An uncooked rib roast
Beef is the meat of cattle, such as this Glan Cattle cow

Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, especially domestic cattle (cows). Beef is one of the principal meats used in the cuisine of Australia, Argentina, Europe and America, and is also important in Africa, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Beef is considered a taboo food in some cultures: especially in Hinduism (although not strictly forbidden[1]), it is also discouraged among some Buddhists.

Beef muscle meat can be cut into steak, roasts or short ribs. Some cuts are processed (corned beef or beef jerky), and trimmings, usually mixed with meat from older, leaner cattle, are ground, minced or used in sausages. The blood is used in some varieties of blood sausage. Other parts that are eaten include the oxtail, tongue, tripe from the reticulum or rumen, gland (particularly the pancreas and thymus) referred to as sweetbread, the heart, the brain (although forbidden where there is a danger of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE), the liver, the kidneys, and the tender testicles of the bull (known in the US as calf fries, prairie oysters, or Rocky Mountain oysters). Some intestines are eaten as-is, but are used more often as natural sausage casings. The lungs and the udder are considered unfit for human consumption in the US. Beef bones are used for making beef stock.

Beef from steers and heifers are equivalent, except for steers having slightly less fat and more muscle, all treatments being equal. Depending on economics, the number of heifers kept for breeding varies. Older animals are used for beef when they are past their reproductive prime. The meat from older cows and bulls is usually tougher, so it is frequently used for mince (UK)/ground beef (US). Cattle raised for beef may be allowed to roam free on grasslands, or may be confined at some stage in pens as part of a large feeding operation called a feedlot, where they are usually fed a ration of grain, protein, roughage and a vitamin/mineral preblend.

In absolute numbers, the United States, Brazil, Japan and the People's Republic of China are the world's four largest consumers of beef.[2] On a per capita basis, Argentina is the largest consumer of beef, with 65.2 kilograms per year, followed by the United States with 43.8 kilograms per year, and Australia with 37.5 kilograms per year.[3]

The world's largest exporters of beef are Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Canada.[4] Beef production is also important to the economies of Uruguay, Nicaragua, Russia and Mexico.

Argentine people eat the most beef in the world at 64.6 kg/year. People in the EU eat 16.9 kg. USA is at 40.2 kg. [5]


The flesh of bovines has been eaten by hunters from prehistoric times; some of the earliest known cave paintings such as those of Lascaux show aurochs in hunting scenes. Domestication of cattle occurred around 8000 BC, providing ready access to beef, milk and leather.[6] Most cattle originated in the Old World with the exception of bison hybrids. Examples include the Wagyu from Japan, Ankole-Watusi from Egypt, and longhorn Zebu from the Indian subcontinent.[7] Cattle were widely used across the Old World for draft animals (oxen), milk production, or specifically for meat production, depending on local needs and resources. With mechanization of farming, some breeds were specifically bred to increase meat yield, like Chianina and Charolais or improve texture like the Murray Grey, Angus or Wagyu. Some breeds (dual-purpose) have been selected for meat and milk production, like Brown Swiss (Braunvieh).


The word beef is from Old French, in contrast to cow, which is Germanic. After the Norman Conquest, the French-speaking nobles who ruled England naturally used French words to refer to the meats they were served, while the Germanic words were retained to refer to the live animals.

Thus the animal was called cu (cow) by the Anglo-Saxon peasants but the meat was called boef (ox) (Modern French boeuf) by the French nobles—who did not often deal with the live animal—when it was served to them for dinner.

This is one example of the common English dichotomy between the words for animals (with largely Germanic origins) and their meat (with Romanic origins) that is also found in such English word-pairs swine/pork, sheep/mutton, and chicken/poultry.[8]


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Beef is first divided into primal cuts. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. Since the animal's legs and neck muscles do the most work, they are the toughest; the meat becomes more tender as distance from hoof and horn increases. Different countries have different cuts and names.

The American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote in the American Anthropological Journal of the American Anthropological Association, that "cultures that divide and cut beef specifically to consume are the Koreans and the Bodi tribe in East Africa. The French and English make 35 differentiations to the beef cuts, 51 cuts for the Bodi tribe, while the Koreans differentiate beef cuts into a staggering 120 different parts."

