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The Best Cuts of Beef Every Home Cook Should Know

Here's a look at the most popular cuts of beef and when to use them—plus some thoughts to keep in mind when you're ready to cook.

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Local grass fed chuck roast ready for cooking.Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

Chuck Roast

Anything labeled “chuck” comes from the cow’s shoulder area. All chuck is known for having a rich, beefy flavor, and most (but not all) cuts of chuck are lean and grow more tender with longer cooking. In other words—perfect for the Crock Pot! This includes any chuck labeled as “roast,” which would be perfect for this Ultimate Pot Roast Recipe.

Chuck Roast Substitutes:Sometimes, chuck roast is labeled as blade roast, 7-bone roast or arm roast. If you can’t find any of options, try another uniformly-shaped, lean cut of beef like tri-tip roast, top round roast or bottom round roast (sometimes called rump roast).

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Beef Short RibsNeal Pritchard Media/Shutterstock

Bone-In Short Ribs

Short ribs are not to be confused with regular beef ribs, which come from the back of the cow. Like a chuck roast, short ribs require slow cooking or braising to bring out their tenderness. (Try cooking short ribs using this Contest-Winning Braised Short Ribs recipe.)

Short Ribs Substitutes: For a bone-in alternative, try using beef ribs, beef shank or oxtail, although these cuts contain less meat than short ribs. A good meaty but boneless option is chuck roast, which can be cut in the shape of boneless “ribs.”

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fresh flat pan beef steak in wooden trayneil langan/Shutterstock

Flat Iron Steak

Flat iron steak is an extremely tender, grill-ready cut. It’s more marbled with fat than a chuck roast or short ribs, and doesn’t require slow cooking. In fact, a flat iron steak is best when grilled quickly over high heat.

This tender Blue Cheese Flat Iron Steak is drool-worthy!

Flat Iron Steak Substitutes: Flank steak or skirt steak work really well if you can’t find flat iron steak. They cook up similarly, but you will want to marinate them before hitting the grill.

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Raw beef ribs with rosemary and thyme - ready for cookingAndrey Starostin/Shutterstock

Back Ribs

Back ribs, also called beef ribs, are the signature ribs for barbecue. It’s a flavorful cut that’s great with a smoky dry rub or tangy sauce. You’ll want to cook low-and-slow for the most tender and flavorful meat—like in this recipe for Barbecued Beef Ribs.

Back Ribs Substitutes: This is a hard one. Beef short ribs won’t turn out as tender as back ribs, so choosing pork spareribs is probably your best bet. If you’re really in the mood for beef, turn to bone-in ribeye steaks, since the back ribs are cut off the ribeye subprimal.

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Raw Grass Fed Prime Rib Meat with Herbs and SpicesBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Ribeye Roast

The butcher can carve up a ribeye roast that’s bone-in or boneless. Either way—it’s perfect roasted for a special dinner. This Seasoned Ribeye Roast would be the centerpiece at any table.

Ribeye Roast Substitutes: Top loin roast (the cut that produces strip steaks) is the ideal substitute for ribeye roast because of its marbling and similar fat cap. You could also use the eye of round roast, which is sometimes called the “poor man’s prime rib.”

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rib eye steakshtukicrew/Shutterstock

Ribeye Steak

This bone-in steak is beautifully marbleized, making it extremely rich and juicy. It’s a hearty fill-the-plate cut that’s great with a baked potato or corn on the cob. For a special dinner on the grill, you’ll want to grab some ribeyes and try these Garlic Grilled Steaks.

Ribeye Steak Substitutes: You have several options here. A New York strip steak is a good choice because it has a similar level of marbling. If you want to take your steak to the next level, choose a Porterhouse or T-bone steak, which is a strip steak that also contains the tenderloin.

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raw strip loin and fillet mignon steak on wooden tableMaraZe/Shutterstock

Tenderloin

You might know the Tenderloin Steak as a “Filet Mignon.” It is considered the most tender steak, which helps explain why it’s so popular. You can cook this tasty cut in a cast iron skillet, on the grill or under the broiler. Tenderloin Roast is similarly tender and carves up beautifully for dinner.

Psst…a Porterhouse Steak is a combination of Tenderloin and Strip steaks. It’s a two-for-one!

Tenderloin Substitutes: A ribeye roast will turn out nearly as tender as the tenderloin, but it contains significantly more fat and will take longer to cook. A sirloin butt roast also works, and pork tenderloin is a good option if you’re not sold on beef for dinner. If you’re cooking a tenderloin that’s been cut into steaks (like filet mignon), swap in a Denver steak or top sirloin steaks.

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Raw ingredients for cooking flank steakMagnago/Shutterstock

Flank Steak

Flank steak is lean and boneless with lots of beef flavor. It’s best when marinated and grilled such as in this Grilled Flank Steak recipe, or sliced thin and stir-fired. (Just keep in mind that slicing beef against the grain is important.)

Flank Steak Substitutes: Skirt steak is probably the best substitute here, although you can also use hanger steak or flat-iron steak. If you were planning to use flank steak for London broil, look for top round steak instead.

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Sirloin Steak; Shutterstock ID 289376390; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeSpace Monkey Pics/Shutterstock

Sirloin Steak

You might see it labeled as “top sirloin steak” or “top sirloin filet.” It’s extra-juicy, which makes it great for cubing, skewering with vegetables and grilling. (The recipe for Summer Steak Kabobs will have you lighting the grill!)

Sirloin Substitutes: Ribeye or New York strip steaks have the same beefy flavor as sirloin steak, although they’re more expensive and contain more marbling. For a more economical option, look to round steak or flank steak.

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raw fresh and juicy eye of round roast steak or beef with ingredients on background perfect for baking and roastingtacar/Shutterstock

Round Roast

Most round cuts will be quite lean and roast beautifully, while tending to be budget-friendly. That makes it perfect for a weeknight pot roast or classic roast beef.

Don’t miss all our best pot roasts!

Round Roast Substitutes: This roast might be labeled as top round or bottom round (also called the rump roast). If you can’t find either, chuck roast makes a great swap, although it contains more fat. If you prefer a leaner swap, look to top sirloin roast or shoulder clod.

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raw fillet of beef brisket on white wooden backgroundAndrei Iakhniuk/Shutterstock

Brisket

Brisket can be tough, so it’s an ideal cut for cooking low and slow on the grill, smoking or cooking in a slow cooker. It’s worth the wait—your finished dish will be tasty and full-flavored. (See how brisket works its magic.)

Brisket Substitutes: If you were planning to use brisket to make corned beef, look to bottom round roast or rump roast. For braised and smoked recipes, chuck roast is a good swap.

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Hanging tender, Hanger steak, onglet - after the meat has been trimmed by the butcher.EsHanPhot/Shutterstock

Skirt Steak

Skirt steak is a wonderful, flavorful cut that works well when marinated and seared over high heat. It has a robust flavor that’s perfect for fajitas or in a stir-fry. (Try it in one of our Top 10 Fajita recipes.)

Skirt Steak Substitutes: Ask the butcher for sirloin flap, a thin cut that comes off the sirloin roast. If you can’t find that, look to flank steak. Thinly sliced beef tenderloin also works here, too, in a pinch.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.
Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.

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