Last Updated on July 6, 2021
One of the greatest food traditions of all—for us steak lovers, at least—is the annual reappearance of grills. They are cleaned, repaired, and lit once more each spring and summer as we undertake that simple pleasure: Cooking outside.
In our opinion, there is nothing that compares to the experience of throwing a scrumptious hunk of grass-fed beef over some hot charcoals or onto a red-hot grill.
But which beef cuts are best for cooking out? You might be familiar with filet mignons, ribeyes, strip steaks, t-bone steaks, and tri-tips that come from the middle areas that make up the rib, loin, tenderloin, and sirloin primal cuts. But the chuck primal is actually where it is at.
AsButcherBox Chef Yankel Polak says, “The chuck is a goldmine of great cuts.”
Some of the best cuts of beef to cook outdoors come from the chuck; also, some of our favorite steaks and roasts, in general, are chuck beef cuts.
What is the Chuck?
The “chuck” primal section produces a vast amount of meat. Most of the beef from this area—the front section from the shoulder blade and down to the leg muscles— lacks fat and has a ton of connective tissue. Therefore, it can result in tough cuts of meat if cooked incorrectly.
Most commonly, chuck cuts are used for roasts.
Beef chuck roast, for example, is ideal for braising and slow cooking. Other common roast beef cuts from the chuck include pot roast and bone-in chuck roast. These roast sections are fantastic when quickly seared and then put in a slow cooker for a few hours, especially with some complimentary seasonings and spices.
However, many of the standard—sometimes vaguely labeled— teaks you can get at the supermarket are likely to be steaks cut from the chuck as well. Flank steaks or skirt steaks fall into this category. The chuck is also often used as stew meat, kabobs, and sandwich steaks, and as an alternative to more expensive cuts like sirloin tips, tip roast, and ribeye.
You likely cook chuck meat on your grill quite often without realizing it: Chuck meat is one of the primary sources that butchers use to make ground beef. So if you are cooking cheeseburgers for the family this weekend, there is a good chance you’ve got some ground chuck in the burger mix.
Newer Cuts from the Chuck – Denver Steak and Flat Iron Steak
Because chuck beef has primarily been used for braising roast cuts, cheaper cuts of steak, and ground beef in the past, some steak lovers believe that you can’t find quality steaks in this front section of the cow.
However, over the past few decades, the beef industry has innovated and uncovered tasty, tender steaks in the chuck section that were previously unknown, difficult to access, or more prevalently used in unique ways in other cultures.
For instance, as part of the Beef Checkoff Program, meat science researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska identified new and potentially more affordable tender cuts of meat. The project led to the discovery of little-used or unknown cuts, like the Denver steak. The Denver steak is delicious as long as it is cooked correctly and, as we’ve said again and again with these types of cuts, must be cut against the grain once cooked.
Another steak to come out of the program is the flat iron steak, which is a challenging cut to find from the top section of the chuck shoulder. Flat iron steak is a perfect grilling steak; it is tender and tasty when cooked on an open fire.
Short Ribs are a Chuck Cut, Too
Although it sounds like it should come entirely from the ribs primal, the best short ribs come from the chuck. The first few ribs of a cow—usually the second through fifth ribs—are in the chuck primal section. The meat in this section is often tough, which is why short ribs are best cooked over a long period of time with a good marinade or rub.
Culturally, short ribs have been prominent in East Asian and Middle Eastern cooking traditions. However, they have emerged more recently as a delectable treat in the U.S. and can be cooked in a number of ways.
Chef Yankel describes short ribs as “the kings of the braising cuts.” We love slow-cooking them bone-in with a sweet marinade.
“Short ribs are packed with healthy fats and collagen,” Chef Yankel added. “Nothing compares for texture and flavor.”