The beef shoulder clod is a portion of the carcass corresponding fairly closely to the butt portion in a hog. Although the shoulder in general is relatively tough, the individual muscles in the shoulder clod are quite tender and represent excellent value, for those with the necessary skills to break down the shoulder. This is a fairly straightforward process.
Breaking Down the Clod
Place the whole beef clod on your cutting board. The first muscle you'll remove is the shoulder tender, which is a small cylindrical muscle on top of the clod. It is held in place by a small quantity of fat and connective tissue. Cut through the connective tissue to separate, and set it aside. This muscle is not always present when the clod is purchased.
Cut away the top blade muscle from the remaining portion of the clod. The top blade is the other compact cylindrical muscle, on the side of the clod. Separate it by cutting along the natural seam, and set aside.
Trim off the two less-usable muscle groups from either end of the remaining large muscle, the shoulder center. The center is the rounded, largest remaining muscle. The other two sets of muscles are held on the center by seams of connective tissue. Follow the seams with your knife to remove these, and set them aside.
Reserve the two sets of tougher muscles for stew beef. Trim all surface fat from the shoulder center, top blade, and shoulder tender. Once the fat is removed, trim off the thin layer of silvery-gray connective tissue, called "silverskin." The shoulder center also has a long, rope-like muscle running along its underside. This should be removed, and used for stewing.
Turn the shoulder center on your cutting board, and you will see that it consists of two muscles with a layer of connective tissue dividing them. Separate these muscles, called the long head and the lateral head, by cutting along the layer of connective tissue.
Fabricating Retail Cuts
Cut the trimmed shoulder tender, or petite tender, crosswise into medallions. Prepare them like beef tenderloin medallions, by broiling or grilling. End pieces can be used for kebabs.
Trim one end from the top blade, once the surface fat and connective tissue have been removed. There is a clearly visible layer of connective tissue dividing this muscle in half. Cut along the connective tissue to free up two flat pieces of very tender, well-marbled beef. Cut these into flatiron steaks, trimming off the rounded ends if you wish.
Slice the lateral head, the smaller muscle of the shoulder center, into thin strips for stir-frying, or into cubes for kebabs or stew beef. It is a well-flavored muscle, but not as tender as the others.
Turn the long head, the longer of the two muscles from the shoulder center, so it runs from left to right on your cutting board. Cut it into ranch steaks, 3/4 inch in thickness. These are tender enough for grilling or broiling, though not as tender as flatiron steaks. The small pieces at the end can be used for kebabs or stew beef.
Although the shoulder is a relatively tough section of the beef carcass, these specific cuts are relatively tender and provide good value. Flatiron steaks are second only to the tenderloin, as the tenderest portions on a steer.