Beef 101: Guide To Selecting, Storing, Cooking

Justin Micheal

Food Writer & Editor in Chief For KitchenSanity

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

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There’s something about beef that gives me that home comfort feeling. From grandma’s meatloaf to a sizzling steak on the grill, beef is a protein that’s deeply woven into the fabric of American cuisine.

You’ve got your ground beef for quick weeknight dinners like tacos and spaghetti Bolognese. Then there are the more luxurious cuts like ribeye and filet mignon, perfect for special occasions or a weekend treat.

Of course, there is a lot more to beef than just a few simple dishes, so I created this page as your go-to guide for all things beef!

What is Beef?

Beef is the name for meat that comes from cattle, and it’s been a staple in human diets for centuries. It’s believed to have been first domesticated in the Near East around 8,000 years ago.

In the U.S., beef holds a special place at the dinner table, often seen as the star of barbecues and holiday feasts. But it’s not just an American favorite! Argentinian asado and Japanese Wagyu beef are loved worldwide.

So why has beef become such a global phenomenon? You can grill it, roast it, stew it, or you name it. It’s a great source of essential nutrients like protein, iron, and B vitamins. So, whether you’re making a simple burger or an elaborate beef Wellington, you’re in for a treat.

Popular Cuts Of Beef

When you’re eyeing that meat counter, the cut of beef you pick is like choosing the right pair of shoes for an outfit, and each one has its own vibe and purpose.

  • Ribeye: Marbling is the game, and ribeye is the name. Perfect for grilling and always a crowd-pleaser.
  • Sirloin: Lean, mean, and versatile. Whether it’s steak tips or a simple pan-sear, sirloin’s got your back.
  • Tenderloin: The epitome of tenderness. It’s expensive but ideal for fancy dishes like beef Wellington or a romantic dinner.
  • New York Strip Loin: A balance of tenderness and flavor, this cut is a grill master’s dream.
  • Brisket: The long-haul cut. Low and slow is the way to go, whether it’s for barbecue or corned beef.
  • Ground Beef: The everyday hero. From meatloaf to tacos, ground beef is your weeknight warrior.

Angus, Wagyu, and other heritage breeds bring their own flair to the table, each with unique qualities that make them stand out. Angus is your reliable all-American, while Wagyu is the luxurious import from Japan.

Primal and sub-primal cuts are your beefy building blocks. The big sections like chuck, rib, and loin give us the smaller, specialized cuts we love. Think of primal cuts as the main chapters in a book and the sub-primals as the intriguing subplots that keep you hooked.

variety of raw beef cuts

How To Select Beef Cuts

Selecting the right cut of beef is like picking the freshest produce—you’ve got to know what to look for.

Color is your first clue. You want a nice, rich red hue. If it’s looking more brown than red, that’s a sign it’s been sitting around for a bit too long. Fresh is best, so keep an eye on that color.

Marbling (the white streaks throughout the meat) is your next indicator of quality. A good amount of marbling usually means a juicier, more flavorful cut.

Packaging matters, too. Make sure the package is tightly sealed with no punctures or leaks. Any excess liquid should be minimal. Think of it like buying a bag of chips—you don’t want the one that’s been squished or has a hole in it.

Don’t forget to check the sell-by date. Just like you wouldn’t buy expired milk or close to it, apply the same logic to your beef and make sure there is a lot of time left on the clock.

Seasonality: Is There A Prime Time For Beef?

Unlike fruits and veggies, beef doesn’t have a specific season where it’s at its peak. Cattle are raised year-round, so you can generally find good-quality beef any time of the year.

However, grilling season, which usually kicks off in late spring and goes through the summer, often brings sales and specials on popular cuts like ribeye and sirloin.

It’s the beef lover’s version of a summer sale and a great time to stock up.

But, some cuts like brisket or stew meat might be more readily available in the colder months, perfect for hearty winter meals.

So, while there’s no “peak” season for beef, being mindful of these seasonal trends can help you get the most bang for your buck.

How To Store Beef

If you’re not planning to cook the beef within a couple of days, it’s best to freeze it. Just make sure it’s wrapped tightly in a freezer-safe bag with as much air removed as possible. This helps prevent freezer burn, which is the enemy of all types of meat.

  • Fridge: Store for 3-5 days, wrapped and in the coldest part.
  • Freezer: Up to 12 months for steaks and roasts, 4 months for ground beef.
  • Thawing: Always thaw in the fridge, never on the counter.
  • Leftovers: Keep in airtight containers and consume within 3-4 days.

When it comes to the fridge, location matters. Always store your beef on the bottom shelf to prevent any leaking juices from contaminating other foods. The coldest part of your fridge is usually at the back of the bottom shelf, so aim to store it there.

