THE LOCAVORE’S GUIDE TO BEEF
A butcher’s eye view of great cuts and how to serve them.
WRITTEN BY NATALIE ERMANN RUSSELL
RECIPES AND PAIRINGS COMPILED AND WRITTEN BY HEIDI BETHEL
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BAMBI EDLUND
Where’s the beef? Ask a butcher that question, and he’ll want to know which beef you’re talking about. There are about 75 cuts to choose from, many of which have various names, depending on how any given muscle was sectioned and where the butcher learned his trade (one man’s Kansas City steak is another man’s New York strip). How to prepare the various steaks, roasts, and ribs is a challenge as well. When to grill? When to braise? When to roast?
Beef is muscle, and how you cook it depends upon how much it was used by the cow. The front (chuck) and back (round) are oft-used muscles, with plenty of connective tissue and marbleized fat (read: flavor). In general, these tougher cuts must be cooked with slow, moist heat. (Leaving bones in also adds tremendous flavor, so ask for the bones when you can.) The middle portions — where the cuts are apt to be tender and more expensive — don’t involve the hardworking muscles, have a milder flavor, and can be cooked with dry heat over a shorter period of time.
Some grocery store packaging will tell you where a cut comes from, which is helpful for something such as a London broil because it can be from several different parts of the cow.
Of course, visit a butcher or get it straight from the farm, and you can ask questions and tap into the knowledge of these seasoned experts. In the meantime, we’re providing a map of the eight “primal cuts” (the first cuts made when a butcher breaks down a steer), along with some fantastic recipes and tips from local butchers. So, you ask, where’s the beef? Hopefully, it’s in your kitchen.
CUTS: Chuck eye roast, chuck eye steak, top blade steak, chuck pot roast, mock tender, blade roast, 7-bone roast, short ribs, flat-iron steak, arm pot roast; often used for hamburger
LOCATION: The forequarter containing ribs one through five — which is basically the shoulder. It is the largest primal cut.
INSIDER TIP: The chuck contains the workhorse muscles of the cow, which gives it the most flavor. The plentiful connective tissue dissolves when the meat is slow-cooked and provides a special flavor profile.
COOKING TECHNIQUES: Cook in liquid slowly and long (i.e., braise or pop into a slow cooker).
(courtesy of Anthony Fish, chef of Sassafras, in Carson City, Nev. Serves 4)
3 pounds lean chuck diced to 1- to 1½-inch pieces
3 dried pasilla chiles
3 dried ancho chiles
3 dried New Mexico chiles
¼ teaspoon crushed thyme
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 quart good quality beef or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
Tortillas, diced yellow onions, and cilantro, to taste
Chuck Rub: Remove stems and seeds from chiles and toast in a 350 degree F oven until fragrant and slightly crispy (about 3 minutes). Grind in a spice grinder or a molcajete, a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle. Mix with thyme, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, oregano, salt, and cumin. Dry rub the diced chuck and let marinate overnight, or for at least 2 to 3 hours. Place marinated meat in an ovenproof dish and add bay leaves, apple cider vinegar, and stock. Wrap tightly with aluminum foil or a tight-fitting lid and place in a 350 degree F oven for 4 hours. Remove from oven and check the sauce thickness. If it is too thin, strain the meat and reduce the sauce in a saucepan and check for salt after reduction. Serve with warm tortillas, diced yellow onions, and cilantro.
Beverage Pairing: Common Cider Co. Hibiscus Saison Hard Cider
Offering a light and floral taste with hints of sweet apples and hibiscus flowers, this dry cider has a lingering finish that pairs perfectly with the stronger, spicy notes in the Birria. The locally owned product also complements many of the rub spices, by adding a tinge of sweet to the palate. In addition, with its rosy red color and bubbly head, it looks beautiful when poured in a glass next to the composed plate. Find more about Common Cider on Facebook.
Nevada-grown Slow-Cooked Short Ribs
(courtesy of J.B. Lekumberry, co-owner and cook of JT Basque Bar & Dining Room, in Gardnerville, Nev. Serves 4 to 6)
1 – 2 short ribs, 1 pound per serving, individually cut (Lekumberry recommends Nevada-raised steer or open heifer, grass fed, no growth hormone stimulants or additives with minimal antibiotic use)
1 large white or yellow Nevada onion, sliced
6 cloves Nevada garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce per short rib
8 ounces red table wine
¼ teaspoon black pepper per short rib
¼ teaspoon sea salt per short rib
¼ cup oil
In a large frying pan, brown short ribs in hot oil. Place ribs in crockpot. Add onion, garlic, and red wine to frying pan and reduce. Pour onion-garlic mixture into crockpot and add Worcestershire sauce, sea salt, and black pepper. Cover with lid and cook on low for 6 to 12 hours.
