Tag Archives: chuck


Flat iron steak – A relatively new restaurant favorite that’s delicious and tender

Flat iron steak shouldn’t work. It is named after a domestic appliance, it is notoriously hard to find outside of restaurants, and it comes from an area of the cow, the shoulder blade, that was long considered too tough to produce any tender, enjoyable steaks.

But if you’ve ever had a grilled flat iron steak from a steakhouse or cooked it in your own backyard, you know that it is an amazing cut of beef.

The history of flat iron steaks

Flat iron steak is a tender cut of beef that not only has an interesting history but is also tough to find, similar to the Denver steak. Flat iron is not as prevalent in the butcher case as rib-eye, filet mignon, or flank steaks, but it is quite popular on restaurant menus in America and beyond.

Flat iron steak, which derives its name from its shape being similar to that of an old-fashioned clothes iron, has been around, in some form, for a while. The cut, or something similar to it, is known as the butler steak in the U.K. or the oyster blade steak in Australia and New Zealand. In some places, it can also be called book steak, petite steak, or shoulder top blade steak. However, much like the Denver steak, the flat iron steak as we now know it was not discovered until 2002 by researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska, and also as part of the Beef Checkoff Program.

The cut is derived from the shoulder of the cow, specifically from the top blade of the chuck primal cut. For a long period of time, the region from where the flat iron steak is derived was waste meat or used in ground beef mixes. This was due to the connective tissue that ran through it, making it undesirable as a stand-alone cut.

The researchers from Florida and Nebraska found a way to remove the gristle, creating a fibrous, marbled steak that is popular as a bistro steak. The term bistro steak is often used for tasty, tender cuts that are used by smaller restaurants as a delicious, cheaper alternative to more expensive cuts at high-end steakhouses like a New York strip steak.

The popularity of the flat iron steak among chefs is due to the versatility of the flavorful cut. According to our own Chef Yankel Polak, our in-house ButcherBox chef, “The flat iron steak is an industry darling, a new-age steak.”

It’s such a challenge to find in stores because it is in such high demand with restaurants. “It is on every top-notch steak joint’s menu these days,” Chef Yankel says.

Preparing flat iron steak

The tender cut can be cooked as is, but it is often used with a rub or marinade. It’s popular as a stir-fry meat, sometimes sliced for sandwiches, and commonly used with chimichurri or other spicy sauces for tacos. It can also be the centerpiece of other dishes.

The flat iron steak is ideal for grilling because it is relatively easy to cook. Whether using a marinade or just some olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper, our chef says that cooking it medium rare is best to keep the steak tender.

As Chef Yankel also explains, “It has a deep grain, so cutting against the grain is imperative, but it has minimal connective tissue, so your slices don’t have to be super thin.”

Chef Yankel says that flat iron is similar to both skirt steak and hanger steak, “For mouthfeel, it’s slightly chewy but in an enjoyable way, and for meatiness, it tastes like what you imagine beef should taste like,” he explained.

It is a shame that the cut is so prevalent among restaurants, as it is difficult for steak-loving consumers to find on their own. (Luckily, if you are a ButcherBox subscriber, it is often featured in our monthly boxes.)

Because of its great taste and usefulness, the flat iron steak has gained a tremendous reputation in the 15 years since it was discovered. Its legend will likely continue to grow. As Chef Yankel explains, “They will trend to higher price points as they gain popularity.”

So try to get your hands on one soon, or you might be priced out of the flat iron steak market in the near future.

Here is one of our favorite flat iron steak recipes, Chef Yankel’s Pepper-Crusted Flat Iron with Root Vegetable Mash.

Pepper-Crusted Flat Iron with Root Vegetable Mash


  • 2 ButcherBox flat iron steaks
  • 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large turnip, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place cast iron pan in the oven.

2. Place parsnips, turnip, garlic, and milk in small saucepan. Add more milk if needed to cover vegetables.

3. Simmer on low heat until vegetables are tender. Remove vegetables from pot, and place in a bowl.

4. Add butter and mash vegetables, adding small amounts of milk as needed to get a thick mashed consistency

5. Add Parmesan and parsley and scoop mash into medium cupcake tins. Sprinkle top with black pepper and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

6. Pour coarse black pepper on a plate and press one side of flat iron steaks onto pepper. Season steaks on both sides with kosher salt.

7. Remove cast iron pan from oven, add a small amount of oil and place steaks in pan, pepper side down. Return pan to oven. After 4 minutes, flip steaks. Continue to cook in oven 4 more minutes or until thermometer inserted into thickest part reads 120 F.

