Primal beef cuts -- which are not the same thing as expensive "prime" cuts -- refer to the larger chunks of meat that come from the beef carcass. Generally, the body is divided into the forequarter and hindquarter sections. Within these two sections are eight different primal beef parts, which produce a long list of different cuts, from short ribs and sirloin steak, to skirt meat and shanks.
Chuck in Some Brisket
The chuck primal cut is around the shoulder area and lower neck of the animal. From the chuck, you get chuck steaks, chuck roll and roasting joints from the shoulder blade and arm. Much of the meat in this primal region is suitable for stewing and braising, including both boneless and boned roasting joints. Chuck meat is often ground for hamburgers and patties. The brisket, below the chuck, is a tough area of meat high in collagen. The toughness means that it needs long, slow cooking, such as smoking over mesquite chips.
Plate of Ribs
The beef rib primal cut contains all of the rib section cuts, including rib-eye steaks, short ribs, back ribs and prime rib. Short ribs are meaty and tender, with the rib bones left inside, while back ribs tend to have less meat on the bone. Prime rib is a thick and juicy cut of meat. Remove the bones from a cut of prime rib, and you get rib-eye steaks. Short ribs can also come from the plate section -- another primal cut from the forequarter. The plate contains skirt steak and other inexpensive cuts often used for grinding into mince or patties.
Gird Your Loins
The loin is divided into two subsections: the sirloin and the short loin. Some of the most sought-after parts of the animal come from the loin sections, including porterhouse and T-bone steaks, which are cut from the short loin. These are some of the most tender cuts of beef. The tapered tenderloin cut is considered the most tender of all, producing cuts such as filet steaks. Sirloin steak is similarly prime, but slightly tougher than the short loin cuts.
Round to the Flank
The primal section known as the "round" is at the rear of the animal, hence the names, rump roast and rump steak, from this area. Much like the brisket, meat from this section is tough and lean, so it needs long, moist cooking methods such as stewing or braising. The animal's flank is on its side, below the loin. Flank steaks from this area are thin and tough, often marinated and sometimes used in Mexican cuisine. The shank primal cuts are from around the shins of the animal. The shank has a strong, meaty flavor and a thick, marrow-rich bone in the center, making it suitable for soups and stews.