Primal and Subprimal Cuts of Beef

Cuts of Beef

The quartered carcass is then further reduced into the primal cuts and the sub primal and fabricated cuts. The primal cuts of beef are the chuck, brisket and shank, rib, short plate, short loin, sirloin, flank and round. It is important to know the location of bones when cutting or working with meats. This makes meat fabrication and carving easier and aids in identifying cuts. An entire beef carcass can range in weight from 500 to more than 800 pounds (225-360 kg).


The primal chuck is the animal’s shoulder; it accounts for approximately 28% of carcass weight. It contains a portion of the backbone, five rib bones and portions of the blade and arm bones. Because an animal constantly uses its shoulder muscles, chuck contains a high percentage of connective tissue and is quite tough. This tough cut of beef, however, is one of the most flavorful. The primal chuck is used less frequently than other primal cuts in food service operations. If cooked whole, the chuck is difficult to cut or carve because of the large number of bones and relatively small muscle groups that travel in different directions.

The primal chuck produces several fabricated cuts: cross rib pot roast, chuck short ribs, cubed or tenderized steaks, stew meat and ground chuck. Because the meat is tough, the fabricated cuts usually benefit from moist-heat cooking or combination cooking methods such as stewing and braising.

Brisket and Shank

The brisket and shank are located beneath the primal chuck on the front half of the carcass. Together, they form a single primal that accounts for approximately 8% of carcass weight.

This primal consists of the steer’s breast (the brisket), which contains ribs and breastbone, and its arm (the foreshank), which contains only the shank bone. The ribs and breastbone are always removed from the brisket before cooking. The boneless brisket is very tough and contains a substantial percentage of fat, both intermuscular and subcutaneous. It is well suited for moist-heat and combination cooking methods such as simmering or braising.

It is often pickled or corned to produce corned beef brisket, or cured and peppered to make pastrami. Beef fore shanks are very flavorful and high in collagen. Because collagen converts to gelatin when cooked using moist heat, fore shanks are excellent for making soups and stocks. Ground shank meat is often used to help clarify and flavor consomm├ęs because of its rich flavor and high collagen content.



The primal beef rib accounts for approximately 10% of carcass weight. It consists of ribs 6 through 12 as well as a portion of the backbone. This primal is best known for yielding roast prime rib of beef.

Prime rib is not named after the quality grade USDA Prime. Rather, its name reflects the fact that it constitutes the majority of the primal cut. The eye meat of the rib (the center muscle portion) is not a well-exercised muscle and therefore is quite tender. It also contains large amounts of marbling compared to the rest of the carcass and produces rich, full flavored roasts and steaks.

Although roasting the eye muscle on the rib bones produces a moister roast, the eye meat can be removed to produce a boneless rib eye roast or cut into rib eye steaks. The rib bones that are separated from the rib eye meat are quite meaty and flavorful and can be served as barbecued beef ribs. The ends of the rib bones that are trimmed off the primal rib to produce the rib roast are known as beef short ribs. They are meaty and are often served as braised beef short ribs.

Short Plate

The short plate is located directly below the primal rib on a side of beef; it accounts for approximately 9% of the overall weight of the carcass. The short plate contains rib bones and cartilage and produces the short ribs and skirt steak. Short ribs are meaty, yet high in connective tissue, and are best when braised. Skirt steak is often marinated and grilled as fajitas. Other, less meaty portions of the short plate are trimmed and ground.


Short loin The short loin is the anterior (front) portion of the beef loin. It is located just behind the rib and becomes the first primal cut of the hindquarter when the side of beef is divided into a forequarter and hindquarter. It accounts for approximately 8% of carcass weight. The short loin contains a single rib, the 13th, and a portion of the backbone. With careful butchering, this small primal can yield several subprimal and fabricated cuts, all of which are among the most tender, popular and expensive cuts of beef.

The loin eye muscle, a continuation of the rib eye muscle, runs along the top of the T-shaped bones that form the backbone. Beneath the loin eye muscle on the other side of the backbone is the tenderloin, the tenderest cut of all. When the short loin is cut in cross sections with the bone in, it produces- starting with the rib end of the short loin-club steaks (which do not contain any tenderloin), T-bone steaks (which contain only a small portion of tenderloin) and porterhouse steaks (which are cut from the sirloin end of the short loin and contain a large portion of tenderloin).

The whole tenderloin can also be removed and cut into chateaubriand, filet mignon and tournedos. A portion of the tenderloin is located in the sirloin portion of the loin. When the entire beef loin is divided into the primal short loin and primal sirloin, the large end of the tenderloin (the butt tenderloin) is separated from the remainder of the tenderloin and remains in the sirloin; the smaller end of the tenderloin (the short tenderloin) remains in the short loin. If the tenderloin is to be kept whole, it must be removed before the short loin and sirloin are separated. The loin eye meat can he removed from the bones, producing a boneless strip loin, which is very tender and can he roasted or cut into boneless strip steaks.



The sirloin is located in the hindquarter, between the short loin and the round. It accounts for approximately 7% of carcass weight and contains part of the Backbone as well as a portion of the hipbone. The sirloin produces bone-in or boneless roasts and steaks that are flavorful and tender. With the exception of the tenderloin portion, however, these subprimals and fabricated cuts are not as tender as those from the strip loin. Cuts from the sirloin are cooked using dry-heat methods such as broiling, grilling or roasting.


The flank is located directly beneath the loin, posterior to (behind) the short plate. It accounts for approximately 6% of carcass weight. The flank contains no bones. Although quite flavorful, it is tough meat with a good deal of fat and connective tissue. Flank meat is usually trimmed and ground, with the exception of the flank steak or London broil. The flank also contains a small piece of meat known as the hanging tenderloin. Although not actually part of the tenderloin, it is very tender and can be cooked using any method.


The primal round is very large, weighing as much as 200 pounds (90 kg and accounting for approximately 24% of carcass weight. It is the hind leg of the animal and contains the round, aitch, shank and tailbones. Meat from the round is flavorful and fairly tender. The round yields a wide variety of sub primal and fabricated cuts: the top round, outside round, eye round (the outside round and the eye round together are called the bottom round), knuckle and shank. Steaks cut from the round are tough, but because they have large muscles and limited intermuscular fat, the top round and knuckle make good roasts. The bottom round is best when braised. The hindshank is prepared in the same fashion as the fore-shank.

Organ Meats

Several Organ meats are used in food service operations. This group of product-is known as offal. It includes the heart, kidney, tongue, tripe (stomach lining) and oxtail. Offal benefit from moist-heat cooking and are often used in soup, stew or braised dishes.