8. Let steaks rest at room temperature for at least 8 minutes. Serve with mash and enjoy!


beef cuts chuck short ribs

For grilling season — the best beef cuts from the chuck

Winter is slowly receding here in the Northeast, and it seems as if we’ve — finally — come to the end of a period of strange, colder-than-usual weather across the country. The Masters Tournament has come and gone. The selection of foods at farmers markets is more robust. Scarves, beanies, and mittens will soon be packed away.

And, most importantly, grills will reappear. They will be cleaned, repaired, and lit once more as we undertake that yearly rite of spring — cooking outside.

In our opinion, there is nothing that compares to the experience of throwing a scrumptious hunk of grass-fed beef over some hot charcoals or onto a red-hot grill.

But which beef cuts are best for cooking out? One section of the cow that has long been overlooked is the chuck, especially compared to the filet mignons, ribeyes, strip steaks, t-bone steaks, and tri-tips that come from the middle areas that make up the rib, loin, tenderloin,  and sirloin primal cuts.

As our ButcherBox Head Chef Yankel Polak says, “The chuck is a goldmine of great cuts.”

Some of the best cuts of beef to cook outdoors come from the chuck; also, some of our favorite steaks and roasts, in general, are chuck beef cuts.

You already know chuck beef

The “chuck” primal section produces the vast amount of meat that is used from a cow. Most of the meat from this area — the front section from the shoulder blade and down to the leg muscles — lacks fat and has a ton of connective tissue. Therefore, it can result in tough cuts of meat if cooked incorrectly.

Most parts of the chuck close to the ribs are used for various roasts.

Beef chuck roast, for example, is ideal for braising and slow cooking. Other common roast beef cuts from the chuck include pot roast and bone-in chuck roast, also known as the 7 bone chuck roast. These roast sections are fantastic when quickly seared and then put in a slow cooker for a few hours, especially with some complementary seasonings and spices.

These cuts are large and used for braising mainly because it is easy to cut sizeable hunks of beef out of the chuck section, but also because the connective tissue caused by the overuse of the muscles don’t make them as tender and marbled as sirloin steaks and tenderloin steaks.

However, many of the standard — sometimes vaguely labeled — steaks you can get at the supermarket are likely to be steaks cut from the chuck. Like flank steaks or skirt steaks, chuck is also often used as stew meat, kabobs, and sandwich steaks, and as an alternative to more expensive cuts like sirloin tips, tip roast, and ribeye.

You likely cook chuck meat on your grill quite often without realizing it: Chuck meat is one of the primary sources that butchers use to make ground beef. So if you are cooking cheeseburgers for the family this weekend, there is a good chance you’ve got some ground chuck in the burger mix.


New beef cuts from the chuck primal

Because chuck beef has primarily been used for braising roast cuts, cheaper cuts of steak, and ground beef in the past, some steak lovers believe that you can’t find quality steaks in this front section of the cow.

However, over the past few decades, the beef industry has innovated and uncovered tasty, tender steaks in the chuck section that were previously unknown, difficult to access, or more prevalently used in unique ways in other cultures.

For instance, as part of the Beef Checkoff Program, meat science researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska identified new and potentially more affordable tender cuts of meat. The project led to the discovery of little-used or unknown cuts, like the Denver steak.

The Denver steak — which does not officially have anything to do with the Mile High City — comes from the chuck flap, an area of the chuck under blade that is full of tough, connective tissue. This steak is delicious as long as it is cooked correctly and, as we’ve said again and again with these types of cuts, must be cut against the grain once cooked.

The beef industry research project also led to the discovery of the flat iron steak, which is a challenging cut to find from the top section of the chuck shoulder. Flat iron steak is a perfect grilling steak; it is tender and tasty when cooked on an open fire. However, it can easily become tough if overcooked. Similar to many other cuts with lots of connective tissue — like the Denver steak — it should also be sliced against the grain.

The Denver steak and flat iron steak aren’t the only great grilling cuts that come from the chuck. Additionally, the chuck eye steak comes from an area of the chuck that is part of the longissimus dorsi muscle, the same place where the ribeye steak is derived. There is some confusion about whether or not a chuck eye is also a Delmonico steak, but that is a subject for another day.

