A General Guide to What to Do with Sirloin, Tenderloin, Striploin, Ribeye, Chuck Roast, and Other Cuts of Beef
Ok, so you wander through the meat aisle in the grocery store, or peruse the selection in the butcher’s case and you wonder, what exactly IS chuck roast anyway? Where is the chuck on a cow? and if its called a roast, do I have to roast it? and if I do, how??? At least, I know some people who do.
I consider there to be, in general, two types of beef; beef for braising (cooking in liquid, like stew or pot roast) and the rest of it. Now, in theory, you can use any method on any cut, but you may not always be thrilled with the results. Typically, the tougher, fattier the meat is, the better suited it is to braising.
There are so many methods for cooking beef, so many great dishes, that I could not possibly discuss them all in one article. Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare beef, and the cuts I would use when making them.
Stir Fry – when making beef stir fry, you’ll want a cut that’s tender in its raw state, because the cooking temperature is very high and the time very short. Meats with too much connective tissue will tighten up and become tough under these conditions. Ideally, I would use tenderloin exclusively for stir-fry, but its also the priciest cut. When searching for a deal, I use a cut called “tri-tip” which is a triangular cut off the bottom of a sirloin, sometimes called a “santa maria” steak. Sliced thin or in small cubes, this cut has enough marbling (collagen fat distributed through the muscle) to make it flavorful.
Grilled Steaks – here, there are a lot of choices. Meat has been grilled over a flame since man first discovered fire. There are a few beef cuts that are perfect for grilling steaks, and chefs argue everyday about which is the “best”. Personally, I enjoy a quality sirloin steak, center cut, sometimes called a “baseball steak”. Just the right amount of bite to it without being too tough, center cut so there is not an excessive amount of fat. Many think the ribeye is the king of grilling steaks. It’s high fat content really works well over an open flame. Steaks cut from the “chuck end” of the prime rib (closer to the front of the cow) will have less of a fat “rind” on them while steaks from the sirloin end will have more fat, but less solid meat. I prefer chuck end steaks, but most people think I am crazy. Sirloin is usually a little cheaper than ribeye while the striploin steak (or NY strip or Kansas city strip or simply strip steak) is a bit more expensive. This cut is a steak classic and if it weren’t so pricey, I would eat more of it. The right balance of fat and muscle, tender enough to grilled to a nice medium rare, NY Strip steaks are great on the grill. Finally, the tenderloin steak or filet mignon is the most expensive of the steak cuts, but of course, it’s reputation as the most tender of all beef cuts is unsullied. While not having as much fat or marble as other cuts, the firm yet tender texture makes this a fantastic steak to carry a nice bearnaise or other rich sauce.
Potroast – I often use pot roast as an all encompassing term to describe meat cooked ‘dutch oven’ (covered pot in the oven) style or in a crock pot, as a whole or in large pieces. When making something like this it is important to consider fat content. The fattier the cut, the better, as this will just end up in ur cooking liquid and add great flavor. Not suprisingly, the fatty cuts are usually the cheapest, which is great for the consumer! When making a pot roast, I will usually buy a chuck roast of some kind. The chuck is the forward/upper part of the rib cage, shoulder and front leg of the cow. Arm roast is a type of chuck roast, sometimes cut into steaks with a round bone in the center (called, oddly, a round bone steak). I like using arm roast or shoulder roast because there are usually very inexpensive and come in large cuts to feed a group of people.
Grilled, Sliced cuts – I almost always use a flank steak when I am making a “london broil” or fajitas. Marinated, grilled and sliced thin, this cut is juicy and delicious, a little tough, but full of flavor. Always marinate it whole, grill it as one big piece, then slice it thin. Slicing it thin keeps the chewing to a minimum. Skirt steaks also work well for this, but I usually find that flank steak is less expensive and easier to handle, less trimming, more eating!
Dry Roasting – Almost everyone can agree that a prime rib (the “prime” refers to location, the 6th through 12th rib, not the grade of beef) is the king of roasting cuts. Rubbed with a good salt mixture and slow cooked, well, its a been a brunch buffet staple for generations for a good reason. Less common is a whole sirloin roast, which can also be slow cooked and sliced thing, I often use this cut when cost is a consideration. The sirloin has enough fat to keep it moist during the slow cook process and slices beautifully
Stew or Chili meat – typically, I will use whatever I have laying around, but ideally, I like to use coulotte (the top muscle or ‘cap’ of a sirloin) or tri-tip here as well, as both these cuts are usually cheap and full of flavor. Many grocers and butchers sell “stew meat” which is usually blade, back or shoulder meat cut into cubes, this stuff works out pretty well, but does not have as much flavor as the sirloin.
A butcher, of course, is trying to sell every possible part of the cow if he can. Sometimes they give cuts a ‘market name’ to try to get them to sell. Chuck Mock Tender is an example. There is nothing tender about this cut, it is good for braising, like in pot roast, but would make a horrible grilling steak.
I know I have just barely scratched the surface, there are many cuts not mentioned, and many methods left untouched. If you have questions about a specific cut of beef or the best beef to use with a particular method, feel free to drop me a line!