We’re a whole animal butcher shop. We get whole animals in, and we cut them up. How we cut them depends on the season — we cut more for the grill in the warmer months, and more for roasting/braising/baking in the cooler months. And not all animals come in the same way. Take beef. Steer come cut by the slaughterhouse into large pieces called primals. If you’re curious about primals, here’s a beef primals primer.
As we wrote in The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, steer are pretty massive — like 1,000 to 1,500 pounds live weight. A 1,500 pound animal will produce a carcass of about 850 pounds. 85 percent of that is useable meat, bones, and fat. Seasons, feed, and genetics all influence a steer’s yield.
A carcass is categorized into two sides, and each side yields two quarters: the front half is the forequarter, and the rear is the hindquarter. Our slaughterhouse cuts the carcass into these halves, then divides it into four basic primals per side. From the forequarter come the arm chuck and the rib. From the hindquarter come the loin and the leg (conventionally this is called the round).
THE ARM CHUCK
This weighs from 100 to 200 pounds and comprises the entire shoulder section, including the first through fifth ribs. This is a heavily worked muscle grouping, and it contains more connective tissue than other regions, so most of the cuts coming from this area require a low, slow method of cooking like braising. This is also the area that provides the most amount of ground meat per animal.
This is one of the two most highly prized sections of the steer. It weighs 65 to 110 pounds and reaches from the sixth rib, adjoining the arm chuck, to the twelfth rib, nestled next to the loin. (There are thirteen ribs in each side of a steer’s body, twenty-six in all, and the thirteenth rib stays in the loin.) The rib runs along the animal’s back and includes higher-priced cuts that are generally grilled, seared, or roasted.
The loin weighs in at 55 to 100 pounds and runs from the end of the ribs to the steer’s behind (round). It’s filled with highly flavorful, very popular cuts. This is where the money meat comes from, so this primal is the most expensive.
The leg, aka the round, is 65 to 90 pounds and comprises the entire upper rear leg and includes the shank (on a human this would be the shin), making it a giant drumstick. This primal contains the femur and the aitchbone (hip socket) and provides the best marrow bones. The leg is made up mostly of “rounds,” which are tasty but lean and tough — ideal for roasting and braising.
If you’re interested in this kind of categorization, check out the chart of beef subprimals on page 172 of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat. There we get into the cuts you know and love.