Anatomy of a Cow, Different Cuts Explained

Anatomy of a Cow, Different Cuts Explained

When you're in the mood to prepare some beef for dinner, it may be challenging to choose the right cut from the various options in the grocery store. Truth be told, most of us aren't that familiar with the anatomy of a cow. Though it certainly helps when selecting what you'll be grilling up for dinner.


Chuck refers to the meat that’s located in the cow’s shoulder. Since this muscle is frequently used, it’s a particularly tough cut of meat. However, it has a wonderful beefy flavor that makes it particularly tasty. Chuck is one of the cheapest cuts of meat that doesn't sacrifice much on taste.

Chuck is best used with long, slow cooking methods like roasting and braising to make it tender. To get the most out of this, cut it up into smaller or thinner pieces to make cooking more efficient. Ground chuck is fantastic when used in a burger, adding a rich flavor profile.


The brisket is located in the cow's underside, between the front legs and hind legs. It usually includes the part near the belly running up towards the neck. Brisket is a tough cut of meat since the muscles in this area continuously contract as the animal moves around. The plus side is that brisket also contains a substantial amount of fat,especially near the belly area. And fat is very flavorful, and wonderful for cooking.

Brisket is one of the more versatile tough cuts. It's ideal for slow cooking at low heat. By cooking brisket for a longer time, all of its fat renders, and the meat tenderizes. The final dish will be rich and flavorful. It's the meat of choice for barbeques and smoked meat, such as corned beef and pastrami. It's also the cut of choice for pot roasts in the UK.


Ribs contain the meat that surrounds the cow's ribcage and vertebrae. A cow's ribcage is composed of 13 sets, with ribs 1-6 located in the shoulder area and is, therefore, part of the chuck cut. When people talk about the rib cut, what they're referring to is the primal rib, running through bones 6-12.

Ribs are the crème de la crème of steak cuts and include the much sought after rib eye. These cuts are characterized by intense flavor and marbling, making them super tender and delicious. These cuts are best used in fast cooking methods like searing and grilling to preserve their tenderness and juiciness.


The loin covers the part of the cow directly behind the ribs. It's one of the least used muscles and is, therefore, one of the most tender. It is separated into two parts: the short loin and the sirloin.

The short loin is the more tender of the two. It’s also where the most expensive cut of beef is located: the tenderloin. Other cuts from the short loin include Porterhouse, New York strip, strip steak, and T-bone. These are best cooked like a steak, using fast cooking methods like pan-frying or grilling.

The sirloin is tougher than the short loin but is more flavorful. Cuts from the sirloin include sirloin steak, Tri-Tip, and ball tip steak.


The round or rump is located on the tail end of the cow running towards the hind leg. It tends to be relatively lean and tough but can be quite flavorful. Round is often sold as ground beef. When you see "generic" ground meat in supermarkets, it's likely made from this cut.

Since round is a relatively tough cut of meat, it works well with slow heat methods like roasting. It is usually sold in the supermarket with names like round steak, top/bottom round and tip roast.


The flank of the cow is located in the abdominal area to the lower chest, below the loin. It is a very tough and flavorful cut, with no bones. Flank is the meat of choice for those who want a leaner piece of beef. It used to be cheap, but due to popular demand, it is steadily rising up in price.

Flank is a very versatile meat and can be used for grilling, searing or stewing. Popular cuts include London broil and flank steak.