Jun 2, 2010

The beefy basics, part II

May was Beef Month. May 28 was National Hamburger Day. Today is the second day of June. So why, you ask, is today the day I share the second episode of The Beefy Basics?

Well, quite frankly because I've been a terrible blogger lately. I've barely blogged more than once a week this whole month. I have so much to share right now my head is nearly exploding, but it turns out when I'm actually having a life, there is less time to write about it than times when I'm living in my PJ's talking to Stones more than human people on a regular basis.

You might remember, I started with blog with the intention pressuring myself into having a life and being an educational outlet for all the seemingly useless knowledge that jumbles around in my hear. Lately, it's been more of a personal gossip column. Sorry about that. Unless you are a reader who prefers senseless and sometimes pointless ramblings about my fabulous life -- In that case, sorry about the fact I'm about to cram more educational and important knowledge into your eye holes.

Remember last time I explained the basics of beef grading? I hope you read that one. I know, it was long and involved numbers and graphs instead of pithy jokes and fun pictures, but I swear it was a post full of valuable information. Today, I want to share the second part of the BEEF 509 course I took earlier this spring: the basics of beef cuts.

Here's a video from the American Meat Institute that pretty much sums it all up:

It's a little dry, but that video just summed up about three pages of writing in less than three minutes of simple video. You're welcome.

Why is this important? Well, when you're standing in front of the meat case dumbfounded by all the options, names and shapes, just image the sub-primal cuts and how those names are reflected in the individual cut names. Think through it logically and imagine this picture:
Beef that comes from the middle of the animal (rib and loin) are more tender and can be quickly cooked -- think grilling, broiling, etc. Those muscles don't get much exercise, so they are nice and tender (like me). Cuts that have names from the front and back of the animal (chuck, round and others) work a lot more. They are more muscular (like the Hulk) and do better in a slow cooker or as a roast. In short, I'm perfect just the way I am. The Hulk might need a little time or marination to tolerate.

Yes, that was a legitimate analogy.

In all seriousness, here are the points about beef cuts I want you to remember:
  • The most tender cut of beef is the tenderloin. We cattle people are not trying to trick you, folks. 
  • For the leanest cuts, look for the words round or loin in the name.
  • There are 29 cuts of beef that are considered lean by the USDA. Yes!
    • Remember in the beef grading basics blog when I described the standards for beef that meets the Certified Angus Beef(R) brand? Well, there are 24 cuts of CAB you can enjoy while staying lean, too. Yes! (fist pump) Yes!
  • If you are looking for something with a more robust flavor, go with something like a ribeye (my favorite).
  • Don't be afraid to ask the meat manager, butcher or chef if you don't recognize the name of a piece of beef. While we're not trying to trick you, sometimes marketers try to get jazzy and make simple terms fancy. Fancy = confusing. That's why they call PR "the dark side." Ask questions, because knowing what kind of cut you have is going to have a big impact on how you should prepare it and ultimately how much you enjoy that tasty little packet of protein.
Most importantly: if you are ever in a situation when you have the chance to learn about beef cuts first hand and break down a sub-primal, do it. It's a very cool thing to learn and do. But do not; I repeat: do NOT, think being this hot will prevent you from being clumsy with a very sharp knife:
Despite the hairnet, wrist guard, hard apron, cut resistant gloves and XXL frock, it is still possible to mistake your finger for a rib. If you mistakenly cut your finger instead of a rib steak, it bleeds a lot.

Sometimes, doing that will make you realize all the blood that is rushing out of your finger is coming directly from your brain. When all of your brain blood is gushing from your finger, this may lead you to faint in a meat lab. Sometimes it even takes a few minutes to wake up and remember where and who you are. Sometimes, you'll be one of only three girls in a class of 30 men and suddenly find yourself being viewed as the most stereotypical drama queen in the world.

Sometimes, a wound like that will make your finger swell and turn green and spurt blood for three days.
Sometimes, a camera phone photo with no flash doesn't do justice to how dramatic an injury really is.

That's all I have to say on that very hypothetical subject.


  1. I'm here strictly for the "pointless ramblings about my fabulous life". However, I did also enjoy the cautionary tale about cutting your finger in a meats lab. I'll try to avoid doing that!!

  2. Too bad you don't have a really awesome camera to do justice to the injury...oh, you DO have a really awesome camera...in your office!

  3. I think it's better PR for beef, if people don't think you're the one doing the butchering...just a thought. :)