The most delicious of all the chuck cuts might be a surprise

Although it sounds like it should come entirely from the ribs primal, the best short ribs come from the chuck. The first few ribs of a cow — usually the second through fifth ribs — are where the serratus ventralis muscle is thickest. This area is in the chuck primal section. The meat in this section is often tough, which is why short ribs are best cooked over a long period of time with a good marinade or rub.

Culturally, short ribs have been prominent in East Asian and Middle Eastern cooking traditions. However, they have emerged more recently as a delectable treat in the U.S. and can be cooked in a number of ways.

Chef Yankel describes short ribs as “the kings of the braising cuts.” We love slow cooking them bone-in with a sweet marinade.

“Short ribs are packed with healthy fats and collagen,” Chef Yankel added. “Nothing compares for texture and flavor.”

Many of the chuck cuts mentioned above are featured in our monthly grass-fed beef ButcherBox — if you are a member, you’ve likely experienced some of these steaks and roasts. If you want some more on our favorite cooking methods and recipes for the different cuts of chuck mentioned, check out our recipe page or YouTube channel.

If you aren’t a member and would like to become a ButcherBox member with delicious, thoughtfully-raised grass-fed beef delivered to your door each month, click here.

grades of beef

What different grades of meat mean, and why meat grades don’t matter for grass-fed beef

If you’ve dined at a local steakhouse recently, you may have seen USDA Prime Beef advertised on your menu. What does this mean? Is prime beef better or healthier than other beef?

Prime is a designation given by the USDA and is a label that producers can choose to pursue, to distinguish their meat from lower-quality products. However, in the case of USDA meat grades, “quality” refers to the amount of flavor, the juiciness, and the tenderness of the meat. It has absolutely nothing to do with the level of nutrients within the cut, nor does it refer to how the animal was raised or what that animal ate during its lifetime (as organic, non-GMO, or grass-fed food labels or designations do).

It’s also important to note that any cut of meat can receive any grade, no matter how sought-after or expensive that particular cut happens to be. For example, a ribeye can be graded as prime or standard, a lesser-quality grade.

Finally, the quality grade has nothing to do with health or sanitation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) ensure all meat sold within the United States — either locally or nationwide — is inspected for safety, diseases, and other necessary measures. Once again, the quality grade is entirely optional; producers actually pay the USDA to grade their meat so they can price and sell the cut accordingly.

What are the different grades of beef?

There are two different ways to “grade” a cut of beef. The first, and better-known method is the quality grade. There are eight different USDA quality grades, evaluating the steak or roast for tenderness, flavor, and juiciness.

The second method doesn’t grade the actual cut — it grades the entire carcass. Yield grade measures how much lean meat can be used compared to the amount of marbling (fat). Yield grades are given a number between one and five, with one being considered “the best,” with the highest portion of lean meat; and five the lowest quality, with the lowest portion of lean beef available.

Prime Grade

Less than two percent of all meat in the United States is graded “Prime.” Viewed as the highest quality grade, prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. Prime beef is known for its abundant marbling, as 11% (or more) of the cut is from intramuscular fat.

The only time(s) you’ll cut into a prime cut of beef is either at a steakhouse or an upscale hotel. You will rarely (if ever) find prime beef at your local supermarket — although they can be found at a few chains.

Choice Grade

One step down from prime is “Choice” grade. USDA Choice is still considered a high-quality grade; it just has less marbling than prime (only 9.5-11% intramuscular fat). A tender cut of meat, like a ribeye or filet mignon, will still be very tender and juicy (honestly, you probably won’t notice the difference from prime). A less tender cut could dry out, so it’s best to use a meat thermometer while cooking.

Select Grade

“Select” grade is considered of lesser quality than choice or prime, but still higher than the average steak you’ll find at the supermarket. Select beef has less marbling than either choice or prime, making it a leaner cut of meat. It’s still reasonably tender, but since it contains less fat, it might lack some of the juiciness found in the two higher grades.

Standard and Commercial Grades

“Standard” and “Commercial” are the two grades you’ll typically find at the meat counter as “store brand” meat. As you probably guessed, it contains less marbling than the three higher grades, thereby lacking some of the juiciness and flavor. Many times, these grades will be packaged as “store grades” or “un-graded” at the grocery store.

Utility, Cutter, and Canner Grades

You won’t find filet mignon labeled as utility, cutter, or canner. These three, lower grades are reserved mainly for ground beef and processed products. You won’t find a cut of steak with any of these three grades.