Beverage Pairing: Picon Punch with Churchill Vineyards Nevada Brandy
For more Nevada flavor, consider using locally produced Churchill Vineyards cabernet during the preparation of the short ribs and continue the experience with a Picon Punch using Churchill Vineyards brandy to truly celebrate the rich Basque culture and flavors of this dish. For more about Churchill Vineyards, visit Churchillvineyards.com.
(courtesy of Ashley Frey of Churchill Vineyards, in Fallon, Nev. Serves 1)
1 teaspoon grenadine
2½ ounces Picon or Torani amer
Shot carbonated water or club soda
1 ounce Churchill Vineyards Nevada Brandy
Lemon twist (peel only)
Add ice cubes to an old-fashioned glass. Add amer and grenadine, then add carbonated water. Agitate with spoon. Layer the brandy on top and add a lemon twist.
CUTS: Prime rib, rib roast (large end and small end), rib eye roast, rib eye steak, rib steak, back ribs
LOCATION: Top portion from the 6th through the 12th ribs
INSIDER TIP: “Small end” and “large end” rib roasts refer to the size of the bones that surround it, not the actual size of the meat. The more-tender small end is actually larger than the tougher large end.
COOKING TECHNIQUES: Dry-heat cooking, including grilling, broiling, roasting, pan-frying
(courtesy of Dan Bauer, executive chef at Rapscallion Seafood House & Bar, in Reno. Serves 4)
2 to 3 pounds St. Louis-style beef ribs or baby back pork ribs
1 cup Las Cruces BBQ Rub (or your favorite dry barbecue rub)
½ cup brown sugar
Barbecue sauce (optional, but it’s available in most area grocery stores)
Mix rub and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Coat ribs on both sides with mixture. Place ribs on their side (the bones will be vertical) in an oven-safe pot. Fill pot with water until water comes halfway up the rack. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees F until ribs are done through; this should be about 2½ hours for baby backs and 3 hours for St. Louis-style beef ribs, depending on rack size. Pull from oven and let rest at least 5 to 10 minutes. Ribs now can be cooled to be reheated on the grill later, or put directly on the grill to caramelize sugar and rub. Pull from grill, cover in foil, and let rest. Slice ribs and toss in a bowl with barbecue sauce to serve.
Beverage Pairing: Moonshine Watermelon Lemonade with Seven Troughs Distilling Co. Moonshine
Seven Troughs Distilling Co. moonshine has notable flavors of sweet grains with a mild alcohol burn. The Sparks company’s spirit can be served on ice, but also makes a great base for fresh fruit drinks. The use of the brown sugar in the beef rib brings an obvious sweetness; the barbecue sauce adds another layer of tangy sweetness to the rib recipe. The Moonshine Watermelon Lemonade will play on the flavor qualities of the ribs while providing enough acidity to contrast and balance the caramelized sugars and meaty seared beef fats. For details on Seven Troughs Distilling Co., visit 7troughsdistilling.com.
Moonshine Watermelon Lemonade
(courtesy of Tom Adams, co-owner of Seven Troughs Distilling Co., in Sparks, Nev. Serves 1)
2 ounces Seven Troughs Distilling Co. Recession Proof Moonshine
1 cup ripe seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
4 to 6 ounces lemonade
Mint leaves, to garnish
Muddle watermelon cubes in a cocktail shaker to release as much watermelon juice as possible. Add moonshine and shake vigorously. Strain into glass filled with ice, making sure to get bits of the watermelon in the glass. Top with lemonade and stir. Squeeze juice into the glass and add lemon wedge. Garnish with mint leaves.
CUTS: Boneless top loin steak*, T-bone steak, porterhouse steak, tenderloin roast (fillet mignon), tenderloin steak (fillet mignon)
LOCATION: The saddle section beneath the ribs, starting at the last rib (rib 13) and extending into the lumbar vertebrae. The most in-demand and expensive steaks come from this region.
INSIDER TIP: *Just one example of the multitude of names for one cut of beef: Boneless top loin steak also is known as strip steak, Kansas City Steak, New York strip steak, hotel cut strip steak, ambassador steak, or club sirloin steak. Who can keep it all straight?
