HomeStandard StyleA look at the primal cuts of beef

A look at the primal cuts of beef

There are eight primal cuts of beef and within each of those cuts are sub-primal cuts. The sub-primal cuts are portions of beef that you would find in the supermarket like steaks, roasts and ground beef. Each of these sub-primal cuts is unique and very different from each other in the way they are handled, prepared, cooked and served.

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Here we take a look at three of the primal cuts, which are brisket, shank and round.


Sub-primal cuts: Brisket point and brisket plate.

Location: Located in the breast or lower chest of the cow and is one of the most used muscle groups of the cow, meaning the beef will be lower in fat content, therefore, making it tougher and more flavourful.

Best cooking methods: Braising, slow cooking and smoking, stewing.

Preparation methods: Brisket is best prepared with a dark and robust marinade or brine for at least four hours to start. Usually, a dry pepper rub consisting of spices and seasonings is used to coat the entire brisket. This is what creates the dark, crispy exterior of the brisket also known as the “bark”.

Sometimes people like to cut part of the fat cap off of the brisket for a more even cook, but it is not a bad thing to leave it on as it does add more fat content to the meat, preventing the brisket from overcooking and drying out.

We should choose this type: When you want to cook low and slow. Brisket is a very tough cut of beef and needs to be cooked for a longer period of time. The best way to do this without burning or ruining the product is low temperatures for a long period of time.

Type of grill/smoker when BBQing: An indirect heat smoker is one of the best choices of equipment to use when smoking brisket. Low temperatures are easy to maintain with an indirect heat smoker, which is ideal for cooking brisket.

A conventional oven is okay to use as well, as long as the oven will maintain a temperature of 200°C or lower. Having the best smoker thermometer is crucial when smoking brisket.


Sub-primal cuts: Hind shank, fore shank and ground beef.

Location: Located in the lower abdomen or chest area of the cow, the shank is a muscle that is constantly used making the meat very tough and lean.

Best cooking methods: The meat contains very little fat and therefore is very tough. It must be cooked for long periods of time either at low temperatures in appliances like crockpots or at higher temperatures in the oven. This will help to break down the structure of the beef.

Preparation methods: In order to prepare a shank, you will want to help break down the meat using a meat tenderiser seasoning or mallet. A marinade will also help to not only tenderise the meat, but also bring extra flavours to this tough cut of beef.

We should choose this type: This type of cut is perfect for cooking whole as a pot roast or chopping up into small cubes for dishes like beef stew.
Occasionally the leftovers will be used as lean ground beef due to its low-fat content.

Type of grill/smoker when BBQing: Conventional oven or crockpot for roasts and stews and any direct heat grill for ground beef.


Sub-primal cuts: Sirloin tip, top round, bottom round, eye of round and heel of round.

Location: Located near the rear of the cow or the butt, the round is a leaner cut with very little fat content, making it a very tough cut of beef.

Best cooking methods: Best when cooked low and slow in an oven with liquid. Also cut thinly and dried out to make jerky. Ground up round is very lean and needs extra fat put into it like eggs so that the meat doesn’t dry out when it is cooking.

Preparation methods: If you plan on making into jerky, then you need to cut small, thin strips of the beef and heavily season them with spices depending on the flavours you want. For braising, just make sure the cut of meat is completely submerged in liquid or injected with a flavourful liquid.

We should choose this type: This is a very cheap cut of beef and is not used very often in barbequing. The round is usually marinated, tenderised and cooked low and slow, then cut up and used for other dishes like Italian beef sandwiches and Philly cheesesteaks.

Type of grill/smoker when BBQing: Conventional oven

Jack Thompson is a barbeque enthusiast and founder of BroBBQ, an online publication on food and drink. Email:

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