If your dining preferences run in a carnivorous direction, you’re probably a fan of beef, the most popular red meat. But unless you possess some truly impressive culinary skills, it’s likely that you’ve felt a bit intimidated by the array of cut choices available at the supermarket butcher counter.
What’s the difference between skirt steak and flank steak? Is filet mignon really worth the money? And, most importantly: how do I cook this stuff without screwing up royally?
If the latter question sounds familiar, welcome to the club. We did some hard-hitting beef-related research and discovered the best methods for cooking eight popular cuts. So the next time you’re standing slack-jawed at the butcher counter, you’ll have a handy arsenal of pointers to guide you in the right direction.
If you’re dealing with a chuck cut, “low and slow” is the way to go.
Most commonly sold as a “chuck roast,” cuts from the chuck region (between the cow’s shoulder bones) include a lot of connective tissue, which can lead to toughness if they’re not handled correctly.
To make the meat as tender and toothsome as possible, you want to block off a solid chunk of time and cook your chuck over low heat. This can be done by slow braising on the stovetop, roasting the chuck with your oven set to a low temperature (which is the usual method for the English classic “Sunday roast” and its American equivalent, the pot roast), or even making it in your slow cooker.
British super-chef Nigella Lawson preps hers in a red-wine braise, and you can find the recipe here.
In the mood for stir-fry? Pick up a flank steak.
If you’re planning to fire up your wok to make a stir-fry, you’ll want a lean, quick-cooking beef cut with enough tenderness to avoid seizing up and getting unpleasantly tough.
The easy solution? Flank steak, a thin cut from the belly of the cow. Flank steak cooks up in a flash, but if you cut it against the grain, it will stay moist and juicy.
For a quick and easy flank steak stir-fry with plenty of spice, try this recipe from the Food Network.
Most steaks benefit from a sear, which you can accomplish with a cast-iron skillet.
When you’re in the mood for steak, there’s no point in settling for a dry, bland slab of beef. Whether you’re working with rib-eye or New York strip, you want caramelization on the outside and a tender, blush interior.
To get the perfect restaurant-quality steak, season with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper and cook it in a smoking-hot cast-iron skillet with a big pat of butter.
The Spruce Eats explains exactly how to do it here.
If you want to throw some steaks on the grill, pick a cut that thrives in hot conditions, like tri-tip or skirt steak.
Certain steaks stand up to the direct heat of a grill better than others, and for an especially tasty and affordable option, consider tri-tip, a cut taken from the sirloin.
A lean steak with very little connective tissue, tri-tip retains its tenderness very well, and when it’s seasoned correctly, it provides a beautiful canvas for the smoky notes provided by charcoal barbecues.
For another inexpensive cut that does particularly well on the grill, check out skirt steak, which holds up to intense heat better than most other cuts. Being a long and flat cut, skirt steak has plenty of surface area prime for creating an exterior crust, contrasting perfectly with the tender interior.
Serious Eats created a full explainer for prepping skirt steak on the grill, which you can read here.
Cook your brisket the Texan way: in a smoker.
Found on the lower chest area of the cow, the brisket cut is a staple of barbecue, particularly the version practiced in Texas.
To get that melt-in-your-mouth texture with a blackened crust, you’ll want to put your brisket in a wood-fired smoker over relatively-low heat (225-250 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot).
Austin-based BBQ master Jess Pryles talks through the entire brisket-smoking process here.
Smokers aren’t just good for brisket; they’re also a prime cooking tool for beef ribs.
According to Pryles, smokers can and should be used for other BBQ specialties beyond Texas-style brisket.
She especially likes to use chuck ribs and plate ribs (found in the same area of the cow as chuck ribs) when smoking, and she seasons with a dry rub and a spray bottle of water and vinegar to add moisture and acidity.
Her full smoked BBQ rib recipe can be found here.
As their name suggests, “rib roasts” should be cooked in the oven.
Like chuck roasts, rib roasts benefit from relatively-slow cooking, but they can withstand higher cooking temperatures than their chuck cousins. This cut has “roast” right in the name for a reason; specifically, they’re best prepared in the oven.
Popping your rib roast in for 1 ½ hours with your oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit will yield a medium-rare piece of beef with plenty of savoury juices, ideal for serving alongside roasted potatoes and veggies.
This Food & Wine recipe makes an excellent case for this method of beef prep.
Ground beef is a dinnertime jack-of-all-trades — as long as you brown your meat.
From hamburgers to taco filling to meatloaf, ground beef can be customised endlessly, and its reasonable prices and versatility make it an absolute weeknight hero.
It can be baked in the oven, sauteed on the stovetop, or even thrown into a slow cooker for a hearty batch of chilli. If you’re going the latter route, make sure to toss your ground beef in a hot pan first.
Browning the meat before slow cooking (or cooking in liquid, like adding meatballs to a pot of Sunday gravy) keeps the texture appealing and also brings out those fantastic beefy flavours.
For a great example of what we mean, take a look at this crock-pot chilli recipe from Jimmy Fallon and Martha Stewart.
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