Have you found yourself discovering new and strange cuts at your local meat purveyor lately? It nearly seems as though we’ve discovered whole new bits of the steer! Sadly, there are no new magical parts of beef that didn’t exist before, but there is a very interesting trend happening, particularly amongst craft butchers.
More and more I’m seeing the local craft butcher’s lexicon start to resemble a real estate advertisement where we as the consumer are left to interpret their common meaning. When combing through house listings, we know that rustic means broke-ass, charming means small and remodeler’s delight means don’t even bother coming to look, you need to knock this thing down.
Well, the same thing is occurring in the meat case at the butcher shop. Cuts that already had perfectly good names are being given fancy foreign new monickers to jazz them up a little. Now, this concept isn’t entirely new. Back in the day, there was a push in Australia to rename the Sirloin as Porterhouse to increase interest in the cut by making it seem more exotic (and just to make it super confusing, both the sirloin and porterhouse in Australia are what’s known as the Strip in the USA…).
A butcher mate of mine isn’t a fan of this new habit, stating that he reckons ‘adding that flair to your shop’s vernacular just adds to the snobbery’. Me? I think it’s awesome to re-introduce people to lesser used cuts, kinda like trying to hide veggies in a kids meal to make ’em eat it, I’m just less enthusiastic when this tactic is used as a ruse to either overcharge customers or create a false sense of prestige.
Here are some of the cuts I’ve seen being touted recently, and what they actually are. Empower yourself with knowledge, people!
The numbers you see before the descriptions are the corresponding cut codes in both the North American Meat Processors Association Guide and Handbook Of Australian Meat.
Also known as: Top Sirloin Cap, Top Butt Cap, Rump Cap, Picanha,
(NAMP 184D, AusMeat 2091). A triangular shaped lean muscle from the Loin, which you may see whole or cut into narrow steaks. It can be a tougher cut, and lends itself just as much to slow braising and roasting as grilling. When it appears as a Brazilian Picanha (it’s the cut that looks like a horseshoe skewered onto the swords at churrascerias) it has a thick cap of fat over the top. It is definitely not the same thing as tri-tip, as some resources suggest.
Also known as: Bistro Steak or the somewhat unappealing name of Flap
(NAMP 1185A, AusMeat 2206) Of all French butchery terms infiltrating English-speaking butchers and restaurants, this is the one I see most. The Bavette is a thin but well-marbled piece similar to the flank or skirt steak, taken from the Bottom Sirloin area. It’s great for grilling and any ‘high and dry’ cooking methods, and needs to be sliced against the grain for serving. Here’s where Bavette can be confusing: technically this cut is a Bavette D’Aloyau, but you rarely see it referred to by it’s full name. There’s also a Bavette de Flanchet, which is the Flank, and plain ol’ Bavette is another word for the Chaînette, which is a strap-like side muscle that runs along the Tenderloin. As a general rule, if you see Bavette offered in a non-French establishment, it’ll likely be Flap.
Côte De Boeuf
Also know as: Rib Steak, Bone In Rib Eye, Cowboy Cut
(NAMP 1103, AusMeat 2244 [bone in]) This one should be pretty familiar. Yup, the French strike again. That fancy-ass côte de boeuf is nothing more than a bone-in rib eye. Which is actually not a bad thing, since Rib Eye is pretty much the best steak in the case. And while we’re on the subject, Prime Rib is when a bunch of Rib Eyes are left intact as a whole muscle before being cut into steaks.
Also know as: Boneless Rib Eye, Scotch Fillet
(NAMP 1103A, AusMeat 2244). Literally, the same thing as above, but without (or sans if you prefer to keep things Frenchy) the bone. English-speaking establishments who choose to use this name on their menu instead of Rib Eye are charged with the crime of snootiness.
Also know as: Strip, NY Strip, Kansas City Strip, Top Loin, Strip Loin, Hotel Steak, Club Steak, Shell Steak, Contre-filet, Porterhouse (Aus), Sirloin (Aus), etc etc…
(NAMP 1180, AusMeat 2140) Sorry, but I’m gunna have to get a little truth-bomby with this one too. A Strip steak is one of the most basic varieties known to most consumers. So if you’re a vendor in North America or Australia who’s labelling Strips with the completely redundant title of Ambassador steaks, you’re either really into showing off or like the challenge of confusing your customer. Honestly people, this is the meat version of saying Targé instead of Target.
So there you have it. Ironically, the NAMP and AusMeat guides were designed specifically to standardise industry terminology and combat the highly confusing issue of regional naming of cuts, but that’s exactly what we see happening with this trend of alternate-names.
And while the explanations above are accurate, there are always exceptions; the Delmonico steak, for example, could be one of up to nine different cuts! Don’t be afraid to just ask your butcher if there’s something you don’t understand, it’s a really great way to learn more about what you’re buying and get their recommendations on cooking methods too.
Photos courtesy of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association