Mar 10, 2020 | Cooking Tips

This week in the fourth and final part of Understanding Ingredients, we are going to look at beef, pork, chicken, and fish. We’ll look at the most common cuts, and types, how to use them, and how to buy them. But first, why is this important?

Knowing what cuts of meat to use for what recipe or cooking technique will make cooking easier, and yield better results. For example, cooking a tougher cut of beef like a steak may make you think you can’t cook steak, when in fact, you just are not using the right cut. On the flip side of that, using an expensive cut like tenderloin for stew is just a waste.

Let’s get to it.

This is…



Beef comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be quite daunting standing at the butcher counter or the meat aisle at the grocery store. You don’t want to buy the wrong cut for what you’re doing, but maybe you don’t really know what the right cut is. Here, we are going to break beef down into the most common cuts you will find at the grocery store, and we will look at what you can do with them.

Ground Beef

First and foremost, we have ground beef. You’ve seen it. You’ve used it. You’re familiar with it. The only real note about ground beef is to watch which one you’re buying. Generally, you are going to see extra lean, lean, medium, and just regular ground beef. This refers to the percentage of fat that is ground with the meat. Regular ground beef contains no more than 30% fat. Medium ground beef has no more than 23% fat. Lean has no more than 17% and extra lean ground beef has less than 10% fat.

Though it seems logical that for most purposes you may want extra lean ground beef this isn’t always the case. In fact, for a lot of purposes, extra-lean ground beef will not do. When formed into a burger, meatloaf, or meatball, extra-lean ground beef can take on a dry, mealy texture which is unpleasant. This is due exclusively to the lack of fat present in the meat. Fat in ground meat adds flavour, and texture to the finished product. However, too much fat can make foods feel greasy and unpleasant in their own right. That’s why I prefer medium ground beef as a good all-purpose choice.

For some uses such as sauce making, you may prefer to use the extra lean ground. Although the resulting sauce will have less overall fat, it will also have less overall flavour, and the same texture as a sauce made with ground turkey or chicken. If low fat is your goal, then yes use extra lean. If you are just trying to cut fat back a little, use lean. And, if you don’t want to sacrifice taste for less fat, use medium.

The other main thing to think about when it comes to choosing the right ground beef is the price. The leaner the meat the more expensive it will be. Meat costs more than fat. So, the more fat in the grind, the less it will cost. Again, this is why I prefer medium ground beef. It is cheaper than lean or extra lean, and if you really want to you can pour off some of the fat after it’s cooked.


In the next section of my Free Basic Cooking Course, we will be covering basic cooking techniques. As part of that, we will look in-depth at braising so I’m not going to get into too much here. What I will say is braising is a technique best used for tough pieces of meat. Generally, the more a muscle gets used the tougher it will be, but also the more flavourful. Ideal pieces of meat for braising come from the most used parts of an animal’s body. These cuts of meat are also typically cheaper. Because of this, there is a serious benefit to learning the technique of braising.

Now, let’s take a look at some cuts of beef you will likely encounter in the grocery store that are ideal for braising.

Beef Oxtail

Oxtail is what it sounds like. It is the tail of a cow, ox, bison, or any kind of cattle. It used to be dirt cheap, but then about 10 years ago high-end restaurants all over the place started to use it and the price went through the roof. The prices are still very high for a cut of meat that used to be a throwaway. As I’m sure you can imagine a cow uses it’s tail a lot. This means that oxtail is likely very tough. Which of course it is.

Oxtail is most commonly used for soup, in Jamaican food, or even to make ravioli.

Osso Bucco

Osso Buco means “bone with a hole” in Italian. The reason why this is called that is that it is cut across the bone leaving a little hole with bonemarrow in it. When the osso buco is cooked, that marrow mostly melts away leaving a hole. The term Osso Buco also refers to an Italian dish made with this specific cut of beef. This cut comes from the shank or shin of the cow. Again, as you can imagine, it is a well-used piece of meat.

Osso Buco is very cheap at the grocery store though, you often have to pick through what is on display because some of the cuts will have little to no meat on them.

Other uses for this cut include soup and stock.

