cut. When shopping and preparing your meal, keep the following in mind:
This is the arm/shoulder area of the animal, which yields very flavorful meat that typically costs less than other cuts. This meat -- while less tender than some -- is great for making pot roasts and stews. Most hamburger meat (ground chuck) comes from this area. Use this cut for making Easy sloppy Joe sandwiches.
Brisket & shank
Brisket is a full-flavor piece of meat from the lower breast/shoulder section. It can be a bit tough, so cooking in moist heat works well. It's the cut to use for dishes such as classic beef brisket, corned beef and pastrami. The shank -- the leg of the animal -- is one of the toughest parts of beef and works best in stews and soups. Some good meal options for these cuts include Beer braised brisket and root vegetables and Easy beef stew.
This section yields tender and marbled cuts of meat, making them very flavorful. Rib steak, rib eye roast and prime rib are cuts from this area. The best cooking methods for this cut are grilling or skillet cooking. For a special occasion meal, try Rosemary rib roast With Yorkshire pudding.
This cut is less expensive than others and is of medium toughness. The cut results in thin pieces of meat that come from below the rib area. They're typically used for short ribs, ground beef skirt steak and pot roast. Use moist heat to cook this cut. If you grill it or panfry it instead, a marinade will help to tenderize it. A delicious dish for this cut is Cabernet braised short ribs.
This cut comes from the animal's top rear portion and provides the most expensive cuts of meat, with tenderloin being the best. It's used for steaks such as top loin, t-bone, filet and Porterhouse. Grill or broil these cuts for the best results. Wow your guests or family with Filet mignon With caraway and cilantro butter.
This is the bottom rear portion of the animal. The cut is less tender than short loin and includes top sirloin and tri-tip roast. For an easy and tasty dish, try Sirloin salad with lemon vinaigrette.
This cut is from the abdominal area on the animal and is used mostly for ground meat, except for flat flank steak used for London broil, and the inside skirt steak typically used to make dishes such as fajitas. Cut against the grain for fajita meat to give it a softer texture. For your next get-together, consider making Grilled flank steak.
As the name suggests, this is the back end of the animal, which produces tougher but still lean cuts of meat. This cut is best roasted in moist heat and marinated. You'll find options such as round tip, bottom/rump roast and top round steak (which is more tender than the others) from this cut. For a comfort meal, try Herbed pot roast.
Look at the grades of beef as well as the cuts when shopping. The U. S. Department of Agriculture grades all U. S. beef based on the amount of marbling (flecks of fat in the meat) and age of the animal. The greater the marbling in a cut of beef, the higher the quality. There are eight quality grades, but the top three for most consumers are Prime, Choice and Select. Prime indicates a moderately abundant amount of marbling, which provides the most tender and flavorful meat. This is also the most expensive cut and is produced in limited amounts. Choice (most popular with consumers) indicates moderate marbling, tenderness and taste; and Select means slight marbling. It's the least expensive grade and does not have the same tenderness or flavor as the other two.
How to braise beef
Andrea Pellegrini, master chef of the Cooks Association School in Turin, shows us how to prepare this delicious and typical Piedmont Region recipe.