COOKING TECHNIQUES: Dry-heat cooking, including grilling, broiling, roasting, pan-frying
Short Loin with Balsamic-Mustard Marinade, Summer Bean Medley, Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes, and Grilled Figs
(courtesy of Ben “Wyatt” Dufresne, executive chef at PlumpJack Café in Squaw Valley, Calif. Serves 4)
There are many parts of the short loin. The most popular and recognizable are the tenderloin (filet mignon), strip steak (New York), porterhouse, and T-bone. Any of these cuts will work with this recipe. Choose the type and weight of the steak based on the fat content desired and how hungry you are.
½ cup whole grain mustard
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 shallot, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
½ bunch thyme, stems removed
¾ cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients except oil in a food processor and blend until smooth. With the food processor still on, slowly add the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Marinate the steaks up to a day before, but at least two hours before cooking. Grill your steaks to a desired temperature and assemble the following side dishes on a plate.
Summer Bean Medley
About 1 pound summer beans, including French beans, yellow wax beans, and romano beans
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Boil 1 gallon of water. Salt it heavily (the water should taste like the sea). Pick the stems off of the beans and rinse under cold water. Boil the beans for about 4 minutes. They should still have a slight crunch to them. Strain off the water and sauté beans with butter. Season with salt and pepper.
Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes
12 small red potatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 bunch rosemary, roughly chopped
Old Bay seasoning, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse potatoes under cold water and cut in half. In a mixing bowl, toss all ingredients together until potatoes are uniformly coated. Transfer to a sheet pan and lay out in one layer. Roast for about 45 minutes or until tender inside and crispy outside. Season to taste.
8 fresh figs (the variety can vary depending on availability and what you like)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Grill over medium heat for about 3 minutes, rotating constantly. The figs should get grill marks but not start to fall apart.
Beverage Pairing: Rosemary’s Berry with Tahoe Blue Vodka
There’s nothing like sipping on a nice vodka drink while enjoying a meal hot off the grill. The Rosemary’s Berry with Tahoe Blue Vodka is refreshing alongside this dish. It provides an alternative to wine that also cleanses the palate. The berries in this drink go well with the acidity in the marinade used on the beef, and the rosemary pairs with the potatoes to really make the flavors pop. For details on Tahoe Blue Vodka, visit Tahoebluevodka.com.
(courtesy of Ilona “Lo” Martinez of the U.S. Bartenders Guild Reno Chapter. Serves 1)
3 blackberries, muddled
4 blueberries, muddled
1 ounce rosemary simple syrup (recipe below)
2 ounces Tahoe Blue Vodka
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients and shake. Strain over fresh ice and top with ginger ale. Garnish with a blackberry rosemary skewer.
To make rosemary simple syrup, bring 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to boil. Add 6 whole sprigs of rosemary. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Strain and cool.
CUTS: Sirloin steak (flat bone), sirloin steak (round bone), top sirloin steak, pin bone sirloin steak, flat bone sirloin steak, cowboy steak, tri-tip, triangle steak
LOCATION: It includes bone segments of lumbar vertebrae and often is referred to as the hip area. Not as tender as the short loin region. Has many muscle groups, which means it can be cut in a myriad of ways, resulting in a great variety of cuts.
INSIDER TIP: The quality of the fat is different here than in other parts of the cow. It can become hard after cooking, so you will need to trim it out as you’re eating — not before, or you’ll lose flavor as well.
COOKING TECHNIQUES: This region can be a little tough, but still can be prepared with some dry heat. Best to broil or pan fry. Also, makes good stew beef.
CUTS: Top round steak or roast, bottom round roast, eye round steak or roast, heel of round, rolled rump, rump roast, round tip steak or roast, knuckle steak, cube steak, round steak, kebabs; often used for hamburger
LOCATION: Derived from a hindquarter, it is more or less the hind legs and the rump. It is the second-largest primal cut.
INSIDER TIP: There are three major muscle groups in this section: the top round, which is where a lot of London broil comes from; bottom round, which can be turned into cube steak (great for chicken-fried steak); and eye of round, which is typically a roasting cut.
COOKING TECHNIQUES: Because it doesn’t have abundant marbling, much of it needs to be cooked in liquid (braising, slow cooker); however, some cuts are tender enough for roasting (for example, high-quality top round, knuckle, and rump roasts).