Stewing Beef

Stewing beef is most often sold already cut up. At the grocery store stewing beef is generally leftover roasts that haven’t sold and that are close to going off. If you buy it this way, use it within 24 hours. Generally, the beef used for stew is known as chuck which is also most commonly used for ground beef. Chuck comes from the front shoulder of the cow which is a very used muscle. If you can’t find chuck beef you can cut up a top sirloin or rump roast.

Short Ribs

Beef short ribs are exactly what they sound like; beef ribs that have been cut short. Most commonly, beef short ribs are cut about 6 inches long and have a piece of meat of varying thicknesses. There is a second style of short rib that is most often used in Korean cooking. Korean short ribs are thin cut across the bone and may consist of 2-3 pieces of bone. This style of short rib is generally marinated then quickly grilled while the thicker single style ribs are braised.


Other than ground beef I think it is fair to say that the most popular way to eat beef is in the form of steaks. As we all know, there are multiple cuts of steak out there. Let’s take a look at which one is which.

Strip loin

Striploin, also known as a New York Strip, or strip steak is cut from the short loin which comes from the top back third of the cow. The short loin is a muscle that is lightly exercised making it nice and tender. Generally, the strip loin is sold “cap on” meaning there is a cap of fat up to 1 inch thick on top of the steak.

Stirp loins are good steaks however there is typically very little marbling. Marbling means fat distribution throughout the meat. This lack of marbling leads to less flavour than some other steaks. Strip loins are best grilled, pan-fried, or broiled.

Ribeye (Rib steak)

The ribeye, also known as a Delmonico steak is cut from the centre rib section of the cow. Some people find it to be a fatty cut, however, to myself and people like me, that fat makes ribeye one of the best cuts of steak.

Beef Tenderloin

Beef Tenderloin, or Fillet, is the most a very tender cut of steak. As you can probably guess by now, it is a muscle that pretty much never gets used. That’s why it is so tender. However, what the beef tenderloin has in tenderness, it lacks in flavour. The tenderloin is also a fairly small muscle. This small size and its tenderness is what makes tenderloin so expensive.


When buying chicken your options are actually fairly limited. You can buy whole chickens, chicken legs (thigh, and drum), thighs (bone-in, skin-on, or boneless, skinless), breast (bone-in, skin-on, or boneless, skinless, or what’s known as an airline breast which is skin-on, one wing bone still attached and cleaned), and wings. If you live in Europe you may also have the option of buying a young or old chicken. The old chickens are egg layers that have gone past the laying prime. We don’t have these in North America.

It is important to note that the more something is processed, the more it is going to cost. This is as true for chicken as it is for anything else. So, a boneless, skinless chicken breast is going to be considerably more expensive than a chicken breast which still has the bones and the skin. If you are roasting your chicken breast I recommend buying it bone-in, and skin-on. Once the breast is cooked the meat can easily be pulled away from the bones, and the skin will easily pull away from the meat. This will cost you 10-15% less than buying boneless, skinless breast, and it is likely going to taste better because both the skin and the bones help to add flavour and keep the chicken breast moist.

In terms of use, whole chickens are terrific when roasted or grilled. Whole legs can be braised, roasted, or grilled. Thighs can be roasted, diced and stewed (made into a curry), or grilled. Chicken breasts can be roasted, grilled, or cut into strips and stir-fried. There are obviously other ways to cook chicken and chicken pieces, but these are the most common, and the best suited to the part.


Surprisingly, despite the fact that I live right on the Atlantic Ocean, the types of fish that we are able to regularly get are fairly limited. Generally, at the grocery store, we are going to see haddock, salmon, char, cod, and halibut. On occasion, we may see red snapper, trout, or mackerel. Of course, there are always mussels, clams, lobster, and scallops.

When it comes to fish there are two types, round fish, and flatfish. Examples of round fish include salmon, haddock, trout, etc. Flatfish include halibut and sole and many more you are unlikely to see. The main difference between round fish and flatfish is obviously their shape. However, there is one other important difference; a flatfish yields four fillets while a round fish yields only two. This only really matters if you are buying whole fish and cleaning them yourself though.