How to cook different grades of beef

Since the amount of fat varies so much between the quality grades, it’s important to know how to cook them. The less marbling in a cut, the higher your chances of overcooking it. Consider using a meat thermometer to prevent drying out your dinner (Remember: our recommendation is 125°F for medium rare).

When dealing with the two highest grades — prime and choice — almost any cut can be cooked by any method. Even if you’re cooking a less tender cut (like a rump or round roast), you should be able to cook with dry heat, such as roasting, broiling, or grilling.

When cooking a select steak or either of the store grades, you should only cook the tender cuts (those from the loin, ribs, or sirloin) with dry heat. Any other cut, you should consider marinating the beef prior to cooking. You could also consider braising — or cooking with another form of added moisture — to keep your meat nice and tender.



Grades for Poultry

Unlike beef, there are only three grades for poultry: A, B, or C. There are no yield grades for poultry, so the three grades apply whether you’re purchasing a whole chicken or a single, boneless skinless chicken breast.

Grade A

Grade A poultry ensures the meat is free of bruises, feathers, or other defects. If it’s a bone-in product (like bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs), the bones should not be broken. For “whole” products, like your center stage turkey at Thanksgiving, should not have any tears or exposed skin that could dry out when cooking.

Grade A is, in all likelihood, the only label you’ll ever see in a store. It applies to all chicken, duck, turkey, and other poultry products if they meet the above standards. The few exceptions are gizzards, wing tips, tails, necks, and ground meat, which are not graded — no matter their condition.

Grade B and C

To our knowledge, poultry labeled grade B and C is not sold whole in stores. Typically, poultry that falls under either one of these grades will be saved for further-processed products, like ground turkey.

Grades for Other Types of Meat

There is no USDA grade for pork, the only other meat we sell on this site. However, we thought we’d share two other types of meat graded for quality by the USDA.

Grades for Veal

Veal is beef produced from a young calf. The grades are similar to that beef quality grades, with fewer options: prime, choice, good, standard, and utility. Like beef, prime and choice are considered the highest quality and suitable for almost any cooking method. Good, standard, and utility decrease in quality and marbling, with standard and utility usually being reserved for ground veal.

Grades for Lamb

Similar to veal, lamb has five quality grades. The highest quality grades, prime and choice, are typically the only grades found in grocery stores. Good, utility, and cull grades are rarely labeled as such.

What Grade Comes in Your ButcherBox?

None of them.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with quality grade standards, it has nothing to do with the health or well-being of the animal a cut of meat came from. We would rather ensure our meat came from animals that were humanely raised, grazed on grass, and were never given growth hormones or antibiotics than simply measure the amount of marbling within a cut.

Grain-fed cattle are raised to get fat quickly, which enhances their marbling. Grass-fed cows are leaner, and therefore have less intramuscular fat within each steak. While the USDA beef grades consider this a disadvantage, we look at it as a selling point. We prefer grass-fed beef because they were fed a healthy diet of grass and forage, resulting in a cut of meat that is lower in bad fats and higher in key nutrients.

The purpose of USDA meat grades is to evaluate a cut of beef for flavor, but we happen to prefer the taste of grass-fed beef. But hey, don’t take our word for it.


london broil

London Broil: A dish that is most often grilled and has nothing to do with England

Beef dish names can be so odd.

London broil is just another example of the beef industry’s propensity for attaching names to cuts of meat that are confusing, don’t quite fit, or, sometimes, are quite unappetizing.

The Delmonico steak, for instance, was supposedly “invented” at Delmonico’s in New York; but the exact cut of beef that was used is often debated. Steak lovers aren’t sure whether a Delmonico is boneless ribeye steak, a bone-in top loin steak, or a boneless top loin strip steak. The Denver steak was “discovered” in the last decade, and its name comes more from the work of a marketing team than to any direct connection to the Mile-High City. And don’t get me started on the contrast between the tender and tasty flat iron steak and the old, hunk of metal used for straightening clothes from which its name is derived.

But London broil might be in a class of its own when it comes to its unique (and misleading) name. The cut — or cooking method to be more precise — has no connection to the capital of England, and, these days, it is rarely broiled.

A North-American treat

The most mind-blowing part about London broil is that it is completely unheard of in, of all places, London. The name may be a bit of the same trickery used with the Denver steak.

As far as most people can gather, London broil was first cooked in Philadelphia. The history behind the name is lost to time, but the best theory for its relation to the city of London is that the name was meant to add status — and an association to a British sensibility and European economic prestige.

London broil can be both a cut of beef and a way to prepare and cook a steak.

