Selecting a cut of beef to purchase and prepare can be challenging given the number of choices available at the retail meat case. To help narrow down your options it’s important to know what cooking method you plan to use. This might depend on the type of equipment you choose or the amount of time you have to prepare your meal.
Grilling, pan frying, crockpot, oven slow roasting, and smoking are some of the most common methods and there are beef options that work well for each method. How you choose to prepare a cut of beef makes a difference in what cut you should buy. A prime steak can be rendered inedible if the wrong preparation method is used and a lower value cut can be the highlight of a gourmet meal with the right cooking method. All cuts can produce an excellent eating experience; they just need the proper preparation to bring out their best qualities.
There are two primary cookery methods for beef:
- Dry Heat Methods
- Moist Heat Methods
Dry heat methods are best for tender cuts, that have less connective tissue, while moist heat methods are best for less tender cuts that may have more connective tissue. Connective tissue is composed of strong proteins that provide strength and support for muscles. Muscles that do more work require more support and typically have more connective tissue such as those in the front and hind sections of a beef animal (round and chuck). Tender cuts are found primarily in the middle of the animal (rib and loin) and will generally remain tender when cooked with a fast/dry method of cooking.
Dry Heat Cooking Methods
Methods for cooking beef with dry heat include: Broiling, Grilling, Oven Roasting, Skillet Cooking, Sauté and Stir Frying. This type of cooking is characterized by fast cooking at high temperatures. The cooking vessel is generally uncovered and no additional liquid is added. This type of cooking caused the meat to “brown”. Temperatures of 350°F or higher cause proteins (amino acids) and carbohydrates (sugars) to caramelize creating unique flavors and aromas. This process is called the Maillard Reaction after the scientist that discovered the phenomenon, and is why a stew or roast will have a richer flavor if the beef has been browned before adding the liquid.
Cuts recommended for Dry Heat Cooking:
Strip steak, tri-tip steak, top sirloin steak, T-bone steak, ribeye steak, tenderloin steak (filet mignon), porterhouse steak, flat iron steak, skirt steak, chuck eye steak, ground beef.
Moist Heat Cooking Methods
Moist heat cooking methods include braising/pot roasting and cooking in liquid/stewing/poaching. Applying moisture to the product over low heat in a tightly covered pan or pot allows the natural flavors of beef to develop. The steam produced by the liquid and retained in the container during this “low and slow” process converts the proteins in connective tissue to gelatin resulting in a more tender end product. Cuts are often browned before adding the liquid to add flavor (Maillard Reaction). The difference between braising/pot roasting and cooking in liquid/stewing is simply the amount of liquid used in the recipe. The braising/pot roasting method requires large cuts of beef to be cooked in enough liquid to partially cover the meat. Cooking in liquid/stewing involves small, uniform pieces of beef that are totally immersed in liquid.
Cuts Recommended for Moist Heat Cooking:
Chuck roasts (arm chuck roast, 7-bone chuck roast, chuck tender roast, chuck eye roast, blade roast), short ribs, bottom round rump roast, round steak and brisket.
If you’re interested in smoking beef utilize cuts that have more fat to help keep the product moist and juicy throughout the process. Examples would be brisket, whole ribeyes, and tri tip.
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