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A Shortcut Guide to Meat

Our 4H club does this neat thing once a year called a “Parent Led Meeting”. Basically each parent of a 4H officer fulfills the role of their child for one meeting. The club president’s parent leads the meeting, the recreaction leader’s parents lead the games, etc. It’s fun to see the parents fill these roles and the kids totally love watching their parents do their jobs, and mess up along the way.

A year ago I was “volun-told” that I got to do the project talk. Project talks are these awesome opportunities for club members to share with the rest of the club some of their projects and work on public presentation skills. I decided to talk about what I know best - meat. So I shared my most recent, and might I add exceptionally brilliant, realization about how to know how to cook various cuts of meat. And now, I pass this wisdom on to you, dear reader.

One day it occurred to me that no matter whether it’s beef, pork or lamb, you cook cuts from the same part of the animal the same way. Total lightbulb moment!! 💡 I designed this super awesome graphic to bring home my point and absolutely entranced our 4H club members and their families. (They might have a slightly different recollection.). Let me expound....

I lost the K somewhere in storage.
My “super awesome graphic”

Any cuts from the front end of the animal will require longer cooking at lower temperatures because they have more connective tissue and fat that need to break down in order for you to be able to chew them. However, this is what gives these cuts their unique ability to “shred”’or pull and it also makes these taste really good. Any cut from the shoulder of an animal should be cooked low and slow - think Boston Butts in pork, shoulder or Chuck roasts in beef and lamb shoulder roasts.

Chuck roast, carrots and potatoes - one of my childhood favorites

Moving back past the shoulders, you hit the “good stuff”. We call it steak in beef and this part of lamb and pork is called chops. Beef would be the ribeye then the t-bones and porterhouse steaks. The difference between a t-bone and porterhouse is the size of the fillet, a porterhouse having a larger fillet portion. And to toss in a fun fact, if you take the bone out of either of those steaks, you have the fillet (the little side) and the strip (the longer, strip-like side). If you leave the fillet as a whole muscle, that’s a tenderloin in both beef and pork. These cuts are very lean and need to be cooked, again, only to temperature to keep them from drying out. If you look at some pork and lamb chops, they also look like a T-bone steak. 🥩 All of these cuts come from the back half of the steaks.

As you move farther back on an animal, the fat content in the meat tends to lessen, which is why ribeyes tend to have more marbling and fat than a t-bone. Steaks and chops all need to be carefully temped to make sure they are at their prime. For us, we prefer no more than medium on these. But temping meat is another blog for another day.

Pork rib chops

If you head towards the belly of the beast, we’re back into low and slow territory. All ribs (regardless of species or type of rib) need to cook a long time at a low temperature, which is why they’re perfect for smoking. Pork belly also needs longer cooking, unless it’s cured and sliced as bacon. Lamb shanks and beef shanks for dishes like Osso Bucco are perfect braised for a long time in delicious sauces and ham hocks when cured are tender and full of smokey flavor for cooked beans and soups.

Smoked pork ribs

Now we head to the end. Literally. The back end of all three species are large, well-used muscles which tend to be “drier” and need more TLC. Sirloin steaks, for me, cross into this category, as does round steak or round roast and rump roasts. In pork, this is the source for ham or pork cutlets. Curing and tenderizing these pork products helps them cook better. In lamb, this is the leg of lamb. These need to be cooked to medium, like a steak. Round roasts in beef would be the same way. To give you a hint, the beef round is the cut used to make jerky. We don’t sell the back-end beef roasts because I feel they are harder to make successfully, and we certainly want you to be successful in your cooking endeavors!

A whole ham - close to 30 pounds!

So it doesn’t matter which species, if you can learn to look for key words and relate cuts between species you can confidently spread your culinary wings and try new cuts that you’ve never had before. We are always here to answer questions, help find recipes and you can always call or text me if you’re having a meat crisis, even mid-cook. Can other meat retailers promise you that?

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