Demystifying the meat counter

Associate food editor Jennifer Danter explains five common cuts of beef and the best ways to cook them

Demystifying the meat counter
Associate food editor Jennifer Danter explains five common cuts of beef and the best ways to cook them

Without the friendly advice from a butcher to rely on, buying beef from the supermarket display case can be daunting. The names and different cuts available are much different than what I remember growing up – it’s like a whole different language. Here’s an easy guide to help you understand the different selections and how to make the most of them.

Stewing Beef

These less tender cuts of beef need to be slow cooked in liquid or “stewed” (either on the stove top or in the oven) to break down tough tissues and become tender. Stewing beef is no longer just cubes. There’s also simmering short ribs, boneless simmering short ribs as well as shank centre cut stewing beef. Use cubed stewing beef for beef bourguignon, goulash, stews, curries, ragouts and chili. Bone-in short ribs are perfect for Miami ribs and short rib stew. Boneless short ribs make delicious Korean-style ribs. Treat beef shanks as you would veal shanks – braise them Osso Bucco style. Superb Beef Bourguignon or Country Cabernet Short Ribs. Use beef shanks in Make-ahead Mediterranean Herbed Shanks.
Pot Roast

Similar to stewing beef, pot roast also needs to be stewed or braised in order to become tender. However, it’s cooked as one large roast instead of in small pieces. Look for: Cross rib pot roast, top blade pot roast, bottom blade pot roast, blade pot roast. Different cuts are available, but they cook up the same. Pot roast has a wonderful full, rich beefy flavour. No matter what cut, just season (use dry or fresh herbs and a little oil) and sear, then slow cook in liquid. Depending on the recipe, you could use wine, beef or chicken broth, tomato juice, soup or canned tomatoes. Perfect Pot Roast
Oven Roasts

These are those large beef roasts that epitomize the ideal Sunday roast dinner. There’s many to choose from and they vary in price and tenderness. More tender cuts cost more and include: tenderloin, prime rib and top sirloin. Or choose from less tender but easier on the wallet cuts such as sirloin tip, inside round or eye of round. The cooking method is pretty much the same no matter what type of roast you buy. Simply season outside of beef, then roast it until desired doneness. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the centre of the roast. Avoid sticking fat or bones. Always let the cooked roast rest about 10 to 15 min. before slicing. This allows juices to redistribute evenly throughout meat, resulting in more succulent juicy beef.
See below for cooking guidelines.*
Herb-Crusted Prime Rib of Beef for a fancy dinner or Hoisin Glazed Roast Beef for your next cozy night in.
Quick Roast

These are a super clever idea – a roast that cooks in under an hour. They weigh in at about 1 lb (500 g) and are perfect for speedy weeknight dinners or when you’re cooking for two and don’t want the fuss or leftovers of a larger roast. Because they’re so small, they’re often packaged wrapped in a safe-cook netting so they keep their shape as they roast. Look for: sirloin tip quick roast, eye of round quick roast, top sirloin premium quick roast and rib eye premium quick roast. Cook as you would any regular oven roast (see Oven Roasts above), but be sure to leave netting on when cooking. Fast Friday Night Beef Roast when you need to whip up a quickie.
Ground Beef

According to The Beef Information Centre, ground beef accounts for 50 percent of all beef bought in Canada. Guess we love it – and why not? It’s affordable, versatile and downright delicious. Based on the fat content of ground beef, there are four grades to choose from: Extra Lean (10% maximum fat content), Lean (17% maximum fat content), Medium (23% maximum fat content) and Regular (30% maximum fat content). Both Lean and Extra Lean beef get the thumbs up from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada as being part of a healthy lean diet. Whatever grade you choose, you can use ground beef for meatballs, meatloaf, burgers, stir-fries, stuffed peppers, and more. Ground beef must be fully cooked before eating. In some dishes this is obvious, but with burgers and meatloaf, for example, it’s more difficult to tell. Your best option is to take an internal temperature reading using an instant-read thermometer. Beef is cooked when it reaches 160F (71C). Boldly Spiced Beef mixture to make burgers, meatballs, meatloaf and more.

* Depending on how you like your beef cooked, The Beef Information Centre recommends these times and temperatures for cooking:

Doneness Estimated
Roasting Time*
Approx. min
per lb/kg
Internal Temp. (when
removed from oven)
Internal Temp.
(after standing)
MED-RARE 22 44 140°F (60°C) 145°F (63°C)
MEDIUM 25 50 155°F (68°C) 160°F (71°C)
WELL 30 60 165°F (74°C) 170°F (77°C)

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