Cheap cuts of beef generally come from the muscular parts of cattle. They are from the shoulders, the chest, the bottom, the legs, and the flanks. Because these parts of the animal tend to get a work out the meat is lean and consists primarily of connective tissues – sinew. These factors combine to make the meat dry and tough. These cuts are less desirable than more tender meat with a higher marbled fat content and therefore priced cheaply.
When you refer to the next section you may notice 2 distinct cuts missing from the list – the ribs and tail. Although these 2 cuts fulfill the general description of a cheap cut they are intentionally left off the list because popularity has driven the prices of these items to ridiculously high levels. Some may argue that ribs are still somewhat cheap but not when the amount of meat to bone ratio is taken into consideration.
- Chuck Roast – aka 7-bone roast, English roast, Blade roast
- Chuck Steak – aka Top blade steak, Jiffy steak
- Round Roast – aka Rump roast, Butt roast
- Round Steak – aka Top round, Bottom round
- Bottom Sirloin – aka Thick flank, Bottom sirloin butt
- Flank – (no aka)
- Plate – aka Hanger steak, Skirt steak
- Shank – aka Leg
- Brisket – aka Flat cut, Point cut
[Note: London Broil, though commonly referred to as a cut of beef, is actually a method of preparation that involves marinating. It is better known as Top Round Steak.]
The best way to prepare cheap cuts
Cheap cuts of beef primarily come in 2 forms – whole pieces or steaks.
Do you know how to tenderize meat? Generally speaking the best way to transform dry and tough whole pieces of beef into tender meat is to employ one of these methods:
- Slow roast – Slowly cook with indirect low, diffused heat. Generally achieved by placing it dry onto a rack or pan and placed inside of an oven. The temperature is typically set below 350°F. The low temperature prevents moisture loss while dissolving collagen, the element in the sinew which makes the meat tough. Smoking is a method of slow roasting.
- Braise – Involves dry heat and moist heat. The meat is first seared on high heat (dry heat) then finished on low heat in a covered pot with some liquid in it (moist heat). Braising relies on heat, time, and moisture to break down the tough connective tissues.
- Slow cooking or stewing – Utilizes moist heat to slowly tenderize the meat. The meat is fully submerged in liquid during the cooking process which ensures a moist outcome.
The methods commonly employed to cook smaller pieces, like steaks, is as follows:
- Marinate – Studies show that a meat marinade, though effective in its role as a tenderizer, penetrates less than 1/8″ into the meat. In other words, that 1/8″ or less of meat is guaranteed to be tender but the rest of the meat remains untouched. Some may suggest gashing, poking or injecting but these methods are not recommended as every slice or puncture added to the meat simply provides a way for the juices to escape.
Having said that, marinating tough meat is still recommended as it adds tremendously to the flavor. Fat is flavor, but cheap meats are lean so marinades help to add flavor.
- Broil or grill – Broiling and grilling are the same thing, it is just a matter of where the heat source is located, above or below the meat. It differs from frying in that the temperature is higher (400-500°F) and little to no oil is needed. It is also slightly different because the meat does not sit in its own cooking juices.
If broiling or grilling is employed the meat should be cooked rare to medium rare at most. Taking the meat past this stage will result in it being dry and tough.
The meat should be sliced thinly across the grain for serving.
- Tenderize, coat and fry – In some cases the steaks processed prior to cooking by putting them through tenderizing machines or by pounding them by hand with a tenderizer. When the meat is processed in this fashion the best way to cook it is to then coat it with flour, egg-wash and bread crumbs then deep fry or pan fry it.
When prepared in this fashion it is generally served with gravy to balance out the juices lost in the preparation and cooking process.