meat Cuts

No matter your meat preference, knowing your cuts will help you to choose the right piece of meat for every meal every time.

Beef Cuts

The Basics of Beef Cuts

Beef is divided into large sections called primal cuts, which you can see in our beef cuts chart. These primal beef cuts, or “primals,” are then broken down further into subprimals, or “food-service cuts.” These are then sliced and chopped into individual steaks, roasts, and other retail cuts.

A side of beef is literally one side of the beef carcass that is split through the backbone. Each side is then halved between the 12th and 13th ribs. These sections are called the forequarter (front of the cow) and the hindquarter (back of the cow).

The most tender cuts of beef, like the rib and tenderloin, are the ones farthest from the horn and hoof. The toughest areas of the animal are the shoulder and leg muscles because they are worked the most.

Forequarter Cuts: Beef Chuck

Beef chuck comes from the forequarter. Consisting of parts of the neck, shoulder blade, and upper arm, beef chuck produces tough but very flavorful cuts of meat.

This primal cut has a good deal of connective tissue. That makes chuck a good choice for braised dishes like beef stew or pot roast, both of which tenderize tough cuts. Due to its fat content, beef chuck is also excellent for making ground beef that produces juicy burgers and ground beef stew.

The classic 7-bone roast comes from the beef chuck, as do the increasingly popular flat iron steak and Denver steak.

With conventional butchering, the beef chuck is separated from the rib primal between the fifth and sixth ribs. This means that it also contains a few inches of the longissimus dorsi muscle, which is the same tender muscle that rib-eye steaks are made from.

Forequarter Cuts: Beef Rib

Made from the top part of the center section of rib—specifically the sixth through the twelfth ribs— the beef rib primal cut is used for the traditional standing rib roast (also called prime rib). It’s also the source of the delectable ribeye steak as well as the classic French entrecôte. 

Since they’re already tender, steaks and roasts from the beef rib primal can undergo various forms of dry-heat cooking and remain tender. 

It’s nearly impossible to describe a beef primal cut without discussing adjacent cuts. In this case, the beef rib primal is situated directly above the beef plate. Exactly where it’s divided is somewhat arbitrary. Nevertheless, the lower parts of those ribs—whether we attribute them to the rib primal or the plate primal—are where beef short ribs come from.

Forequarter Cuts: Beef Plate

Also called the short plate (or “long plate” depending on where it’s separated from the rib primal above it), the beef plate primal includes the short ribs. It is also where the skirt steak is located, which is used in carne asada.

Skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle. It’s attached to the inside abdominal wall by a system of thick connective tissue, which needs to be carefully trimmed away. This steak is extremely flavorful. It’s also a thin piece of meat, allowing you to cook it quickly over high heat. Just don’t overcook it. Since it has coarse muscle fibers, be sure to slice it against the grain or it will be chewy. 

Beef plate contains a lot of cartilage, especially around the ribs, which is why beef short ribs are ideal for braising. This process of cooking with moist heat at a low temperature will dissolve cartilage and turn it into gelatin.

The beef plate is also fairly fatty, so it can be used in making ground beef. 

Forequarter Cuts: Beef Shank

The beef shank is the leg of the animal’s thigh. Each side of beef has two shanks, one in the forequarter and one in the hindquarter. It is extremely tough and full of connective tissue.

Beef shank is used in making the luxurious Italian dish osso buco.

Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Short Loin

Moving on to the beef primal cuts from the hindquarter, or back of the animal, the short loin is where we find the most desirable cuts of meat. These include T-bone and porterhouse steaks, as well as the strip loin or strip steak.

The beef short loin is only about 16 to 18 inches long. It will yield anywhere from 11 to 14 steaks, depending on thickness.

The steaks from the short loin are cut starting at the rib end and working toward the rear. The first-cut steaks are club steaks or bone-in strip steaks. The center-cut steaks are T-bones, of which there may be six or seven. Finally, a butcher may be able to get two or three porterhouse steaks at the sirloin end.

The tenderloin extends from the short loin back into the sirloin. It’s interesting to note that if the tenderloin is removed, there can be no T-bone or porterhouse steaks. Both of these steaks include a section of the tenderloin muscle. 

Dry-heat cooking is best for the tender cuts from the short loin. 

Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Round

The beef round primal cut basically consists of the back leg of the steer. Muscles from the round are fairly lean, but they’re also tough because the leg and rump get a lot of exercise.

Just like the sirloin primal is separated into two subprimals, top sirloin and bottom sirloin, beef round likewise consists of multiple subprimal cuts: the top round (inside round), bottom round (outside round), and the knuckle. The bottom round is where we get rump roast and eye of round.

Although you might braise a piece of beef round out of necessity, chuck always produces a more delicious piece of meat. There’s a good reason for this.

The top round and bottom round are lean and don’t contain much collagen. Collagen is the type of protein that turns into gelatin when it’s braised slowly. This means that braised rump roast isn’t as succulent as braised chuck roast.

More often than not, the best use of round roasts is to roast them slowly so they turn out medium rare. They can then be sliced thinly and used for sandwiches or even served as roasts. Slicing thinly and against the grain is crucial. 


Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Flank

Beef flank can be cooked on the grill. Since it has tough muscle fibers, it can get even tougher if it’s overcooked, so be careful.

The best technique for flank steak is to grill it quickly at a high temperature. Marinating the meat first can help prevent it from drying out, but avoiding overcooking really is the best prevention. When you’re ready to serve it, remember to slice this steak thinly against the grain so it isn’t chewy.

Beef flank is also good for braising and it’s often used for making ground beef.


Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Tenderloin

The most tender cut of beef is the beef tenderloin and it is found within the loin. This is where we get filet mignon, which is made from the very tip of the pointy end of the tenderloin. Chateaubriand is made from the center cut of the tenderloin.

The tenderloin extends from the short loin into the sirloin. The pointy end is actually situated within the short loin, and the section in the sirloin is sometimes called the butt tenderloin. Even so, butchers will often remove the entire tenderloin and sell it whole or as individual steaks and roasts.

Beef tenderloin should only be cooked using dry-heat methods, such as grilling and broiling. The meat is already super tender, so long cooking times are unnecessary. Keep it quick and the heat high.


Hindquarter Cuts: Beef Sirloin

Beef sirloin is another large section of the carcass that runs from the 13th rib all the way back to the hip bone and from the backbone clear down to the flank (or belly).

The full sirloin is itself subdivided into top sirloin and bottom sirloin. Top sirloin is generally fabricated into steaks that are good for grilling. Since the sirloin is closer to the rear leg of the animal, the muscles get a bit tougher. Still, a first-cut sirloin steak—sometimes called a pin-bone steak because it includes a section of the hip bone—is very similar to a porterhouse.

After separating it from the top sirloin, the bottom sirloin is usually divided into three main components: the tri-tip, ball tip, and flap, which do well with roasting and barbecuing (and they are sometimes made into ground beef).

Although it’s not obvious in a two-dimensional diagram, the back end of the tenderloin, called the butt tender, is also situated within the sirloin, and it’s either removed altogether when fabricating a whole tenderloin, or the back end is sold as a roast. Beware of butchers who use the name filet mignon to describe a butt tender, because that comes from the other end of the tenderloin.


Lamb/Mutton Cuts

The Basics of Lamb/Mutton Cuts

Lamb refers to a young sheep, not older than one year in age. It’s known for year-round availability and tenderness


Lamb neck is inexpensive and full of flavour. It’s typically sold in thick, bone-in slices. Neck meat contains plenty of collagen – a natural compound in red meat that lends a silky richness to stews, braises, ragus, and other slow-cooked dishes.


The shoulder of the lamb, derived from the forequarter, is the most economical cut, most suitable for long, slow, moist cooking to tenderise it. Lamb shoulder is used for stews and casseroles, and often cut into tasty chops.

Blade or Foreshoulder

Lamb neck is inexpensive and full of flavour. It’s typically sold in thick, bone-in slices. Neck meat contains plenty of collagen – a natural compound in red meat that lends a silky richness to stews, braises, ragus, and other slow-cooked dishes.


Lamb shanks come from the latter part of the fore or hind leg, and are best roasted or braised to elicit the juices from the bone. Shanks are almost always cooked in liquid until the meat starts separating from the bone. Slow cooking is a must – the flavour is worth the wait.

Rib Chop / Rack
Rack of lamb, sold whole or cut into rib chops, is the most prized and most expensive lamb cut. The meat on the rack is exceptionally tender and fine flavoured. Rib chops, either single (one bone) or double (two bones), are excellent grilled, broiled, and sautéed. Rack of lamb and rib chops are best cooked rare to medium-rare.
Breast of lamb is cut from the belly of the lamb; it is a great cut for those with little experience cooking lamb but wish to yield maximum taste. Although lamb breast has a higher fat content than some other lamb cuts when slow-cooked much of the fat is released during cooking, collected and discarded.
Unlike other cuts from the loin, the flank is tough and is usually ground into lamb burger.
The loin of lamb is a tender and prized part of the animal. It is an ideal cut for roasting, but be careful not to overcook it as it doesn’t have a layer of fat for protection. Always remove the meat from the fridge an hour before cooking


These firm chops are taken from the rump of the lamb at the point where the top of the leg meets the loin. These chops are plump and generally lean. Cook these chops on the grill, griddle, or pan them for best results.


The legs of a lamb work hard, giving this cut a good strong flavour. Leg is great roasted whole on the bone, or boned and cooked on an open flame. It’s a fairly lean muscle, so take care not to overcook it.


Pork Cuts

The Basics of Pork Cuts

Pork is classified a red meat because it contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish. When fresh pork is cooked, it becomes lighter in color, but it is still a red meat. Pork is classed as “livestock” along with veal, lamb and beef. All livestock are considered red meat.


If you’re looking for skin, pig’s head has it in abundance. … In short, just about everything on the head is good to eat, you’ll have plenty of options for how you want to eat it.


