From Sunday roast to boeuf bourguignon, beef has been a favourite for generations. But which cut should you choose? Our guide gives you the lowdown, from neck to rump via all the bits in between, and suggests the best method of cooking for each. 

Primal Cuts of BeefThe Cuts
Beef is first divided into primal cuts. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. When looking at the diagram below note that the closer to the middle back, the more tender the meat is. Since the animal's legs and neck muscles do the most work, they are the toughest; the meat becomes progressively more tender as distance from "hoof and horn" increases.

This cheaper cut from the belly of the animal can be bought with or without bones as a joint for slow-roasting, or for stewing and casseroling as cubes or mince.

Chuck or blade
Taken from the shoulder, this cut is similar to neck, but can also be bought as a roasting joint. As this joint isn't as tender as other cuts of beef, it needs slow-roasting to achieve best results. Steaks and diced meat from the chuck are ideal for casseroles, or even braising. Chuck meat is leaner than neck, which makes it ideal for people who are watching their fat intake, but might not want to pay for premium cuts.

Sometimes called thick flank or thin flank, depending on the thickness of the meat, determined by which part of the animal it comes from. The flank is quite lean and is generally useful for casseroles and curries or for slow-roasting. It needs to retain the moisture that would be lost in quick-roasting.

Taken from the back of the animal, forerib is a useful roasting cut. Sometimes, the ends of the bones are cut off to make a separate joint. You may wish to buy a forerib joint boned and rolled, so that stuffing and carving is easier. Although more tender than some of the cheaper cuts, the forerib still needs cooking for longer than premium joints. It's a mid-priced cut.

Neck Or Clod
The meat from the neck of beef contains quite a large amount of fat and isn't as tender as the premium cuts. This makes it ideal for slow-cooking. Neck can be bought as steaks or ready-diced, which is perfect for casseroles and stews. Price-wise, the cut is relatively cheap, so it's possible to buy more meat than you need if you wish to take the time to trim the fat further.

Taken from the side of beef, ribs can be bought on the bone or as a boned-and-rolled joint. Similar to sirloin, but not as tender, the ribs make an ideal, mid-priced roasting joint.

Rump is similar to sirloin, but slightly less tender, so it's a little cheaper. The steak cuts are generally lean, but do require more care when cooking.

The shin of beef is from the front leg and the leg cut is from the hind limb. Both are cheaper cuts as they contain quite a large amount of connective tissue. However, this makes them ideal for stews and casseroles as it melts down during the long, slow cooking and gives extra flavour to the sauce. You could make stock from the shin or leg if the bone is left in the joint. The joint can be slow-roasted.

Sirloin is the premium cut of beef, which costs quite a bit more per kilo than some other cuts, but is more tender, so will taste better with less cooking. Sirloin can be bought as a joint for roasting, on the bone or boned and rolled. Fillets are often removed from the roasting joints, and are then sold separately as steak. Fillet steaks are also the premium steak cut from beef. Sirloin can tolerate high temperatures, which makes it ideal for grilling and frying as steaks or oven-roasting as a joint.

Topside & silverside
Two separate cuts of slightly different quality. Topside is similar to rump and can be roasted as a boneless joint. It's not quite as tender as sirloin, so can't stand high temperatures as well, but if treated with care, will provide an excellent roast. Silverside is a coarser cut of beef than topside and doesn't roast as well. It's often used for making boiled beef dishes or mince. However, there are no bones in silverside which means that it provides a great deal of meat per kilo.

Cooking Beef
The method of cooking beef is largely determined by the cut of beef to be cooked. For example, tender (and generally more expensive) cuts of meat benefit from fast, high-heat cooking while tough cuts benefit from a slower and longer cooking method.

Dry Heat Cooking Methods
Tender cuts of beef from the loin and rib are best cooked via dry cooking methods, such as grilling, broiling, roasting, and sautéing.

  • Grilling: Grilling is characterized by cooking the beef over a high heat source; generally in excess of 650ºF. This leads to searing of the surface of the beef, which creates a flavourful crust.
  • Broiling: Broiling is similar to grilling, except where grilling is usually performed outdoors with the heat source under the beef, broiling is usually performed in an oven with the heat source above the beef.
  • Roasting: Roasting is a particularly British way of cooking meat which produces the iconic British dish - Roast beef. British roasting is very similar to American broiling, although the heating is from hot air and the meat is cooked all around. Little if any liquid is added. The liquid produced during cooking is decanted from the fat and usually made into a gravy to serve with the sliced beef.

Moist Heat Cooking Methods
Tougher cuts of beef from the round, brisket, flank, plate, shank, and chuck are best cooked by moist heat cooking methods, such as braising, pot-roasting, and stewing. (Some of the tougher cuts may be prepared by dry heat methods given they are tenderised first with a marinade).

  • Stewing: Stewing involves immersing the entire cut of beef in a liquid.
  • Braising: Braising involves cooking meats, covered, with small amounts of liquids (usually seasoned or flavoured). Unlike stewing, meat cooked via braising is not fully immersed in liquid.