The Pros’ Guide to Cuts Of Beef (And How To Cook Them Perfectly!)
Many of us will soon be heading to our kitchens for an all-out Passover cooking marathon.
And while we want ALL our food to be special and delicious, we can handle the inevitable burnt veggies or overdone kugel.
But the meat is another story. It’s way too expensive to come out tough, chewy, or otherwise less than edible. We want soft, tasty roasts each and every time.
Turns out that with a little bit of background info, we can understand our meats and cook them to perfection. We turned to a panel of meat experts to advise us:
- Naftali and Anna Hanau are the owners of Grow & Behold. They ship a full line of glatt kosher, pasture-raised meats to customers nationwide.
- Yehuda Birnbaum of Meat and Board specializes in cured meats and handcrafted charcuterie boards.
- Michal Frischman, Chief of Staff at Mishpacha magazine, is a regular recipe contributor to both Mishpacha and Kosher.com.
Our experts generously shared their time, wisdom, and recipes.
We’ll get to that in a moment, but first a few definitions:
- Marbling – Marble isn’t only for countertops. In meat, it’s the white flecks and streaks of fat that form a marble pattern inside the flesh. Marbling adds taste to the meat. In fact, meat is graded by its marbling content, with Prime being the highest grade.
- Braising – This is the famous “low and slow.” Braising is cooking food in liquid, in a covered pot, at a low temperature. Often, you’ll sear or sauté the meat first. Braising is the ideal way to turn tougher cuts of meat into melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
- Connective tissue – Connective tissue includes ligaments, tendons, and silverskin (a white layer of fibrous tissue.) It can make meat tough and chewy. Meats with a lot of connective tissue, such as shoulder cuts, do better with braising, which slowly breaks down and softens the tissue.
With the terminology down pat, let’s get right to our meat cooking guide for Yom Tov.
1. How do you choose a cut of meat?
Naftali: Your biggest considerations for choosing a holiday roast are time and texture. (Although keep in mind that roasted meats are not traditionally served at Seder.) Are you looking for something you can cook quickly? Then a rib roast or a shoulder roast will be good choices, since you can cook them at high heat. Keep in mind, though, that the high-heat roasts are often also the priciest, as they tend to be leaner and more tender.
If you've got time, a long slow braise will transform even the leanest or toughest cuts into something meltingly tender and delicious. Whole brisket, second cut brisket, or top of the rib are great options if you like a more marbled roast. First cut brisket, deckle, and kolichel are leaner.
Yehuda: When choosing a tender cut of meat, I always look for marbling. You can’t rely on the supermarket’s labeling because not all supermarkets grade their meats the same way. In one you may find a piece of meat that’s labeled “prime” while the other will label the same meat as “choice.” And in some supermarkets, they don’t label their meats at all.
Michal: I decide what I want the dish to be first, then I choose a cut accordingly. For example, if I want something cooked medium rare that will serve a crowd, I'll go for cowboy steaks or shoulder London broil. Or if I want something that will be fork tender to serve with a rich sauce, I'll go for a rib cut or beef cheek.
Except for certain cuts like beef cheek or tongue, the next thing I'm looking for is marbling. I want the fat to be evenly dispersed throughout the meat as much as possible instead of a thick fat cap at the edges.
2. How do you know the best cooking method for your meat?
Anna: If you're unsure, ask your butcher. The worst thing you can do is cook a braising roast like a roasting one! One clue: if your roast has connective tissues or lots of intermuscular fat (like a chuck pot roast), it will do better low and slow. There are lean braising roasts like kolichel and deckel that should also be braised.
Yehuda: Generally, you cook a leaner piece of meat low and slow. (That’s why I use kolichel in my cholent.)
I enjoy smoking a lot of my meat. For best results, make sure there is a nice marbling on the meat and get yourself a digital thermometer. It’s one of the most important pieces of equipment when smoking meat.
Michal: Practice makes perfect. If I'm ever unsure, I know my butcher is the ultimate maven and can steer me in the right direction. Also, you're never too old to call your mother to ask for cooking advice.
3. What are two “low-end” cuts that you recommend and how do you cook them?
Naftali: One of our favorite steaks is the chuck steak. It’s less "fancy" than a rib steak, but in our opinion it has much better flavor. Season it with salt and pepper, sear it over high heat on all sides, then finish over indirect heat or in a low oven until medium rare.
Pepper steak is convenient and delicious. Add your favorite sauce, cook it quickly over high heat, and serve with vegetables. Done!
Michal: My favorite is Philly steak. My butcher uses his deli slicer to cut large kolichel into paper-thin slices. It's amazing.
[Check out Michal’s recipe for Philly Steak Crostinis.]
I also love shoulder London broil, which I find is generally well marbled and comes out very tender.
4. What are two “high-end” cuts that you recommend and how do you cook them?
Anna: A rib roast is the king of roasts. Bring it to room temperature, then cover it with a mixture of horseradish, garlic, salt and pepper, and mayonnaise. Roast at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the internal temperature reaches 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, sear the outside before serving.
We also love lamb chops. First, season them with your favorite spice rub. Then grill or pan fry two to three minutes per side, until the chops release freely from the pan.
Michal: Split minute roasts are extremely tender and just the best thing to serve a crowd. And since the butchers give you both halves of the split, I find it so convenient to marinate two roasts and freeze one. I grill or broil this roast and serve it medium rare. Thank you, Chanie Nayman for getting me into this!
On Yom Tov, I also love a flanken roast, cooked low and slow with onions underneath. For Passover, I season it with salt, pepper, paprika, 12 crushed garlic cloves and a splash of maple syrup on top. Then I add red wine and chicken stock to cover three-fourths of the way up the meat. I cover it tightly and bake it for 12 hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. What are the most important do’s and don’ts for cooking meat?
Naftali: DO buy the best meat you can afford, and season it only slightly. With salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, you can appreciate the flavor of delicious meats. You’ll be supporting farmers and producers who care for their employees, animals, and grazing lands with respect.
DO sear meat before braising. Whether stew cubes or a whole brisket, you'll add a lot of delicious flavor to your finished dish.
DON’T overcook steaks! Medium rare or rare is where you'll enjoy the best flavor.
DON'T move the meat from the pan before it releases on its own. If you do, you'll leave all the browned bits on the pan instead of in your dinner.
Yehuda: DO try to broil your meat as close as possible to when you will be serving it.
DO take into account that actual cooking times may differ from your recipe. Leave room for error when you’re cooking meat for the Friday night meal.
Please DON’T freeze cooked meat. It can be done, but it will never taste the same as when it was freshly cooked.
Michal: DO use a thermometer. It's obvious, sure, but it's the best way to avoid ruining what is usually the most expensive food on the table.
DO use garnishes to bring a dish from basic to restaurant level. Good meat can stand in its own and does not need to be cloaked in heavy or sweet sauces to shine. Sometimes, though, I love a textural contrast that highlights the main event. Pomegranate seeds, pickled onions, and finely chopped herbs are the easiest and my go-to garnishes.
Thank you, Anna & Naftali, Yehuda, and Michal for your expert advice. We’re looking forward to a delicious Yom Tov with tender, mouthwatering meats.
Looking for some delicious brisket recipes? Look no further!