See the external links section below for links to more beef cut charts and diagrams.

American primal cuts

American cuts of beef.

The following is a list of the American primal cuts, ordered front to back, then top to bottom. The short loin and the sirloin are sometimes considered as one section (loin).

Upper half cuts

Lower half cuts

Cut Description
Brisket often associated with barbecue beef brisket.
Shank used primarily for stews and soups; it is not usually served any other way due to it being the toughest of the cuts.
Plate produces short ribs for pot roasting and types of steak such as the outside skirt steak for, say, fajitas and hanger steak. It is typically a cheap, tough, and fatty meat.
Flank used mostly for grinding, except for the long and flat flank steak, best known for use in London broil. Once one of the most affordable steaks on the market, it is substantially tougher than the loin and rib steaks, therefore many flank recipes use marinades[clarification needed] or moist cooking methods such as braising. Popularity and leanness have resulted in increased price.

British primal cuts

British cuts of beef.

Special beef designations

Beef rump steak on grill pan, cooked to medium rare
 Spain - Carne de Ávila, Carne de Cantabria, Carne de la Sierra de Guadarrama, Carne de Morucha de Salamanca, Carne de Vacuno del País o Euskal Okela
 France - Taureau de Camargue, Boeuf charolais du Bourbonnais, Boeuf de Chalosse, Boeuf du Maine
 Portugal - Carne Alentejana, Carne Arouquesa, Carne Barrosã, Carne Cachena da Peneda, Carne da Charneca, Carne de Bovino Cruzado dos Lameiros do Barroso, Carne dos Açores, Carne Marinhoa, Carne Maronesa, Carne Mertolenga, Carne Mirandesa
 United Kingdom - Orkney Beef, Scotch Beef, Welsh Beef

USDA beef grades

Inspected carcasses tagged by the USDA

In the United States, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) operates a voluntary beef grading program. The meat processor pays for a trained AMS meat grader to grade whole carcasses at the abattoir. Users are required to comply with Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) grade labeling procedures. The official USDA grade designation can appear in one or any combination of the following ways: container markings, individual bags, legible roller brand appearing on the meat itself, or by a USDA shield stamp that incorporates the quality and/or yield grade.

There are eight beef quality grades. The grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef, and the maturity (estimated age of the animal at slaughter). Some meat scientists object to the current scheme of USDA grading since it is not based on direct measurement of tenderness, although marbling and maturity are indicators of tenderness. Most other countries' beef grading systems mirror the US model. Most beef offered for sale in supermarkets is graded US Choice or Select. US Prime beef is sold to hotels and upscale restaurants. Beef that would rate as US Standard or less is almost never offered for grading.

Utility, Cutter, and Canner grade are rarely used in foodservice operations and primarily used by processors and canners.

There are five beef yield grades - 1 to 5, which estimate the yield of saleable product, with YG 1 having the highest and YG 5 the lowest. Although consumers rarely see or are aware of it, yield grade was an important marketing tool for packers and retailers. The conversion from carcass and bone-in primals to boneless, trimmed cuts has reduced the importance.

Traditionally, beef sold in steakhouses and supermarkets has been advertised by its USDA grade; however, many restaurants and retailers have recently begun advertising beef on the strength of brand names and the reputation of a specific breed of cattle, such as black Angus.[11][12]

Aging and tenderization

To improve tenderness of beef, it often is aged (i.e., stored refrigerated) to allow endogenous proteolytic enzymes to weaken structural and myofibrillar proteins. Wet aging is accomplished using vacuum packaging to reduce spoilage and yield loss. Dry aging involves hanging primals (usually ribs or loins) in humidity-controlled coolers. Outer surfaces dry out and can support growth of molds (and spoilage bacteria, if too humid), resulting in trim and evaporative losses. Evaporation concentrates the remaining proteins and increases flavor intensity; the molds can contribute a nut-like flavor. The majority of the tenderizing effect occurs in the first 10 days, although two to three days allow significant effects. Boxed beef, stored and distributed in vacuum packaging, is, in effect, wet aged during distribution. Premium steakhouses dry age for 21 to 28 days or wet age up to 45 days for maximum effect on flavor and tenderness. Meat from less tender cuts or older cattle can be mechanically tenderized by forcing small, sharp blades through the cuts to disrupt the proteins. Also, solutions of exogenous proteolytic enzymes (papain, bromelin or ficin) can be injected to augment the endogenous enzymes. Similarly, solutions of salt and sodium phosphates can be injected to soften and swell the myofibrillar proteins. This improves juiciness and tenderness. Salt can improve the flavor, but phosphate can contribute a soapy flavor.

