When preparing for that next big dish, every home cooking enthusiast will be faced with a difficult decision. What kind of meat are you going to use?
It’s All in the Meat: The Ultimate Guide to Meat Cuts
When it comes to meat, there is no shortage of cuts available for purchase. In fact, to the untrained eye, it’ll be difficult to tell the difference between the tip and the rib. It’ll be easier for you to make your decision if you had an idea of the different kinds of meat and what they are used for, and you’ll find it all in this F.N. Sharp Guide to Meat Cuts! Let’s start with beef.
All About Beef Cuts
When it comes to different cuts of beef, the cow is split down the middle from the neck to the tail, creating two halves that make up the forequarter and hindquarter, which are then split into different cuts.
The beef forequarter is made up of four primary cuts:
- Brisket. These cuts are tough, so they are commonly used in marinated dishes or slow-to-finish roasts that take enough time to break down all the connective tissue. Brisket is used almost exclusively for making corned beef and is a staple in the BBQ community.
- Chuck. Most ground beef comes from this cut. It also has a high amount of connective tissues, and is mostly ground up for use in making burgers, sloppy joe’s, and tacos, but can also be used in stews or other marinated dishes.
- Foreshank. This primary cut requires little to no further production. It is incredibly tough, making it best served as a base for soups and beef stock. With a sharp boning knife, the meat can be taken off the bone and used for beef stews.
- Rib. The rib portion is separated into the short-rib and the seven-bone rib. A boning knife is used to create usable portions that are seared, then braised at a short temperature until the meat is tender.
The beef hindquarter is also made up of a few primary, or primal, cuts:
- Flank. This cut requires no more preparation after being removed; usually marinated and grilled over a flame.
- Long Loin is broken down into the sirloin butt and the short loin. Sirloin steaks come from the sirloin butt. Meat from here takes extra preparation because it’s encased in a layer of fat and tough tissue that must be removed. The short loin is where other cuts such as T-bone, tenderloin, striploin and porterhouse come from.
- Sirloin tip. Not to be confused with sirloin butt, this cut requires extra cleaning to remove fat. It is often sold as sirloin roast.
- Hip. This is where round cuts come from. The inside round and outside rounds are most commonly used in roasts.
All About Poultry Cuts
Next on the list is poultry. The main cuts you will encounter are the wings, breasts, legs and thighs. There is a wide variety of poultry out there, but the two main categories of poultry meat can be classified as white and dark.
- White meat. This meat comes from the wing and breast of poultry. It is lower in fat and calories than dark meat and it has a milder flavor. It is best combined with a more subtle flavor profile.
- Dark meat. Dark meat comes from the legs of the bird. This meat is richer in fat and minerals, giving it a gamier taste. The main two cuts are the legs and thighs
If you’ve ever wondered how to break down a whole bird, then check out our guide to poultry cuts. And if you’re looking for some new chicken recipes, then how about some delicious arroz con pollo? Or maybe some classic butter chicken? Or get the grill going for some chicken kabobs, either Greek-style or Italian-style saltimbocca!
All About Pork Cuts
Pork is also broken down into four primal cuts: the leg, the belly, the loin and the shoulder.
- Pork leg. This is one of the more complex primals because it can be broken down into a variety of cuts. The meat from the leg is very lean and it has little connective tissue. Pork leg is most commonly used for ham, but is also used for fresh cuts like ham steaks and roasts.
- Pork belly. This one is unlike other pork cuts because it doesn’t have any other cuts. It breaks down into a final, cookable form instead. It has the highest portion of fat out of all the other primals and it is used most commonly for bacon and spare ribs.
- Pork loin. This primal yields pork loin rib end, pork loin center and pork sirloin. These are commonly divided into chops, ribs and roasts of a variety of sizes – and it’s where you’ll find those delicious baby back ribs. Quicker cook times can be achieved by going boneless here, but bone-in dishes will provide a fuller flavor.
