Beef: how to get the most from each cut
Want to learn more about cooking with beef? From the best beef for stewing to braising, and roasting to frying, olive's cookery writer Adam Bush gives advice on the different cuts of beef and how to get the most out of them
Tips for buying the best beef
Buying good beef is easier than ever before, as butchers and supermarkets take more interest in breeds, the way the animal was raised and how the meat is aged. Here’s what to look out for next time you visit your butcher.
Hanging meat in cool, relatively humid conditions means that enzymes can start to break down collagen and muscle fibres, meaning more tender meat. The joint will also lose water, meaning the resulting meat has a more concentrated flavour. Look for 28 days minimum.
A major buzzword around beef – this refers to the amount of internal fat the muscle has. Well-marbled meat comes from an animal that has been raised slowly, putting on weight as it grows as opposed to trying to quickly put on as much bulk as possible. This in turn makes more flavourful, tender meat – the fat keeps the meat moist as it renders during cooking.
Speak to your butcher about breeds or look out for them on supermarket packaging, as many are beginning to sell traditional British ones. These are cows that were bred for flavour and fat content, as opposed to yield. Keep a lookout for Hereford, Dexter, Longhorn and Shorthorn. As a general rule, these rarer British breeds will have been well cared for, pasture-raised, allowed to roam and eat well. This always makes for a better product. A good indicator is a yellow hue to the fat, meaning the animal was grass-fed.
Best cuts for frying, roasting and barbecuing beef
These cooking techniques are best for leaner, less-used muscles, as there is little marbling or connective tissue that needs to be broken down with long, slow cooking. A fast sear or roast will create rosy, juicy meat.
Gram for gram one of the most expensive cuts of beef. Taken from the back of the cow, this muscle works the least in the whole animal, which means it is the leanest and most tender. Can be cut into steaks (check out our best steak recipes), wrapped in puff pastry for beef wellington, or the thick end can be roasted as a chateaubriand for two.
Separated by a T-shaped bone with the sirloin on one side and the fillet on the other (you’ll sometimes see the fillet and sirloin cut together in a porterhouse or T-bone steak). It has slightly more marbling and connective tissue than fillet, but is still super tender. Usually seen off the bone, cut into steaks with a thin cap of fat around one side, or as a whole joint for roasting.
Made up of several, well-marbled and tender muscles that are centred around an eye of fat. Said to be the chef’s favourite, as it has plenty of juicy fat to render, while still remaining tender. Makes a real showstopper when cooked as a rib roast and carved at the table.
Lean and tender, it’s often found more as steaks than as whole roasting joints. Usually a slightly cheaper option to sirloin or fillet, and great cut into pieces for stroganoff or stir fries.
A long, flat cut from the inside of the ribcage, it has little marbling and a strong grain, so should be cooked really hard and fast, and sliced thinly against the grain. One of the cheaper cuts, but still delicious.
Similar to skirt steak, but it comes from near the flank. A real French bistro classic because it’s cheap but flavourful and tender when cooked hard and fast.
Best cuts for stewing and braising beef
Cuts that are high in fat, connective tissue and muscles, that have been heavily exercised, need slow, gentle cooking to break down that tough tissue.
From the foreshank of the cow. It’s best used in stews due to the large amount of connective tissue, which will gelatinise and thicken a sauce when slow cooked.
This is the shoulder of the cow, made up of a few different muscles. Great cubed for stews and casseroles, or in larger cuts to be pot roasted.
From the breast of the animal, it has vast amounts of connective tissue and a thick, fat cap make it great for smoking and slow roasting, or braising.
Similar to brisket in the amount of connective tissue and fat, but really good for braises. Buy them portioned, then cook until the meat is falling off the bone. A perfect match for Asian flavours.
Often seen cross-cut, this is the gelatine-rich tail of the cow. Due to its high ratio of bone and connective tissue to meat, it makes amazing, silkily thick stews.
Arguably the muscle that is exercised most on the cow, what with all that grass to chew. High in connective tissue but not masses of fat, this makes great stews or can be braised whole and then pulled.