The Different Beef Roasts

Strip loin, short loin, tenderloin, and other noteworthy roasts

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Strip loin and short loin. This is the section just behind the prime rib, and it contains the last rib, number 13, and it extends back to where the sirloins start. It is very similar in flavor and tenderness to the rib roast because it is primarily the same longissimus dorsi muscle, the muscle that makes up most of the prime rib. When it is sliced into steaks, you have strip steaks (and for the record, Kansas City strips and New York strips are all the same). This primal also contains T-bone steaks and porterhouse steaks towards the rear where the tenderloin attaches to the underside.

Tenderloin. This is the most tender cut on the animal. It is the shape of a baseball bat, just a bit shorter. It can be cooked whole, sliced into filet mingon steaks, and, when trimmed, the center section is a uniform thickness and is called the chateaubriand. Although it is very tender, there is very little fat marbling, and it is less tasty than the meat from the rib sections. It cooks quickly and shrinks little. It is expensive.

Tri-tip. This cut is from the area below the top sirloin and is usually boomerang shaped. It is very popular in southern California, but it is not well known in the rest of the country. Because it is a regional barbecue specialty, I have devoted a whole page to it.

Chuck eye roll, chuck roast, or shoulder clod. The shoulder is a large knot of muscles that work hard, are swaddled in thick bands of fat, elastic connective tissues, an awkward shoulder blade bone, and it has lots of flavor. It lies just in front of the prime rib, and running right through it is the front end of our old friend, the longissimus, the loin muscle that is the bulk of the prime rib, strip loin, and sirloin. The chuck eye roll is the best, called by some the “poor man’s prime rib”, but many butchers don’t separate this cut. If you get the whole roast, be prepared to do some trimming before or after the cooking.

Most chuck roasts have a shoulder blade in it making carving tricky, but chuck roll and chuck tender are boneless, beautiful, and much cheaper than rib roasts.

Top sirloin butt. This is from the section that lies just before the hip and is much less expensive than the other roasts from along the back. It has a big beefy flavor but it is a little tougher. Ask the butcher to take the cap off. The cap is a thin flat muscle beneath the fat cap. If it comes on your roast, you can practically peel it off with your hands. Top sirloin butt makes nice thick steaks. The rest of the meat, roasted low and slow, cut across the grain, can be very easy to chew. There are other sirloin roasts, but this is the most tender.

Round. The rear legs from the hip to the knee are called the round, and there are many muscles in there that the butcher can prepare as roasts. In general this meat is rich in beefy flavor, but it can be tough because the legs get a lot of exercise, so reverse sear is a must, as is slicing across the grain. Some of the roasts from the round are called top round, bottom round, outside round, eye of round, and knuckle.

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