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Everything You Need to Know About The Primal Cuts of Beef

February 18, 2020 4 min read

Today, we will focus on American primal beef cuts to have a better understanding of what we’re eating. According to USDA, there are 8 primal cuts. Many blogs/articles talk about the 9 or 10 primal cuts. At The MeatStick, we will focus on 8 primal cuts. 

Primal Cuts

So, what does primal cut mean?  

First off, “Primal Cut” and “Prime Cut” are not the same thing! Simply put, “Prime Cut” is used for high-quality meats.

Primal Cut refers to the piece of meat that was the first to be separated from the carcass of an animal during the butchering process. That is why it is called “Primal Cut”.

After the Primal Cut has been done, the next cuts are called “Sub-Primal Cuts”, the secondary & tertiary cuts of meat. The meats we see and buy in the grocery shops are sub-primal cuts like steak, ground beef, and more. 

The 8 Primal Cuts of Beef 

  • Chuck
  • Rib
  • Loin
  • Round
  • Flank
  • Short Plate
  • Shank
  • Brisket 

The 8 Primal Cuts of Beef

Chuck 

Location: Chuck primal cut is located at the front chest and top of a cow including shoulder and neck parts.
Sub-primal cuts: Neck, shoulders, top blade, bottom blade, ground beef, chuck steak, chuck filet.
The Best Cooking Methods When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
The shoulder and neck are best when cooked in a conventional oven with low temperature.

Beef Ribs should be smoked over an indirect heat smoker with low temperature.
Blade cut is best when you grill it with direct heat.

Chuck Steak & Chuck Filet can be cooked over a conventional oven, skillet, direct heat grill. They need to be tenderized with a meat mallet before cooking since the thinner the better. 

Chuck Primal Cut

Rib

Location: The ribs are located in the center back of the cow. The rib is quite a flavourful part of the cow. That’s why it’s one of the most expensive cuts.
Sub-primal cuts: Rib steak, ribeye steak, prime rib, short rib, back ribs.
The Best Cooking Methods When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
Prime Rib is best when cooked at a very high temperature for a short time in a conventional oven or a direct heat smoker.
Ribeye Steak should be cooked over a direct heat grill. Any fuel type should be fine but charcoal is better to add some flavor to the meat.
Back Ribs are best when cooked in an offset smoker with a low temperature and long time. In other words, indirect heat is needed.
Short Ribs are very popular in Korean BBQ. They’re great when braised and rubbed with bbq sauce, then off to the grill. Cooked in a direct heat grill is the best way to enjoy these.

Loin

Location: It is located in the lower back of the cow. This part of the meat is very soft and tender, that’s why loin cuts are great for juicy steaks.
Sub-primal cuts: T-bone, club steak, filet mignon (tenderloin), New York strip, sirloin cap, sirloin steak, tri-tip, Chateaubriand, Porterhouse.
The Best Cooking Methods When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
Porterhouse, club steak, and T-bone are usually best when cooked at medium-rare temperature. Both open flame or direct heat grill could work for mouthwatering steaks. It is worth mentioning that these three sub-primal cuts are very pricey.
Filet mignon (tenderloin), tri-tip, and Chateaubriand are known as pricey cuts of meat. The tri-tip is the cheapest you can get among them but it still isn’t that cheap compared to other sub-primal cuts. They are best when cooked medium-rare. You can use a conventional oven, open flame or direct heat grill to get the best results.
Sirloin steak and New York strip are considered as an everyday type of steak. Same as the other loin sub-primal cuts, they are also best medium-rare and you can cook on an open flame or direct heat grill.

Round

Location: It is located in the rear part of the cow, the butt. Round cut contains a lot less fat content so this makes the round meat a tough cut. Which also means that it’s a very cheap meat cut.
Sub-primal cuts: Top Round, Eye of Round, Heel of Round, Sirloin Tip and Bottom Round.
The Best Cooking Methods When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
All types of round sub-primal cuts are not the best for BBQing. Cooked in an oven with low and slow temperature is the recommended cooking method.

Flank 

Location: This primal meat cut is from the belly - underside part of the cow.
Sub-primal cuts: Ground Beef, London Broil, and Flank Steak.
The Best Cooking Method When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
Flank steak, for example, needs to be marinated for a long time, maybe even overnight, and then should be cooked on an open flame or direct heat grill. The flank steak tastes best when cooked to medium.

Short Plate 

Location: Short plate cut is located below the rib cut, in other words, the center belly of the cow.
Sub-primal cuts: Hanger Steak, Ground Beef, Brisket, Skirt Steak.
The Best Cooking Methods When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
Hanger Steak is best when cooked on a grill to medium-rare temperature. You can use an open flame or a direct heat type of grill. It can be very tender when cooked properly.
Skirt Steak is usually marinated for a while and then grilled on direct heat. It’s important that the marinade process lasts 12 hours. 

Shank 

Location: It’s in the lower abdomen, the chest part of the cow. Due to the muscles, it's quite tough meat.
Sub-primal cuts: Fore Shank, Hind Shank, and Ground Beef.
The Best Cooking Methods When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
All shank sub-primal cuts contain very little fat and so it’s quite tough. Shank cuts must be cooked for a long time at low temperatures in crockpots or at higher temperatures in an oven. As for ground beef, it can be cooked on direct heat. 

Shank Primal Cut

Brisket 

Location: It’s located at the cow’s breast, the lower chest area. Brisket cut is low in fat content, it’s one of the cow’s most used muscles.
Sub-primal cuts: Brisket Point and Brisket Plate.
The Best Cooking Methods When Cooking Sub-Primal Cuts
Brisket cuts require a low and slow type of cooking method. As we know, brisket is a very tough part and needs longer time in order to be cooked properly. An indirect heat smoker is the best option for smoking brisket.

You can refer to our Hassle-free Texas Style Beef Brisket Recipe to find out more about how to cook it to perfection! In order to achieve that perfect cook, The MeatStick- TRUE Wireless Meat Thermometer- is here to help! You’ll be able to keep an eye on the brisket’s temperature during that low and slow cook!