Flat Fish


Halibut is the most common flatfish you are going to encounter at your local grocery store. It is a delicious fish with a white firm meaty flesh and tough skin that isn’t eaten. Halibut can be grilled, poached, pan-fried, or roasted. It has a clean, mild flavour and is very lean when compared to fattier fish like salmon.

Round Fish


Salmon is the most commonly eaten fish in North America. It has flesh which ranges in colour from pink to bright orange. Due to overfishing, most if not all Atlantic Salmon is farmed while most pacific salmon are still wild-caught. The main difference between wild and farmed salmon is in flavour and environmental impact. Farmed fish have a bad reputation of wreaking havoc on local ecosystems and indigenous salmon populations. However, through regulation, higher industry standards, and new technologies, this issues are improving over time. It is very likely that in the near future the vast majority of fish sold and consumed will be farmed.

Salmon can be grilled, roasted, broiled, poached, smoked (hot or cold) or pan-fried. Both the flesh and skin (when descaled) can be eaten. Trout and Arctic char are members of the salmon family and can be prepared in most of the same ways.


Haddock is another very common fish. It is most commonly sold as fully cleaned fillets. Haddock has flakey white flesh with a mild flavour and it can be pan-fried, roasted, smoked or deep-fried.


Pork is a delicious and economical choice when walking through the aisle of the grocery store trying to decide what to eat. It is generally considerably cheaper than both beef and chicken and has more flavour. Most commonly pork is sold as chops, hams, roasts, sausage, or bacon. Let’s take a look.

Pork Chops

Pork chops are cut from the loin of the pig and may or may not have a piece of rib or backbone attached. The loin is one long, lean continuous muscle. Because of how lean the loin is, pork chops have a tendency to dry out when overcooked. However, the perfectly cooked pork chop is a thing of true beauty.

Pork chops come in a variety of sizes which range from very thin (fast-fry) to very thick (double cut). A very thick double-cut pork chop can be as thick as 2-3 inches. As I’ve said, pork chops come either bone-in or bone-out. Bone-in pork chops tend to be more flavorful, and juicy. However, there is a slight trade-off because, in order to get the meat right next to the bone fully cooked, the rest of the chop is typically overcooked. Boneless pork chops, on the other hand, tend to be slightly dry anyway.

Pork chops may be grilled, roasted, or pan-fried.


You may or may not run into pork belly at your local grocery store. But, if you do, you’re in luck! Pork belly is exactly what it sounds like, the belly meat of the pig. For whatever reason, people are often turned off by the term pork belly. However, these same people will crush a few strips of bacon at breakfast every day. Bacon is smoked pork belly.

In western cooking, other than using it for bacon, we don’t have a great tradition of using pork belly. That is our loss. For my money, pork belly is the best part of the pig. It does have a fair amount of fat, but that’s why I like it. Typically, pork belly is cooked by braising or slow roasting. Often it will then be cooked a second time with a high heat method such as grilling, deep-frying, and pan-frying.


Pork shoulder comes from the upper part of the front shoulder of the pig. This is the meat that is more commonly used to make sausage because it has the perfect ratio of meat to fat. Another common use for pork shoulder is to make pulled pork. You may also see shoulder steaks which are pieces of the shoulder cut into long thin pieces. These are best marinated and roasted or grilled. I also like to take these shoulder steaks, slice them thin and use that meat in stir-fries or fried rice.


Pork tenderloin is a very common cut. It is a short piece of meat, typically about 10-12 inches long, and very lean. Like the loin it is prone to overcooking because it is so lean.

Pork tenderloin is often stuffed, grilled, or roasted.


Finally, we have come to the end of our section of my Free Basic Cooking course all about basic ingredients. It’s has taken considerably longer than I had expected and I didn’t get to cover all the ingredients I wanted too. However, I think there is a lot of terrific content within these four posts, and I hope that you think so too.

Please join me back here tomorrow as we take a look at some basic cooking techniques.



  1. From Kitchen Clueless to Food Independent: The Wrap Up – - […] Check out the full three part post here, here, here, and here. […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!