If you’ve frozen your beef, always thaw it in the refrigerator if it needs to be thawed. Although, frozen beef burgers are often okay to cook from frozen.

It takes a bit of planning, but it’s the safest method. For example, I like to put frozen ground beef in the fridge the night before. By dinner time the next day, it’s ready.

Never thaw beef on the counter, as it can become unsafe to consume, even before it’s fully thawed.

Leftovers need love, too. If you’ve cooked more than you can eat, store your beefy leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. And aim to consume those leftovers within 3-4 days to ensure they’re still tasty and safe to eat.

Here are some more beef essentials when it comes to storage and food safety:

How To Cook Beef

Each method of cooking beef brings out different qualities in your chosen cut. Here are some popular methods and the cuts they suit best. Remember that even if you’re following a recipe, some take a lot of patience and experience to master.

  • Grilling (Best for: Ribeye, Sirloin, New York Strip Loin)Grilling is the go-to for steaks, especially when the weather’s nice. A hot grill and a well-seasoned steak are a match made in heaven.
  • Pan-Searing (Best for: Tenderloin, Filet Mignon) – Pan-searing is quick and gives you that beautiful, caramelized crust. A hot pan and a touch of oil are all you need for this method.
  • Slow-Cooking (Best for: Brisket, Chuck Roast) – Slow-cooking is the set-it-and-forget-it of beef cooking methods. It’s perfect for tougher cuts that need time to become tender.
  • Roasting (Best for: Rib Roast, Top Sirloin) – Roasting is ideal for larger cuts that you want to cook evenly. A good seasoning rub and a preheated oven are your main tools here. Think of it like baking a cake; even heat and patience yield the best results.

Now, these methods are just the tip of the iceberg. You can also braise, broil, or even sous-vide your beef. Each method has its own set of rules, but the end goal is the same… a delicious beef dish!

grilled steak sliced on knife

Beef Temperatures Guide

The following temperatures are your target internal temps, not the heat setting on your grill or stove. And because so many factors determine the temperature, you should use a meat thermometer to get it right.

Cut of BeefRareMedium-RareMediumMedium-WellWell-Done
Ribeye, Sirloin, New York Strip Loin125°F135°F145°F150°F160°F
Tenderloin, Filet Mignon120°F125°F130°F140°F155°F
Brisket, Chuck RoastN/AN/AN/AN/A190-205°F
Ground BeefN/AN/AN/AN/A160°F

Keep in mind that meat continues to cook even after it’s off the heat, a phenomenon known as “carryover cooking.” So, aim to remove the beef from the heat a few degrees before it hits your target temp.

Remember, safety first. You should always cook ground beef to 160°F to ensure it’s safe to eat. It’s a non-negotiable, like washing your hands before you start cooking. No one wants to get sick from a meal they’ve put love into.

What Goes With Beef

Let’s talk about some classic and unexpected pairings that’ll make your beef dish a hit.

Classic Sides

  • Mashed Potatoes: Creamy and comforting, mashed potatoes are the ultimate sidekick to a beefy main course.
  • Green Beans: A little crunch, a little color, and you’ve got a balanced plate. Green beans are the crisp counterpoint to a rich beef dish.
  • Garlic Bread: Because who can resist a slice of garlic bread? It’s the finishing touch that rounds out a hearty beef stew.

Unexpected Pairings

  • Polenta: This creamy cornmeal dish is a delightful alternative to potatoes.
  • Roasted Beets: Earthy and sweet roasted beets offer a unique flavor contrast to beef. It’s a surprising combo that’ll have your taste buds doing a happy dance.
  • Chimichurri Sauce: This zesty Argentinian sauce brings a burst of freshness to grilled steaks. It’s like adding a squeeze of lemon to your tea. Just a touch and everything pops.

Sauces

  • Gravy: A classic for a reason, gravy brings everything together in a rich, velvety hug. In my house, it’s almost a requirement for meatloaf.
  • Bearnaise Sauce: This French classic is a luxurious treat for cuts like tenderloin and ribeye.
  • Salsa Verde: This green herb sauce adds a refreshing, zesty kick for a lighter touch.

Beef FAQs

What is Beef Knuckle Bone?

Beef knuckle bone comes from the leg area of the cow, specifically the hind leg. It’s often used in making broths and stocks due to its high collagen content. Think of it as the base for a good soup that adds depth and richness.

What is Navel Beef?

Navel beef is essentially the belly part of the cow, similar to pork belly in pigs. It’s a fatty cut often used to make pastrami or corned beef. It’s like the bacon of the beef world that’s rich, fatty, and full of flavor.

What is the Difference Between Beef and Steak?

Beef is a general term for meat from cattle (cows), while steak refers to specific cuts of beef that are suited for grilling or pan-searing. In other words, all steaks are beef, but not all beef is steak.

Written By Justin Micheal

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

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