Cooking and preparation

Dry heat

Roast beef cooked under high heat
Method Description
Grilling is cooking the beef over or under a high radiant heat source, generally in excess of 650 °F (343 °C). This leads to searing of the surface of the beef, which creates a flavorful crust. In the U.S.A., Australia, Canada, and the UK grilling, particularly over charcoal, is sometimes known as barbecuing, often shortened to BBQ. When cooked over charcoal, this method can also be called Charbroiling.
Broiling is similar to grilling, but specifically with the heat source above the meat. Outside North America, this is known as grilling.
Roasting is a way of cooking meat in a hot oven, producing roast beef. Liquid is not usually added; the beef may be basted by fat on the top, or by spooning hot fat from the oven pan over the top. A gravy may be made from the cooking juices, after skimming off excess fat.
Stirfrying is a typically Chinese and Asian way of cooking. Cooking oil with flavourings such as garlic, ginger and onions are put in a very hot wok. Then slices of meat are added, followed by ingredients which cook quicker: mixed vegetables, etc. The dish is ready when the ingredients are 'just cooked'.

Internal temperature

Main article: Temperature (meat)

Grilled or roast beef can be cooked to various degrees, from very rare to well done. The degree of cooking corresponds to the temperature in the approximate center of the meat, which can be measured with a meat thermometer.

Rarity Temperature Description
Very rare 115–125 °F (46–52 °C) Blood-red meat, soft, slightly juicy
Rare 125–135 °F (52–57 °C) Red center, gray surface, soft, juicy
Medium rare 135–145 °F (57–63 °C) Dark Pink throughout, gray-brown surface, very juicy
Medium 145–155 °F (63–68 °C) Pink center, becomes gray-brown towards surface
Medium well 155–165 °F (68–74 °C) Thin line of pink, firm texture.
Well done >165 °F (74 °C) Gray-brown throughout, tough texture.

Moist heat

Moist heat cooking methods include braising, pot roasting, and stewing.

simmering meat, whole or cut into bite-size pieces, in a water-based liquid with flavourings.
cooking meats, in a covered container, with small amounts of liquids (usually seasoned or flavored). Unlike stewing, braised meat is not fully immersed in liquid.
Beef roasted with vinegar and sliced with spiced paste, often called as cold beef.

Meat has usually been cooked in water which is just simmering; higher temperatures make meat tougher. Since thermostatic temperature control became available, cooking at temperatures well below boiling, 65 °C (149 °F) to 90 °C (194 °F), for prolonged periods has become possible; this is just hot enough to dissolve connective tissue and kill bacteria, with minimal toughening.

Raw beef

Sliced beef.

Steak tartare is a French dish made from finely chopped or ground raw meat (often beef). More accurately, it is scraped so as not to let even the slightest of the sinew fat get into the scraped meat. It is often served with onions, capers, seasonings like fresh ground pepper and Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes raw egg. The Belgian dish filet américan is also made of finely chopped ground beef, though it is seasoned differently, and either eaten as a main dish or can be used as a dressing for a sandwich. Kibbeh nayyeh is a similar Lebanese dish. And, in Ethiopia, a ground raw meat dish called tire siga or Kitfo is eaten.

Carpaccio of beef is a thin slice of raw beef dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. Often the beef is partially frozen before slicing to allow very thin slices to be cut.

Yukhoe is a variety of hoe, raw dishes in Korean cuisine which is usually made from raw ground beef seasoned with various spices or sauces. The beef part used for yukhoe is tender rump steak. For the seasoning, soy sauce, sugar, salt, sesame oil, green onion, and ground garlic, sesame seed, black pepper and juice of bae (Korean pear) are used. The yolk of a raw egg is mostly topped on the beef.