In the late twentieth century, it would be commonplace to go to the grocery store butcher and get a “London broil,” which would be one of the more inexpensive cuts. Likely, the steak consumers of that era were getting a flank steak — which didn’t have the same popularity as it does these days as a favorite for fajitas, steak sandwiches, and other such dishes.  The proper, regal sounding name may have been meant to appeal to consumers who might have perceived the affordable steak as a way to rise above their means.

The steak was likely brought home and cooked directly under the broiler in the oven until a crispy crust formed. Maybe some salt and pepper was a part of the cooking process. It was then sliced and served.

Many remember the dish as tough or flavorless. Those unfortunate food memories are likely due to the cooking practice of broiling on high heat as well as the lack of a critical step that is used to make London broil today: The marinade.

Many reflect fondly — and still enjoy to this day — a good London broil, we’ll share some best practices below to ensure you can delight in this delicious steak as well.

You just won’t ever find the steak in the city of London because it simply does not exist there; it is purely the product of the United States.


What exactly is London broil?

According to most accounts, those who remember getting London broil from the supermarket butcher recall it being a flank steak, or, sometimes, a thick piece of flank steak. (While it would make sense for skirt steak to be used as London broil due to its similarity to flank steak, there don’t seem to be many instances of that occurring.)

ButcherBox grass-fed “London broil” comes from one of the best cuts from the round primal of a cow; it is a great steak found in the rear leg section that doesn’t produce many good cuts of beef. According to ButcherBox Head Chef Yankel Polak, the 6-ounce cut that can be found in a monthly ButcherBox is “the most flavor of all the round steaks.”  

You may also discover that various beef cuts such as the top round, the bottom round, sirloin steak tip, chuck shoulder, or chuck steak is also labeled as “London broil.”

The main reason for this is that London broil is most often a cooking method that involves marinating a less tender cut, pan-broiling or grilling the steak and then slicing it — across the grain — into thin slices.

What many people love about London broil is its flavor. And while previous generations may have skipped a key step, it is the marinating of the beef that explains its popularity.

Whether a flank steak or round steak, when marinated right, it is a great dish. There is no best way to marinate a London broil, but combinations of soy sauce, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mushroom sauce, red wine, rosemary, and other spices work best for the marinade.

The marinade can also be poured over the steak after cooking for added flavor. Chef Yankel thinks London broil is best served with a thick steak sauce or and easy-to-make au jus.

Don’t forget to CUT AGAINST THE GRAIN. If you don’t follow this essential step, you can quickly turn what would have been a tender steak into a tough cut — because you didn’t break the steak’s connective tissue — that is not easy to eat.

How to cook a London broil

As the name implies, a London broil is supposed to be oven-broiled in a shallow pan. Broiling has long been the traditional method of preparation.

However, these days, London broil is more likely to be grilled on an open flame over high heat than thrown into the oven. The reason? It may be that people feel they have more control over the doneness of their steaks when cooking on a grill.

The current popularity of grilling over an open flame rather than under a broiler may have to do with remembrances of eating a dried out, flavorless steak in the past. When cooked right, you can get a melt-in-your-mouth London broil cooked in the oven. It requires a diligent eye on cooking time and a great marinade.

If cooking on a grill, Chef Yankel suggests preheating until the surface of the grill is extremely hot. Right before putting the steak that has already gone through the marinating process on the open flame, he suggests quickly rubbing an olive oil-soaked cloth over it.

For a medium-rare London broil, Chef Yankel says to cook the room temperature steak on the hottest part of the grill for 3 minutes per side, rotating the steak on the grates 90 degrees each minute and a half. This process will give the steak a nice sear.  (You can also get a great sear by using Chef Yankel’s pan-frying method as well.)

Then put the steak on the cooler section of the grill and let it cook for four more minutes on each side. Use a meat thermometer to make sure that the thickest part of the steak reaches 120° F. Another key step is to make sure the steak rests for between six to ten minutes so that it cooks evenly and the flavorful juices are distributed throughout.

Again, make sure to cut against the grain when slicing. And enjoy!

If you are a ButcherBox member, Chef Yankel will be sharing one of his favorite London broil recipes in future boxes and on the member recipe page. If you aren’t already getting healthy grass-fed beef and other delicious thoughtfully-sourced meats delivered to your door each month, sign up here.


Why it is difficult to find a good butcher shop nearby

One memorable character on the classic television show The Brady Bunch was “Sam the Butcher,” the love interest of the Brady’s maid, Alice. He was central to the pt of a number of episodes, so much so that many scenes were set inside Sam’s meat market.

