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?