Meat Cutting Guide: Meat Cuts & Cooking Recommendations

Meat has to be one of the words with the broadest meaning in existence, bested only by rock ’n’ roll. It’s like discovering the sound of the guitar for the first time, only to learn you can split rock 'n' roll into countless subgenres ranging from ska to djent.

Meat, too, has its share of shades. 😉

I should start with the most obvious divide – meat is a term that usually does not include poultry or fish. But, this is far from the bottom of the well of secrets we’re about to dive in.

Different animals belonging to these three groups have their unique tastes and properties that make them more or less to suitable for one dish or another.

And even if we would take one single animal and cut it into pieces we would found out that not every one of them is grill-friendly as we would like it to be.

Does that mean we can’t just grill them anyway? No.

But putting salmon and pork chops in the same basket would be like comparing Beatles to Metallica because they are both considered "rock".

The essence of the culinary art lies in the finesses, and I am just about to give you the keys to the kingdom.

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Pork

Although never truly appreciated as other red meats, pork packs more than enough flavor and healthy nutrients to stand toe to toe with other entry from this list. The sound of pork sizzling on a grill is difficult to describe. Fortunately for us, pork cuts are not that hard to grasp:

  • Loin – Pork loin cuts are tasty, but they are very lean and they dry out rather quickly while you cook them. Pull them off the burner the moment they reach the right temperature. On the back of a pig, you can also find delicious ribs and a lot of material for bacon.
  • Shoulders – Little less pristine and fattier than loin, shoulders are, on the other hand, very affordable. That means they are an excellent material for fast food and improvised barbecues.
  • Blade – Some people consider blades a part of the shoulder. Still, blades are the most delicious parts of the shoulder and they have enough credibility to earn the separate spot on this list. They are a heaven for quick sandwiches and pork stews.
  • Spare ribs – Another cut I could technically qualify as shoulders. But because some dishes are made exclusively out of spare ribs (e.g. St. Louis spare ribs), I’ll give them a separate entry, too.
  • Belly – Of course, when we say belly, we are not thinking about the stomach. More of the flash surrounding it. A long cut of meat with plenty of fat. A perfect starting point for making a bacon or pancetta.
  • Leg – Pork legs are very versatile. You can buy them cut into pieces or you can buy them whole. You can roast them, grill them or fry them. However, they are the best when they are a ham.
  • Hocks – Some people love them some people hate them. Be it as it may, they make a very nice addition to beans.

Beef

Beef meat is very rich in protein. It is also of better quality than pork meat. The toll you will have to pay for this added value is the more complicated cutting pattern and, of course, a price bump. I will try to keep the things as simple as they can be, though. Here are some of the beef cuts essentials:

  • Chuck – As for the taste – great. As for the preparation – it knows to be somewhat tough. The solution – give it some sweet time cooking. Time will transform its toughness into delight. Or you can simply marinate the meat.
  • Ribs – By that, I think of the calf’s back. They usually come in three, four or seven rib slabs, and they are the best when they’re braised or marinated and grilled.
  • Loin – Loin offers an almost endless slew of culinary possibilities that includes grilling, rolling, filling, and stewing. However, one of the best results you can get away with is a roasted beef/potato combo. Just leave the meat to cool off for a couple of hours once you get it out of the oven.
  • Flank – One of the most delicious, albeit hardest part of a calf (as it turns out they have some pretty nasty abs). If you marinate the meat and slice it thin you can even put it on a grill.
  • Hip – An appetizing, and, at the same time, very affordable piece of meat. It's ideal for braising, but you can use the smaller cuts for roasting as well.
  • Short plate – If you are looking for a grill meat – look no further, you've found it. Sure, you'll have some hard time preparing it evenly (the meat is streaked with fat), but the result will more than compensate for the effort.

Lamb

Lambs are very popular around the world, and there's a good reason for that. Lamb meat is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It also packs enough fat to make the things interesting even for the people who love to spice things up. As for the cuts:

  • Neck – Lamb's necks are very affordable, and you can find them in almost any supermarket. Be warned – they're usually sold together with shoulders. While you can cook both of them over a low fire, only the neck can be treated like steak, and cooked over high heat.
  • Shoulder – Lamb's shoulder muscles do a lot of the hard work, so they are not very tender. That makes them a perfect candidate for braising and slow roasting.
  • Rack – The most expensive lamb cut, but for a good reason – it’s both tender and fine-flavored. It also gives you a chance to play with the ribs for a spectacular presentation (see crown roast).
  • Breast – Breasts are very affordable and surprisingly versatile. You can stuff them with breadcrumbs, roll them, braise them, and roast them.
  • Loin – Much like rack chops, loin meat is also very tender and flavored, and yes, somewhat expensive. Loin chops are, however, excellent when grilled, broiled and sautéed and they grace some pretty wonderful Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Leg – A rather substantial piece of meat with a unique flavor. It can be roasted or grilled. If you cook it, try to be restrained or it can end up being pretty dry.

Chicken

We all know that chicken meat is very healthy, affordable, and high in protein, selenium, and phosphorus. It’s simply a must for everyone trying to lose weight and experiment with international cuisine. What’s also important to us, their cuts aren’t too complicated at all:

  • The whole bird – The most economical way to prepare a chicken and use it for the next couple of days.
  • Breast – A nice, hefty piece of meat for all the people who love their food lean and fatless. However, some would even call it too fatless, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to marinate it before roasting.
  • Wings – The Alpha and Omega of fast food. Wings are also considerably fattier than the rest of the chicken, so they certainly have that special little something.
  • Leg – Another budget-friendly and easy-to-prepare addition to your plate. Marinated drumsticks will be your best friend at picnics.
  • Thigh – This part of the chicken is exceptionally juicy and flavorful, and we all know what that means – Very little or no preparation at all. Just put the thighs in the pan, and you are half way there.

Fish

And finally, His Majesty, the Fish. What makes fish so pristine is neither the price (you can find more affordable food) nor the flavor (although, this one is opened to debate). Fish is the only source of the incredibly healthy Omega-3s you’ll ever need. Much like chicken, you can prepare fish whole, but, as I mentioned above, we are here to deal with finesses:

  • Head – Not the prettiest food out there, but fish heads still pack a lot of meat and make an essential part of some tasty Asian dishes.
  • Collar (Kama) – The piece of meat just behind the gills. Although it's often confused with the rest of the fish, in some cases, this particular cut is the star of the evening.
  • Back meat (Loin) – The fish at its finest. You can prepare back meat in many different ways, but the most common one involves the joined forces of flour, breadcrumbs, and a pan.
  • Abdomen/tail meat – Not as good as loin but still very healthy and flavorful. The only difference between abdomen and tail is that the abdomen packs a lot more meat.

Phew, what a journey, right? Don’t worry; it was well worth the reading.

Culinary art is called “art” for a good reason – if you want to become a master, you have to digest a lot of new things and spend a lot of time practicing.

I gave you the foundation. And now, it’s your turn. 🙂

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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