The local butcher — nevermind a butcher shop — is a concept that seems quaint these days. Going to get a steak, seek out a custom cut of beef, or even to get advice on how best to cook certain cuts from the local expert is an outdated concept. Mention you are going to a “meat market” to a member of a younger generation, and they may think you’re talking about going to a nightclub for the evening.

These days, butcher shops are nearly extinct.

You can still find some that cater to specific customers, like a halal butcher; but, the traditional butcher shop now seems like a relic of a bygone era. Here in the Boston area, there are only a handful of purveyors who offer not only the best meat available locally, but also the breadth of meat knowledge and expertise that only a trained butcher can supply.

There used to be a lot of local butcher shops; many were neighborhood staples in big cities; towns and suburbs often had multiple competing butchers. But for the most part, they’ve ceased to exist. There used to be a reputable butcher shop near me — where I could get a custom cut, where the man behind the counter could explain what the terms prime, Angus, and dry-age means, and where someone could not only suggest the best quality meats but explain the best way to cook certain cuts. I knew I could rely on this shop for great quality, and that’s where I sent friends looking for the best meats. But that closed down.

Now, the only place where you can get some shared butcher shop wisdom is Whole Foods, and only if you’re lucky enough to be talking with someone who actually plies the butcher trade. But Whole Foods stores are not very prevalent in most of the country.

Career Butchers are Disappearing

While there are still plenty of people who work with meat day in and day out, there are far fewer people who are now career butchers. Historically it was a profession that was passed down through families. As our ButcherBox in-house chef Yankel Polak explains, “Butchery is an art form. You need a deep knowledge of anatomy and which muscles work in each way, but you also need expert knife skills and a knowledge of how to cook the meat you are cutting.”

And this is the crux of it; the knowledge and customer service that were once necessities for the butcher trade don’t exist. While I may not be able to find a butcher near me, I could go to the local grocery to buy meat. But there,  butchers have only a very specific set of expertise, because they only sell a narrow range of cuts.

After all, stores sell what is popular. Their meat selection is limited to one or two roasts and grilling steaks like NY strip, ribeye, and a bunch of cheap steaks that will taste terrible if the cook doesn’t know how to prepare them, and instead throws them on the grill without marinating.

Furthermore, the butchers at a chain grocery store usually cut meat like a factory worker on an assembly line. No need for butcher classes. To be a butcher today, one no longer needs to go to a butcher college and study the art of the profession.

And so, while you may be lucky enough to live somewhere where there is a butcher shop nearby and an old-school butcher continuing the trade, most people’s diets have been unknowingly affected by the disappearance of the local craft butcher. Not only are people less knowledgeable about meat — where specific cuts come from, their flavor, and how to cook them — but they also don’t get to experience the full range of cuts that you won’t find at a grocery store.

And that’s one of the great things about a ButcherBox subscription. Each month, you will receive harder-to-find cuts and steaks that may not be familiar. ButcherBox members also get access to recipes, suggestions for how best to cook certain meats, and how-to tutorials on everything from making a holiday roast to the best chicken and waffles recipe around.

At least, if you can’t walk to a butcher shop nearby, you can have the next best thing delivered to your door.

different cuts of beef

How to distinguish different cuts of beef often confused

One of the most surprising things we’ve discovered since launching ButcherBox a few years ago is that there is a growing, collective desire to know as much as possible about the food we eat.

This type of knowledge is also central to the ButcherBox mission. For us, it is vital to know as much as possible about the meat we are delivering to our members. This means going further than growing a database of delectable recipes or an understanding of nutritionists perspectives on grass-fed beef. We want to know the specifics about how the animals were raised, the methods used by the farmers we work, and the specifics of the grass or forage  they feed their pastured livestock.

We recently realized that questions abound related to different cuts of beef. But a lot of the information that is out there about various cuts can be tough to swallow.

There is an array of resources available if you want to dive into the finer details of where cuts come from — you’ll have to bone up on terms like “primal cuts” and learn more than you’d care to know about which muscles cattle use most and what that means for the tenderness of certain steaks.

One issue that people seem quite interested in is the differences between cuts of meat that appear similar — like, say, a porterhouse versus a T-bone.

Well, let’s try to clear up as much as we can to avoid some of this common culinary confusion.

