A Serenade To Beef
Let’s discuss beef, a UK favourite for both midweek dinners and weekend delights. It’s no wonder why, as it comes in enough varieties to take your taste buds on a culinary adventure again and again.
This is where you can learn everything about this meat and how to cook it. We’ll also run through recipes to try, our top tips for flavour combinations, and how to select the best wine for your beef-based dish.
You’ll find a whole array of beef recipes in our recipe section, so go find one to rustle up at home (once you’ve read this post, of course). And if lamb is more your thing, read our dedicated lamb guide.
What is beef? Beef is the culinary name for cuts of meat on a cow and can be divided into numerous joints, including sirloin and flank. Beef is full of flavour and is a fantastic source of protein, iron and B vitamins.
Thanks to the variety of cuts, it’s also easy to find the kind that suits your preferred taste, time to cook and wallet. Beef is the third most consumed meat in the world after chicken and pork according to The Science Agriculture. Now, let’s meet the cuts of meat.
Chuck derives from the top of the animal commonly known as the forequarter and includes parts of the neck, upper leg and shoulder blade. This is the largest primal cut, and because the shoulder muscles do all the hard work of grazing, the cow’s muscle fibres are thick and surrounded by collagen.
The result of this is that the meat might need a little extra chewing and has a good ratio of fat – and that’s where all the taste is. To keep the meat tender, slow and low cooking is key – usually an hour or longer… One of the faster-cook chuck cuts includes the flat-iron steak.
Source of the famous ribeye steak, this tender cut comes from the top, centre section of the cattle’s ribs and works wonderfully in a roast.
Although this area works less hard than the chuck, it’s still composed of flavour-packed fat. This is where you’ll find sought-after short ribs, as well as back short ribs (also called dinosaur ribs).
Beef short loin
Found at the back of the animal, the short loin cut is used for a variety of steaks such as the popular T-bone and porterhouse steaks. The meat is tender, meaning that dry-heat cooking is the best way to get good results. Examples of this cooking style include roasting, oven broiling, grilling and pan frying.
Lean, juicy and tender, the sirloin cut comes from the back of the cattle, between the forerib and the rump, and is split into two areas – the top and bottom sirloin. What separates the two is that the bone, tenderloin and bottom round muscles have been taken out of the top sirloin.
The round primal covers the back part of the cow, or more specifically its rump and back legs. The round is lean and inexpensive, often fabricated into big roasts. It includes the femur, which is the longest marrow bone, and is often divided into subprimal cuts such as bottom round and top inside round.
The flank sits forward of the rear quarter of a cow, behind the plate. French butchers call it bavette, which means “bib”, while in Brazil it’s called fraldinha. This is where you’ll (unsurprisingly) get your flank steak. This tender piece of meat is known for its deep flavour and is best grilled in a pan, or broiled in the oven. It’s also an ideal choice if you’re making fajitas.
The plate cut is located in the belly of the cow, below the rib primal (which is basically meat between the 6th and 12th rib), and can be parted from the rib primal at different sections depending on the preference of the butcher. The plate includes short ribs which contain a lot of cartilage, meaning they can be slow-cooked for great flavour. The plate is also where you’ll find the skirt steak which is recognised as long, flat and full of flavour. It’s also a good source of that delicious fat, meaning it’s a great choice when making ground/minced beef.
The shank (sometimes also known as shin) is basically the lower section of the animal’s thigh. You’ll find two shanks on each side of beef, one in the forequarter and one in the hindquarter. Planning to make beef bourguignon? Then a shank cut is your top choice.
Found in the area around the animal’s breastbone, brisket has lots of flavour and is one of the thickest and most coarse-grained cuts. This means it needs a long time to cook so that the fibres have time to break down and tenderise. Brisket is a great choice when making a pot roast, and it’s often used for corned beef.
Mince is essentially finely chopped, textured beef meat. It’s ideal for homemade burgers, shepherd’s pie or succulent meatballs.
What about flavour combinations?
Herbs and spices
A handful of herbs can take any beef dish to new heights. Try a bunch of basil in your spaghetti bolognese for a mellow aniseed flavour, or thyme sprigs in your basting butter as you cook your chosen steak cut for an earthy addition. Parsley works well when you want a fresh and bright flavour, while sage adds a meaty, savoury aroma to stews and braises.
Spice wise, there are many great pairings to choose from. Spices can be added straight to beef before cooking as a dry rub or in a wet marinade or added to braising pots, stews, curries and casseroles. We recommend trying cumin, cinnamon, dark chillies, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, curry powder and mustard powder. With so many pairings, there’s definitely a spice just for you.
When it comes to beef, red wine is hard to beat, such as a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon or merlot. However, a good rule of thumb when choosing your drink is to match the flavour intensity of the beef with the intensity of the wine. For example, a lean cut like fillet mignon would go well with a light pinot noir.
Not keen on red wine? You’ve got options. Although considered a no-no in certain circles, pairing your meat with a white wine could work. Try a creamy beef stroganoff with chardonnay or even a dry rose.
Another thing to remember is that choosing wine comes down to preference, so take your time to try a few different pairings and see what hits the spot.
How to cook roast beef
|Cooking level||Oven||Fan oven||Gas mark||Time per 500g|
|Medium rare||180°C||160°C||4||20 minutes per 500g|
|Medium||180°C||160°C||4||25 minutes per 500g|
|Well done||180°C||160°C||4||30 minutes per 500g|
How to know when your beef is cooked
The best and easiest way to know that your beef is done is to use a meat thermometer. If you do have one, make sure to always measure the temperature at the centre of the beef cut, no matter what size the cut is. Follow this guide:
- Rare 60°C
- Medium rare 60-65°C
- Medium 65-70°C
- Medium well done 70°C
- Well done 75°C
If you don’t have a thermometer, go with the good old touch test. Once you reach the end of your cooking time, simply press the outside of the beef at the thickest part.
Doing this will help you decide how done the meat is. Soft means it’s within the rare range, springy means it’s medium done, and firmer means it’s within the well-done range.
Resting is as important for beef as it is for humans. So once your meat is cooked, let it rest to help retain juices, make it moist and keep it tender. As a rule of thumb, you should leave a roast to rest for about 10-20 minutes before you carve it, while a steak, depending on its thickness, can need as little as 5-10 minutes before it’s ready to be served.
Our best beef recipes
Slow-Cooked Beef Brisket Chilli with Cavalo Nero and Baked Potatoes
Beef chilli has to be one of the most comforting meals out there. Here, we’ve really taken it to the next level with slow-cooked brisket, sundried tomato paste, rich beef stock, dark chocolate and two kinds of beans. This is comfort food at its best.
Beef and Guinness Pie
This beef and Guinness pie is a big hearty hug in pie form. Juicy beef is braised – briefly fried with a dusting of seasoned flour before bubbling away in a rich Guinness sauce – and then transferred to a pie dish to be baked with a scrumptious pastry lid.
Thai Beef Salad
This zingy Thai salad is at its best while the steak is still warm, so dig in as soon as you can. The red chillies will add a punch of heat while coriander does the herby job. Plus, there’s lime for freshness and peanuts for added crunch. Simply delicious.