The neck end or collar sits above the shoulder and can be divided into the spare rib (not to be confused with the spare ribs that are so popular on the barbecue) and the blade. It is slightly fatty and most often used cured for bacon or inexpensive diced or minced pork.

Blade Shoulder

Pork shoulder is the top portion of the front leg of the hog. … The upper part of the shoulder, often called the blade pork roast, comes from the area near the loin and contains the shoulder blade bone. The blade roast is a well-marbled cut.

Arm shoulder

The terminology for pork shoulder can vary widely depending on the region. However, the lower ‘arm’ portion of the shoulder is most commonly called the arm pork roast. The upper part of the shoulder, often called the blade pork roast, comes from the area near the loin and contains the shoulder blade bone.


It’s called the “beauty food” because of the rich collagen protein and low fat content. It can prevent wrinkles and enhance skin elasticity. The collagen in pig feet contains a number of amino acids, and there is one amino acid in every three glycine.

Loin and Tenderloin
A pork tenderloin is a long, narrow, boneless cut of meat that comes from the muscle that runs along the backbone. A pork loin is wider and flatter, and can be a boneless or bone-in cut of meat. Pork loin comes the the back of the animal.
Spare Ribs

Types of Pork Ribs
  • Baby Back Ribs. Baby back ribs are sometimes known as loin back or just back ribs. …
  • Pork Spareribs. Spare ribs are found much lower in the pig, nearer to the belly. …
  • Country Style Pork Ribs. Country style ribs are found towards the upper shoulder end of the loin.

Belly / Side
Pork belly is uncured, un-smoked and un-sliced bacon. So bacon is mostly cured (you can buy uncured bacon), smoked and sliced. Typical American bacon is cured with salt and also smoked. … Once you brine or cure it, and smoke it, it becomes bacon.
Ham comes from the hind legs. Ham is preserved pork. There is such a thing as a “fresh ham”. It’s the hind leg of pork that has not been preserved
Ham has a unique salty, sweet or smoky flavor, depending on the preservation process; pork does not have this unique flavor. Ham is ready-to-eat because it was processed 
Pork hocks might look kind of gristly and bone-y and uninviting, but they have a secret superpower: they can make any kind of soup delicious. … If you have very meaty hocks, you could just roast them, eat the meat (or use it in an omelet or another dish), and then throw just the bones into a soup. 

Chicken Cuts

The Basics of Chicken Cuts

Chicken is the meat from the most common type of domesticated fowl and is one of the largest meat producing industries in the world. Poultry farming is the single biggest sector of the South African agricultural economy and plays a huge role as the primary source of protein for the majority of South Africans. All parts of the chicken are used and utilized, including offal, and can be braaied, stewed, curried or grilled.

Whole chicken

Whole chickens always work well as a family roast with vegetables like carrots, potatoes and butternut. They can also be split along the backbone, marinated and grilled over a fire in the oven as a flatty or spatchcock chicken.

Recommended methods: Roasted in the oven, spatchcocked, marinated and grilled.


The neck is generally used in soup or as pet food.

Heads and feet

Chicken heads are BBQ’d and sold as street food and the feet are used in soup to thicken the stock. Or they are roasted and eaten as a crispy snack


The ribs and back portion or generally kept together

Breast and Tenderloin

Chicken breast must be the most versatile meat.  It is a white meat with very little fat and it is the perfect cut to slice up in stir-fries, marinate and grill, pan-fry or oven roast, filled with your favourite filling. Chicken breasts can also be baked or poached and used in salad, sandwiches or shredded and put into soups.

Tenderloins are a good option too. They are slightly more tender than the whole breast and are great crumbed and baked, or quickly chargrilled and tossed in a hot salad.

Buy as single chicken breasts fillets without the skin, with tenderloin attached, or with skin on. A supreme cut is the chicken breast with wingette attached and skin on.



The whole chicken wing is an all-white meat portion composed of three sections: the drumette, mid-section and tip. Wings work fantastically as a snack or starter especially with a sweet and sticky sauce or marinade. Grilled or put onto the braai they are delicious.

Recommended methods: Marinated and grilled braaied.

Legs and drumsticks


The whole chicken leg is the drumstick-thigh combination. The whole leg differs from the leg quarter and does not contain a portion of the back.

Drumsticks include the lower portion of the leg quarter (the portion between the knee joint and the hock). The dark meat of the leg or drumstick is regarded as one of the tastiest parts of the chicken. It is juicy and can be used in whole number of ways ranging from stew or curries, to oven baked and braais.

Recommended methods: Marinated and grilled or braaied, put into casseroles, curries or stews


The thigh is the portion of the leg above the knee joint. Thigh meat is also dark and like the drumstick, has a great deal of flavour. It is also as versatile as its leg counterpart, with a lovely firm and juicy texture. They can be put into stews, curries, casseroles or even put on the braai.

Recommended methods: Marinated and grilled or braaied, put into casseroles, curries or stews.


Tail, butt, haunch, the parson’s nose – whatever the name given to a chicken’s rear end, it’s a popular snack skewered and grilled in many parts of the worl including South Africa. Fans like it because it’s juicy and has a relatively strong flavour for an often bland bird.


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