T-Bone vs. Porterhouse

There is only a slight difference in these two cuts, but, for those who love mouth-watering steaks, the contrast is stark. The porterhouse is a staple of steakhouse menus and a popular pick among meat aficionados, while the T-bone is usually the favorite of backyard grillmasters and novice chefs. The T-bone’s name comes from the bone that splits two different types of beef; one side is strip steak and the other is more tender beef.

The T-bone and porterhouse steaks actually come from the same area of a cow. However, the porterhouse is further down what is called the short loin. On one side of the bone — which is the cow’s vertebrae — is the strip loin or top loin, and this is where New York strip steaks are derived. The other half of the porterhouse is tenderloin.

And herein lies the difference. Because T-bone steaks are cut further away from the back of the animal, there is only a minimal amount of tenderloin. T-bones are small porterhouses. This is important because, if you haven’t figured out from its name, tenderloin is extremely tender and quite delicious. In a porterhouse, the tenderloin side is where filet mignon comes from.

So in reality, a porterhouse is a New York strip steak and a filet divided by a bone.

Officially, the rule is that the filet side of the bone has to be at least 1.25 inches thick to be a porterhouse.

Both are delicious steaks. Part of the reason is that the bone-in nature of these tender cuts adds flavor to already tasty steaks. However, be aware: Porterhouse steaks can be challenging to cook correctly. For best results, grill a porterhouse with the smaller, tenderloin section away from a direct heat source.

We could go on about the history of the name porterhouse steak, but that is a story for another day.

Prime rib vs. Ribeye

Similar to T-bone and porterhouse, the ribeye steak and prime rib come from the same section of the cow; in this instance, as the names hint, both are from the ribs.

However, the difference between these two cuts is in the manner of their preparation.

Ribeye is tender, flavorful beef that is cut away from the ribs and tastes excellent thrown on a grill with just a little salt and pepper for seasoning. Rib roast — also known as prime rib — is the same area, but is cooked with the bone — or bones — in place. Roasting this cut with the bone in place lets it cook in its own juices, giving it the highly-sought-after taste that justifies its often high price and central placement on steakhouse menus.

The best way to understand the difference between the two cuts is that ribeye is a prepared steak without connecting bones, and prime rib is the cooked, bone-in version of the same steak. By its very nature, there is a ribeye in every cut of prime rib.

And if you wonder where roast beef fits into this dynamic, that’s an easy one: generally, it is any cut of beef that is roasted. So, the rib roast or prime rib you get at a restaurant can be also called roast beef. Roast beef can also be top sirloin, tenderloin, tri-tip, chuck roast, or rump roast. Phew.

Flank steak vs. Skirt steak

These two cuts look very similar and each needs to be cut the right way to be appreciated fully. There are, however, a few essential distinguishing qualities between the two.

Unlike the previously-mentioned cuts, these two steaks come from two completely different sections of the cow.

Flank steak comes from the abdominal area of the animal, while skirt steak is from the diaphragm section. They are similar in their long, thin, and fibrous appearance, as well as their uses and taste. These steaks are sometimes confused with hanger steaks and flat iron steaks because of their appearance and various potential uses.

 Both flank steak and skirt steak are great for marinating and are ideal for a variety of dishes, including fajitas, tacos, stir fry, steak sandwiches. They taste great right off the grill, but,  because they are cut from a muscle that gets more usage by the cattle, these cuts can overcook easily and become tough. They are best when cooked to medium or medium-rare doneness.

The key to getting the most out of both of these flat steaks is to make sure you are cutting them properly. As we’ve mentioned before, these steaks must be sliced against the grain to unlock the best flavor.

Ground beef

While it is not a specific cut of meat, ground beef can cause some consumer confusion because there is such a wide variety of options that fall under the label, “ground beef.”

In a store or at a butcher shop, you are going to find that there are vast differences in where ground beef originates, as well as in its nutrition (fat) profile. For example, you are likely to find ground beef labeled as hamburger or ground chuck that is 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat. 

While there is a variety of products out there, there are some important restrictions on ground beef to make sure that whatever you buy adheres to certain basic standards. According to the USDA Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, ground beef may not contain added fat and must have a maximum total fat content of 30 percent. The meat can come from almost anywhere in the animal — and often does — but must be labeled differently if a large amount of cheek meat is used. Ground beef can also be specifically labeled ground chuck or ground round; in those instances, the meat must come from those specific regions of the cow.

The ground beef that is found in a monthly ButcherBox comes primarily from the chuck and round with some rib and sirloin fat. The ground beef is 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat; burger patties, however, are 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat. The difference in fat content translates to a difference in flavor. Quite simply, grill-cooked burgers taste better with a bit more fat mixed in with the lean meat.