Cured or smoked beef

Bresaola is an air-dried salted beef that has been aged about 2–3 months until it becomes hard and a dark red, almost purple colour. It is lean, has a sweet, musty smell and is tender. It originated in Valtellina, a valley in the Alps of northern Italy's Lombardy region. Bündnerfleisch is a similar product from neighbouring Switzerland.

Pastrami is often made from beef; raw beef is salted, then partly dried and seasoned with various herbs and spices and smoked.

Beef curry in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Corned beef is a cut of beef cured or pickled in a seasoned brine. The corn in corned beef refers to the grains of coarse salts (known as corns) used to cure it. The term corned beef can denote different styles of brine-cured beef, depending on the region. Some, like American-style corned beef, are highly seasoned and often considered delicatessen fare.

Beef jerky is dried, salted, smoked beef popular in the United States.

Biltong is a cured, salted, air dried beef popular in South Africa.

Spiced beef is a cured and salted joint of round, topside, or silverside, traditionally served at Christmas in Ireland. It is a form of salt beef, cured with spices and saltpetre, intended to be boiled or broiled in Guinness or a similar stout, and then optionally roasted for a period after.[13]

Religious prohibitions

Main article: Cattle in religion

Most followers of Hinduism do not eat beef, despite it not being expressly forbidden. Bovines have been highly revered as sacred to mankind in Indus Valley Civilizations since early historical times. Their role as a source of milk, dairy products and their relative importance to the pastoral Aryans who were among the earliest followers of Hinduism, allowed this special status for the Indian cattle, to develop.

During the season of Lent, Catholics traditionally give up all meat and poultry products as a religious act of fasting. Some Catholics choose to give up these food for the entire 40 days of Lent while others abstain only on Fridays, sometimes annually.

Nutrition and health

Beef is a good source of minerals such as zinc, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and B vitamins.[14] Red meat is the most significant dietary source of carnitine and, like any other meat or fish, is a source of creatine.

Health concerns

A study released in 2007 by the World Cancer Research Fund reported “strong evidence that red meat and processed meats are causes of bowel cancer” and recommends that people eat less than 500 grams (18 oz) of cooked red meat weekly, and as little processed meat as possible. The report also recommends that average consumption in populations should not exceed 300 grams (11 oz) per week, stating that this goal "corresponds to the level of consumption of red meat at which the risk of colorectal cancer can clearly be seen to rise."[15] Lean beef, with its high selenium and B12 content, may actually lower the risk of colon cancer.[14]

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that consumers eat red meat sparingly as it has high levels of undesirable saturated fat.[16] Like some other animal products (such as whole milk), red meat provides a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid which may protect against several diseases along with the saturated fat.[17] Beef's high content of B6 and B12 may help lower homocysteine.[14]

Mad cow disease

Main article: Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

In 1984 the use of meat and bone meal in cattle feed resulted in the world's first outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or, colloquially, mad cow disease) in the United Kingdom.[18]

Since then, other countries have had outbreaks of BSE:

See also


  1. ^ Serving Beef at Ayodhya, article from The Times of India.[1]
  2. ^ "Major Countries Beef Production and Consumption" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-05-03. USDA PDF
  3. ^ "Beef: Per Capita Consumption Summary Selected Countries" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-03. USDA PDF
  4. ^ "World Beef Overview". Retrieved 2008-05-03. USDA
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Late Neolithic megalithic structures at Nabta Playa". Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  7. ^ "History of Cattle Breeds". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  8. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000: beef.
  9. ^ "Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) / Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)". European Commission — Agriculture and Rural Development. Retrieved 2007-08-10.
  10. ^ Salvage, B. 2009 "Leading the Herd", Meat Processing, June 2009, p. 61
  11. ^ "Branded Beef Booming". Denver Post. 2003-06-17. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  12. ^ Michael Chu. "USDA Beef Quality Grades". Cooking for Engineers. Retrieved 2007-08-10.
  13. ^ Recipe for traditional dry spiced beef - An Bord Bia
  14. ^ a b c
  15. ^ 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund
  16. ^ Harvard School of Public Health – Healthy Eating Pyramid
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Timeline: BSE and vCJD". news service. 13 December 2004. Retrieved 2007-08-10.
  19. ^ Canadian beef industry loses patience over border dispute