- Pork Shoulder. Pork shoulder can be further divided into the hock, foot, jowl, shoulder blade and shoulder picnic. The most common uses for these cuts are roasts and steaks taken from the shoulder picnic and blade. The other pieces are commonly used in smoked or pickled preparations. Shoulder is also commonly used to make deli meat and sausages because of its high fat content.
All About Lamb Cuts
Like a few of the other meats we’ve covered, lamb is made up of four primal cuts: front, leg, loin, and flank.
- Lamb front. As the name implies, it is the front portion of the animal from the front legs to the neck. Lamb meat from this cut generally comes from the meaty portions at the bottom of the front legs. This meat has a lot of connective tissue and it becomes very tender and flavorful when cooked for longer periods of time. Best used in braises and slow roasts.
- Lamb leg. This is the hind portion of the animal, excluding the front legs. Due to the size of this cut, you can often find it during some kind of holiday celebration. A boneless lamb sirloin is just one example of the popular dishes that can be produced using lamb leg.
- Lamb loin. This portion consists of the middle part of the animal, just below the ribs. This loin meat is very tender and flavorful, causing it to sell at a higher price than other cuts. Good for lamb chops.
- Lamb flank. This long flat steak is taken from a single muscle beneath the loin in the abdominal area. You can marinate it in something garlic-based for optimal flavor. It is commonly used in Mediterranean dishes like gyros, one of the more popular items of Greek cuisine.
All About Game Meat
There are other kinds of meat out there that differ from what is commonly found in grocery stores. This, of course, is game meat. Game meat comes from any animal that is hunted out in the wild rather than raised on a farm. These might be considered exotic to the home cooking enthusiast, but even then there are still certain types that can be considered more common in the market.
- Alligator. Available in tail fillet, ribs, nuggets and wings. Tail meat is similar to white meat with a milder flavor. The ribs, nuggets and wings have a darker profile to them with a texture similar to pork. Can be seared, grilled, braised, fried or even ground up to make a patty.
- Antelope. Similar to venison with less calories than beef. It is mild-tasting finely grained.
- Bison. Tastes similar to beef but has a coarser texture. High in protein and low in cholesterol, it can be cooked in similar styles to beef (steaks, ribs and roasts) and is quite commonly found ground up into burger patties.
- Elk. Elk is broken down into the loin, front shoulder, hindquarter, brisket, neck, rib and shank. Loin can be used for steak, cooked fast with high heat. Front shoulder can be used for burgers or sausage and brisket can be slow roasted into a tender cut that melts in your mouth.
- Rabbit. Sweet, lean and considered one of the healthier game meats, rabbit meat is tender with a mild flavor similar to chicken.
- Venison. Almost every part of a deer can be made into a delicious meal. Stew meat is the least tender, which makes it good for slow cooking. Loins are the preferred meat because they are tender and packed with flavor. Roast is normally slow cooked in an oven to enhance its flavor. Steak can be grilled, pan-fried or broiled. The ribs can be grilled, braised, roasted or smoked. The heart is also considered a tasty choice for the more adventurous game gourmand. It can be grilled, baked, broiled or slow cooked.
- Wild boar has a bold flavor that is slightly nutty and sweet, characteristically tangier and more lean than other red meats. Wild boar can be prepared in a wide variety of ways similar to other red meats you can find anywhere. Tenderloin, rib back, loin and strip loin can be roasted at a low temperature. Steak, ground meat and chaps can be pan fried or barbecued. Shank and short ribs can be braised, pot roasted or used in a stew.
Now that you know all about the different cuts of meat, from beef to game meat, you can start expanding your recipe book with a variety of different dishes to wow your family and friends with something a little different every time you set the table. And if you’re not sure what spices go with what when it comes to the different types of meat, then be sure to check out our meat seasoning guide. And if grilling is your thing, be sure to check out the F.N. Sharp Guide to Meat Grilling!