Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Nov 21, 2012 05:41 AM

Learning about various cuts of the cow

I am knowledgeable around the kitchen at a basic level; however, I would like to learn a bit more about several aspects of cooking. Right now I am focused on learning more about the various cuts of the cow. Can anyone suggest a good book or video or share how they learned about this subject?

I don't necessarily need to learn every aspect there is to know, rather, I want to have a firm grasp on basics and know what I am doing when I go to the butcher to buy some meat.

Thank you for any suggestions!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I like the River Cottage Meat Book. Written by a Brit and not just about beef, but all sorts of meat. And offal.
    But the best advice I can give to you is to talk to your butcher. If you're lucky and it's the man himself behind the counter, tell him what you want to cook and he'll give you the meat your want. Plus instructions.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ZoeLouise

      Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "River Cottage Meat Book" is my standard reference work on the subject. Lots of useful information, say, about cooking times and a good selection of recipes.

      Of course, where you are in the world might make his naming of cuts of meat useful or useless, depending on how similar British names are to what they might be called where you are.

    2. MANY years ago there was a book "Cutting Up in the Kitchen" by Merle Ellis. He was a butcher and actually also had a TV show about how different cuts of meat are used, when to use what, how to buy a large cut and extract the tender portion for one recipe and how to use the rest, etc.

      There are used copies for sale on Amazon.

      1. One thing you should know, is that cow is not the preferred form of beef until you're very frugal. Steer is what most beef is. Cows are more for dairy, and are only slaughtered after they go dry. So ask your butcher about beef, rather than "cow".

        9 Replies
        1. re: coll

          But a cow which hasn't had a calf yet makes for excellent meat - in my opinion as good as it gets. The meat from an oxen would be next in line, before the steer.

          1. re: ZoeLouise

            Yeah I'm thinking that's technically veal?

          2. re: coll

            but a bovine animal is called a cow...and the cuts are the same, regardless of age or gender of the animal.

            (cuts vary from country to country-- but not by gender or age *within* that country)

            1. re: sunshine842

              I used to sell meat (among other things) and I sold to certain all you can eat places that always specified "cow". My meat buyer explained to me, usually a spent dairy cow. The price was about $1 a lb at the time, versus let's say $3. I've always heard cattle called bulls, cows or steers, at least in the food industry.

              I really only mentioned because OP was asking how to talk to a butcher and sound like she knew what she was talking about. A butcher would probably correct her, I'm guessing.

              1. re: coll

                (ETA) You're right that biologically, only an adult female who has born offspring is a cow...
                but the animal is called a cow in everyday English, regardless of age or gender-- and in the US, it's pretty unusual to have a retired dairy animal end up being sold for steaks **at retail**, although it's an everyday occurrence in Europe -- most of the US feedlot are slaughtered at 18 months-2 years old. ( Veal, incidentally, is from animals less than 3 months old, and primarily young males. (same source).

       will answer a LOT about the OPs questions.

       is the industry website -- and the homepage has links to all of the industry-related websites that they host -- it's an impressively-long list with LOTS of information and resources.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  I'll ask my friends in North Dakota who had a dairy farm to get their take, but as far as butchers and meat cattle, cow is one thing and beef is another. Of course if you drive down the road and see a herd, you will call them cows....especially since the males are kept more secure! Just talking butcher wise.

                  Veal goes up to six months acually, there are 4 or 5 categories starting with bob which then goes through milk fed up to grain fed. You would have to specify if asking a butcher (or trust him to give you the appropriate type).

                  Thanks for the links, I will check them out later once I get the turkey in the oven! but the most important thing I would say is to find a good butcher and then not to mess with them; they can get a little wild at times, I guess from the nature of their job. But if you just ask them, they will be glad to share. It's a dying art, and quite fascinating once you delve into it.

                  I'd better continue this discussion after dinner.......

            2. re: coll

              Is not that matter of preference (not that I have ever knowingly been given a choice, being fairly frugal I would have to consider what ever the answer)?
              Cow older- more flavorful not as tender>> slow cooking
              Steer generally younger- tender but not as flavorful>> more fat can sustain faster/hotter cooking

              1. re: wavywok

                That sounds plausible. I know it works with chickens! I've never knowingly bought cow, only sold it to All You Can Eat joints, but yes I bet you have to be careful when cooking it. Then again I've gotten some great deals on beef in the last year, sirloin and such, and they are very chewy when grilled, despite marinading, so maybe that's the explanation! Don't know that they have to put it on the label.

            3. Download one of these and peruse to you heart's content.


              7 Replies
              1. re: Zalbar

                I am SO glad you put the link to the charts there. That is how I learned about the sections..cuts....tender ...lean....marbalized seventh grade Home Economics class ( a million years ago) on a big old wall sized chart that we had to memorize....know which method of cooking went with which cut etc. I still Google a chart if I am unsure. I recently had to see what they were now calling a "flat iron" cut and I had also never heard of "chuck-eye" until the names of the beef cuts do vary:)

                1. re: Lillipop

                  We still call a "flat iron steak" a, well, "flat iron steak". It is cut from the broad end of the shoulder clod sub primal.

                  Chuck eye, or chuck delmonico is the end of the chuck roll that, before cut, rested against the first cut rib/rib eye.

                  1. re: Brandon Nelson

                    Brandon are you a butcher? It is so hard to find a store that actually has a butcher in this day and age. Was flat iron also known as "petite" steak? As far as the chuck eye my son was raving about them...I tried them and of course shortly after I discovered them so tender like butter the rest of the population did too and the price sky rocketed:)

                    1. re: Lillipop

                      Yes Lillipop I am a butcher.

                      "Petite steak" or "petite filet" is the teres major. It is second only to tenderloin (filet mignon) when it comes to tenderness.

                      You should also look for "cross rib steaks", they are another very nice cut from the shoulder clod.

                      1. re: Brandon Nelson

                        You young man will always have a career:)!!!!! Good for you!

                        1. re: Lillipop

                          Teres major is the best, if you see it stock up! So good for such a good price.

                          1. re: Lillipop

                            It is a good job to have. I enjoy the work.