Our in-house chef, Yankel Polak, says that one of the most popular burgers he used to make in his restaurant was made from a combination of ground chuck, ground short rib, and even some dry-aged ribeye scraps. So, it seems that getting the best ground beef mix is more of an art than a science.

Check out all our recipes for some more specific ways to prepare all these various types of beef. All the cuts above come in our monthly boxes, so if you’re not already a member, sign up to compare and contrast these amazing steaks on your own.

Featured image via Lukas Budimaier and Unsplash.

Denver steak

The Denver steak: An American innovation

While discoveries in centuries-old industries are exceedingly rare, they do still occur from time to time.

Witness the Denver steak, a uniquely American, and rather “new” cut of meat that, if you are lucky, you can find on the menu at some of the best purveyors of meat across the country. (The Denver steak is also a part of this month’s ButcherBox for some subscribers.)

While the profession of “butcher” has been around likely as long as cattle have been domesticated — and the oldest butcher guild in England was founded in the tenth century — the Denver cut is less than a decade old.

So first, what exactly is a Denver steak?

The cut comes from the chuck roll, which is mostly muscular meat from the area that starts under the shoulder blade and continues to the ribs and backbone. Some common steaks that derive from this area include the ribeye and Delmonico steaks. More specifically, the Denver steak comes from the serratis ventralis section of the chuck underblade. Most of the meat in this area is tough and tends to be used for ground beef and stew meat. If it is cooked for other purposes, it often needs to be braised or roasted over long periods of time.

But the Denver steak is an exception to the tough beef from this part of a cow.

Getting at a Denver steak out of the chuck roll is a bit of an onerous process. It usually comes from a section that accounts for only eight total pounds of an average 25-pound chuck roll. The cut is a part of the muscle that is more flavorful, due to marbling, and more tender than the surrounding meat. This section of the shoulder underblade gets a lot of use, but the particular area that derives the Denver steak is one often used less and therefore has more fat, i.e., marbling. The challenge of making this often tear-shaped cut comes from separating the tough connective muscle tissue surrounding it.

It is a very rare — as in challenging to find — cut. In fact, before 2009, you couldn’t find a Denver steak at all. It didn’t exist.

(Note: The history on this steak is a bit confusing, as similar steaks appear in other cultures across the world. Their origin, too, is not always clear. For instance, the zabuton is an extremely rare cut of Wagyu steak found in Japan. The name, which in Japanese means “flat cushion,” refers to the shape it is often presented in. This cut is often sliced extremely thin and cooked for a very short period of time — like eight seconds. Similar cuts from the same region of a cow can be found throughout the world, yet, as far as I’ve found, few are promoted as a steak meant to be thrown on the grill and cooked. The key modifier in the previous sentence being “promoted,” as you will see below.)

The Denver steak as we know it comes out of a project funded by the Cattleman’s Beef Board, the Beef Checkoff Program, a project whose goal is to identify and promote new and potentially more affordable cuts of meat. The Denver steak is the result of a research project from the 1990’s by meat-science professors at the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska.

The moniker “Denver steak” has no historical significance; it is not as if the cut is more popular in the Rocky Mountain foothills. It is actually the marketing brainchild of Beef Checkoff Program and was “unveiled” with the cut in 2009.

So, in more ways than one, the Denver steak, both an innovation and a bit of a marketing ploy, is a most American creation.

One last thing to know about the Denver steak: Among the thousands of cuts identified during the research project that led to the discovery of the cut, the Denver steak is the fourth most tender muscle section of a heifer, steer, or cow.

You will undoubtedly discover this once you take your first bite.

According to most  — but not all — chefs, the best way to cook a Denver steak is to do so rather quickly on a very hot grill. The key to a great Denver steak experience, however, is how you slice this particular cut.

As we’ve pointed out before, how you cut your steak can have a tremendous impact on taste and tenderness; cutting the wrong way and you will make a potentially delectable steak tough and less flavorful. This is especially true for a Denver steak which could be considered a cousin to other, better-known steaks to come out of the Beef Checkoff program such as the flat iron steak.

Like many other muscular cuts, the Denver steak should be cut against the grain for maximum taste and tenderness. Also, be careful not to overcook, something that is especially true with grass-fed steaks.

Now you know more about the cut, get out there an throw one on the grill and enjoy so good old-fashioned American ingenuity.