It’s a common protein staple on Aussie dinner plates – and a nutritional powerhouse to boot! But with so many cuts of beef to choose from, which is best for you? Dietitian Vanessa Furlong investigates.
Beef is an excellent source of protein (150g of uncooked/100g cooked lean beef provides 50% of your RDI) and is loaded with essential nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3.
Although some cuts can be fatty, most can easily be trimmed of fat, making almost all cuts a healthy option. You can also purchase pre-trimmed or ‘lean’ cuts of beef to save time.
Is grass-fed or grain-fed better?
All cattle are grass-fed for the first 18 months, then either remain grass-fed or are switched to a grain diet. It’s not uncommon to see beef marketed/categorised according to the length of time it was grain-fed. Despite the different feeding methods, the nutritional profile of grass-fed and grain-fed beef is similar, although the longer cattle are fed on grass, the higher their levels of omega-3.
Is hormone-fed beef unsafe?
Australian guidelines permit the use of growth hormones to increase the weight of cattle. With the use of hormone-fed beef in the news recently, reviews conducted by authorities on the safety of hormone supplementation have consistently found hormone-fed beef to be safe for human consumption. In fact, the hormones most commonly used – oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone – occur naturally in a wide range of foods. About 40 per cent of cattle in Australia are treated with growth hormones. According to Meat & Livestock Australia, the difference in hormone levels between hormone-fed and hormone-free beef is negligible. However, if you are still concerned, hormone-free beef is widely available from supermarkets and butchers.
Cuts and cooking methods
The most common breeds of cattle in Australia are Hereford, Murray Grey and Angus.
Beef cuts can be generally categorised according to the part of the cow they come from: forequarter; breast and flank; middle back; and hindquarter. Different cuts of beef lend themselves to different styles of cooking – so knowing which cooking method is best suited for particular cuts enhances the tenderness of the meat and the overall flavour of the dish.
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1 Chuck is both tasty and economical, but needs to be cooked slowly to break down the muscle fibres and make it more tender. Chuck steak or diced chuck is best suited to slow-cooked casseroles.
2 Blade is the muscle that sits on the shoulder. Blade cuts, such as oyster blade steak and minute steak, are well suited to stir-frying or pan-frying.
3 Beef shin, also referred to as the shank, comes from the shin of the cow. Due to the large amount of connective tissue, it can be very tough, but when slow-cooked it will fall off the bone.
Breast and flank cuts
4 Brisket is cut from the lower chest and is quite tough, because the muscle supports the weight of the cow. Brisket is prone to being quite fatty, so should be trimmed prior to cooking. Due to the large amount of connective tissue in this cut, it is best suited to long, slow cooking.
5 Skirt steak, also known as flank steak, is a long, flat cut of beef that is considered to be one of the cheapest and toughest cuts but has lots of flavour. It’s best suited to braising and will benefit from marinating, which helps tenderise the meat. Hangar steak is also found in the same area as the skirt steak.
6 Ribs are typically purchased as a standing rib roast, rib cutlets or short ribs. They have quite a high fat content and are one of the more difficult cuts to trim. They are well suited to pan-frying, grilling or oven roasting, in the case of a rib roast. Short ribs should be slow-cooked.
7 Rib eye, also known as Scotch fillet – which is rib eye off the bone – comes from the rib area and is suited to both grilling and pan-frying.
Middle back cuts
8 Sirloin/Porterhouse/New York steaks are considered to be the finest of the beef steaks. They are typically marbled and contain a layer of outside fat, which can be trimmed, and are well suited to grilling or pan-frying.
9 Fillet/tenderloin is leaner than sirloin, with little external fat. It is the most tender cut and retains its tenderness even when cooked to well-done. Filet Mignon is a cut from the small end of the tenderloin and is usually the most expensive cut by weight. It’s suited to grilling, stir-frying and pan-frying.
10 T-bone steak has fillet on one side of the T-shaped bone and sirloin on the other. It is well suited to pan-frying or grilling.
11 Silverside is the most popular cut for corned beef. It is a fairly lean cut of meat with little or no marbling or fat. It is not the most tender of cuts but it’s an acceptable and economical roast when slow-cooked.
12 Topside sits on the inside of the hindquarters and top of the leg – and for that reason is also referred to as the ‘inside’. It is extremely lean and therefore makes an excellent mince or schnitzel meat.
13 Rump steak/rump roast is well regarded for its flavour but can be tough if not cooked properly. Rump steak tastes best when pan-fried or grilled. Rump roast is best suited to oven roasting or braising.
14 Round and knuckle runs lengthways down the leg and stops just above the knee. Because it is a working muscle, it is quite tough so needs to be cooked slowly to get the best results.
When selecting mince, ask your butcher for lean mince or look for a ‘heart smart’ sticker on the package. Mince with less than 4g saturated fat per 100g is considered to be lean and qualifies for the National Heart Foundation Tick. Lean mince contains approximately 730kJ, 7g total fat and 3.2g saturated fat per 100g cooked. Regular mince contains approximately 942kJ, 12.9g total fat and 5.7g saturated fat.
There are two primary methods for ageing beef: dry ageing and wet ageing. Both types of ageing methods act as tenderising agents, but wet ageing is more common because it takes less time, none of the weight is lost and is less expensive than dry ageing beef.
Wet-aged beef is typically aged for several days or up to a few weeks in a vacuum-sealed bag to retain its moisture.
Dry-aged beef is hung to dry for longer period of time (up to 35 days), which results in it losing moisture and developing a more concentrated flavour.
Purchase and storage
Good quality beef should have little or no odour and the fat should have a creamy texture. Raw meat carries bacteria so must be stored carefully to avoid contamination. Unless you plan to cook the meat on the day it’s purchased, remove meat from any packaging and place in a container with a lid or on a plate and cover with cling film. This prevents the meat from coming into contact with other food or absorbing odours. Roasts can generally be stored in the fridge for 3–4 days, steaks for 2–3 days, and mince/cut meat for 2 days.
Beef can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 2–3 months in the case of mince/cut meat; 3–4 months for steaks and 4–6 months for roasts.
How often can I eat beef (and how much)?
The Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines recommend adults consume lean red meat 3–4 times a week, with one serve equating to about 100g cooked meat or the size of the palm of your hand. Trimmed beef contains on average: 724kJ, 5.3g fat and 1.8g saturated fat per 100g cooked.
Buying beef at a glance
Purchase pre-trimmed or lean cuts whenever possible – and always trim any visible fat before cooking. The leanest cuts are generally fillet or tenderloin, filet mignon, topside, silverside. Brisket, ribs and sirloin/Porterhouse/New York cuts tend to be fattier cuts.
Select lean mince (less than 4g saturated fat/100g)
Hormone-fed beef is considered safe for human consumption, but hormone-free beef is available.
If you aren’t planning to eat your beef on the day of purchase, remove it from packaging and store in an air-tight container or wrapped in cling wrap. Beef can be stored for 2–4 days in the fridge or for 2–6 months in the freezer.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends eating 100g cooked lean red meat 3–4 times a week.
Economical cuts are beef mince, blade steak, chuck steak, shin, skirt steak and rump steak.