CUTS: Flank steak, often used for ground beef and London broil
LOCATION: Comes from the belly section of a hindquarter and has no bone segments. It can be tough because it has a lot of tissue.
INSIDER TIP: Experts recommend cutting flank steak against the grain (perpendicular to the lines) because those lines are actually long muscle fibers that are difficult to chew if not cut crosswise into smaller pieces.
COOKING TECHNIQUES: Best cooked quickly — marinated and pan-broiled or grilled. Can also be braised.
CUTS: Short ribs, skirt steak, hanger steak; often used for ground beef
LOCATION: More or less the area below the rib primal cut; it includes the bottom portion of ribs six through 12.
INSIDER TIP: The inexpensive skirt steak gets tough if cooked beyond medium; keep it at rare or medium rare and it remains quite tender.
COOKING TECHNIQUES: Best cooked quickly: marinated and pan-broiled or grilled.
CUTS: Brisket, shank, soup bones
LOCATION: This is basically the cow’s breast, immediately below the chuck. The abundant fat prevents the meat from drying out.
INSIDER TIP: Many chefs swear by the brisket for ground hamburger meat because it has a magic ratio of 30 percent fat to 70 percent protein. (Ask for some next time you’re at the local butcher shop.)
COOKING TECHNIQUES: In liquid (braise or use a slow cooker). Also good when cured (smoked, pickled, etc.), as in pastrami and corned beef.
Michoacan Citrus-marinated Filet of Brisket
(courtesy of Jesus “Chuy” Gutierrez, owner/chef from MariCHUY’s Mexican Kitchen, in Reno. Serves 4)
⅓ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 4 limes
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup New Mexico dried chili powder
¼ cup onions, sliced
2 pounds beef brisket
Tortillas, queso fresco, romaine lettuce, and Roma tomato, to serve
Combine olive oil, orange and lime juices, cumin, oregano, cilantro, salt, garlic, chili powder, and onions together in a large pan and stir well. Add brisket and refrigerate for 8 hours. An hour before cooking, remove the brisket from the pan. Barbecue at 370 degrees F for about 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the brisket reaches 140 degrees F. Serve with warm tortillas, queso fresco, romaine lettuce, and Roma tomato.
Beverage Pairing: Tahoe or Ninkasi Wunderkind Light Beer from The Brewer’s Cabinet
With heavy or spicy food, beer often is a complement because it can be consumed at a cooler temperature. Light beers tend to work better since they typically are not as heavy as those darker alternatives. In addition, The Brewer’s Cabinet recommends lagers over ales with this recipe, including Vienna-style, doppelbock, and its Kolsch-style Tahoe and Ninkasi Wunderkind varieties. For details on The Brewer’s Cabinet and its beers, visit Thebrewerscabinet.com.
MUST-HAVE KITCHEN TOOLS FOR MEAT
Instant-read meat thermometer
Gauging when a piece of beef is done solely by sight is difficult to impossible. A thermometer will tell you 145 degrees F for medium-rare; 160 degrees F for medium; and 170 degrees F for well done. Good brands include Taylor and OXO.
Meat tenderizer or pounder
For tougher cuts of meat (from the chuck or round, for example), a little pounding can make a big difference when it comes to tenderness. Some tenderizers even have blades that can be used to infuse the meat with garlic bits. Good brands include Jaccard and OXO.
Silicone basting brush
Because the bristles are made of silicone, they are super easy to clean and do the job just as well as (if not better than) than the old kind. Good brands include OXO and Cuisipro.
This hypodermic needle-like gadget infuses a piece of meat with your favorite marinade — and tremendous flavor. One good brand is Cajun Injector.
This kitchen necessity usually is made of enameled cast iron or metal and is perfect for braising and slow cooking. Good brands include Lodge, Le Creuset, Staub, and All-Clad.
Great Book for Great Meat
Written by Heidi Bethel
Dave Kelly, butcher from Ruby & White and author of Great Meat, worked alongside contributors from the infamous Keefer’s of Chicago restaurant to offer readers a manual filled with expert advice for handling the various cuts of meat and preparation options. From beef, pork, and lamb to chicken, game, and goose, Kelly embraces the nose-to-tail culinary trend with step-by-step techniques, charts of meat cuts, and aging properties. In addition, more than 80 recipes, including traditional, internationally influenced, and perennial classic dishes, make carnivorous cuisine easy as … shepherd’s pie.