Beef is undoubtedly one of my favourite types of meat to cook and eat and there is no comparison in terms of the range of cuts you get with beef and the many different ways it can be cooked and prepared.
Australia is renowned for producing the finest beef in the world and I am constantly impressed by the knowledge of our farmers and the first-class meat they produce.
A carcass of beef offers up endless options, with 30 or more cuts that can be derived for your eating pleasure. There’s also infinite possibilities borne out of the abundance of breeds available, each providing a different taste, texture and level of tenderness. From the popular Angus and Hereford, to the lesser known (but no less worthy) breeds like Charolais, South Devon and Belted Galloway – then there’s the breed that wears the crown in terms of eating quality and tenderness, the indomitable Wagyu.
Beyond cuts and breeds – beef is also heralded as one of the most versatile meats to cook with. You can poach it, roast it, braise it, and not to mention the incredible flavour when paired with its best friend, the humble barbecue. I tend to think of the cow in three sections.
The front (forequarter)
Home to some of the hardest working muscles on the beast, the forequarter is characterised for the most part by cuts rich in connective tissue like chuck, blade, cheek and brisket. When cooked low and slow – think stew, braise, casserole – these yield some of the most satisfying and hearty winter dishes. The forequarter also houses one of the triumvirate of beef royalty – the Scotch fillet or Rib Eye (its regal partners in crime, striploin and tenderloin, feature below). Cuts can be ordered as steaks, roasts or specialties on the bone or as a boned-and-rolled joint. A standing rib of beef is excellent when roasted and is a classic celebration centrepiece. When cut into steaks, Scotch fillet or Rib Eye is one of the most popular, flavourful, juicy, and highly prized steaks you can buy from your butcher.
The middle (or sweet spot)
The prime cuts in this section do very little work in the paddock. The sirloin, while one of the most expensive cuts of beef, is cost-effective in its own way: it requires very little intervention in the kitchen. It responds beautifully to quick cooking, whether cut into steaks and grilled or roasted whole. The tenderloin can be portioned to make the following A-list cuts: chateaubriand (a classic roast for two), and prime fillet steak. As this is one of the least used muscles on the cow it is imperative that you take great care not to overcook it. What the tenderloin lacks in flavour, it more than makes up for tenderness. The shortloin, consisting of the tenderloin and sirloin attached together on the spine, can be cut vertically to reveal the much-admired T-bone, one of my favourite grilling cuts of meat.
The back (hindquarter)
At the back end of a cow sits a range of versatile cuts – ideal for everything from mincing and braising, to quicker cooking methods. The popular rump is a lean cut that sees a moderate amount of exertion and is ideal for roasting or can be sliced in to portions to provide a fantastic and economical grilled steak. The Topside and Knuckle has the ideal ratio of fat to achieve the perfect ground mince. The silverside is the ultimate piece of meat to pickle for classic corned beef and shin shank (or what your grandparents would refer to as ‘gravy beef’) yields silky soft, densely flavoured stews and casseroles.
We are all guilty of buying and using beef in the same way (me included), but beef is a veritable Pandora’s box of choices in terms of cut, breed and cooking method – there’s no excuse not to break the habit and try something new today!