Choosing Beef to Buy


Comes from steers or uncalved heifers. It is still the most popular meat in Great Britain, for its versatility as well as its flavour and food value. British beef is most plentiful in autumn, but imported beef is available throughout the year. All beef should be hung by the butcher or wholesaler for about ten days to tenderize before it is sold.

What to look for Only freshly cut meat is a bright colour. Exposure to the air turns it brown, but if the meat is fresh, this does not affect its eating quality at all. The colour of the fat will range from white to pale yellow: the food the animal ate determines this.

Lean meat is muscle and the texture varies according to the age of the animal and the cut of beef. Muscles used frequently — those in the neck and legs, for instance — will be more coarsely grained and show visible connective tissue (gristle). This meat needs long, slow cooking to make it tender. Cuts with little gristle, such as rump or fillet, are used for roasting and grilling. Cheap cuts are often used to make mince. It is better to buy the meat in a piece and mince it at home.

  • Brisket An economical buy, sold on the bone or boned and rolled; excellent for braising and pot-roasting. You will often find it salted for pressed or corned beef.
  • Chuck and blade After the outer fat has been removed, this cut is usually boned and sold as chuck or blade bone steak. It needs long, slow cooking and is best braised, stewed or used in pies.
  • Flank (thick flank or top rump) A lean joint, cut from the hindquarters. Whole, it may be slow-roasted, pot-roasted or braised; in slices, braised or fried.
  • Flank (thin) An inexpensive cut which contains gristle. It becomes tender after slow cooking. It is often sold pre-salted or as mince.
  • Neck and clod A cheap cut, usually sold as stewing steak or mince.
  • Rib (fore) The traditional cut for roast beef. Usually sold on the bone but you may buy it boned and rolled.
  • Rib (thin and thick) Sometimes known as middle rib, this joint is ideal for slow or pot-roasting and braising. You will often find it boned and rolled.
  • Rib (wing) Excellent for roasting. Often sold boned and sliced as steaks.
  • Shin (foreleg) and leg (hind-leg) A lean cut with a good flavour and a high proportion of gristle. It needs long, slow cooking, so use it for stews, casseroles and stock.
  • Silverside A lean, boned joint. Roast it fresh, or buy it salted and boil it with carrots. Dumplings are a traditional accompaniment.
  • Sirloin This is an expensive but delicious and tender cut of beef. You can buy it on the bone or boned and rolled for roasting. It is often cut into slices for grilling. The fillet is sometimes used in dishes like Beef Wellington.
  • Steaks The most tender cuts of beef are often sold sliced, as steaks. Fillet, sirloin and rump are the best. When you eat a Tournedos steak in a restaurant, it comes from the fillet, as does a fillet mignon and a Chateaubriand. An entrecOte comes from the top part of the sirloin. Other popular steaks are T-bone, Aitch-bone and Porterhouse.
  • Topside Excellent for long, slow cooking, because it can be tough, this is a lean, boneless joint.


The best British veal comes from 3 to 4 month old calves which have been reared on a special diet of milk and fatty foods. This helps to keep their flesh very pale in colour. This meat is very expensive though and ‘bobby calves’ (less than three weeks old) and imported veal are the types more often seen in the shops. Holland is the chief exporter of veal to this country.

Veal is a very lean meat and can be very bland. It is much improved by being generously larded before it is roasted (to keep the meat moist) and by being cooked with other, more flavourful ingredients. Stuffings and rich sauces are commonly served with veal and your seasoning can be on the generous side. Although it is an expensive meat, the leanness means that there is little or no waste.

What to look for

Veal should be moist, soft, fine-grained and covered with a very thin layer of creamy white fat. Don’t buy flabby wet meat, dry brown meat or mottled, bluish meat. The colour of veal will vary from off-white to pale salmon pink; the flavour is always delicate.

  • Breast An economical cut sold boned and rolled for roasting, or diced for pies and stews.
  • Escalope A slice taken from the haunch, cut transversely across the grain of the meat. It is usually beaten until thin, then coated with egg and breadcrumbs, and fried.
  • Fillet The most expensive cut from the top of the leg. It has no wastage. It may be bought whole, for roasting, or in slices, as medaillons.
  • Knuckle A cheaper cut from the lower part of the leg. Braise or stew it. The shin is often cut into pieces 5-8 cm
  • (2-3 in) long. Rich in marrow, they are cooked with tomatoes, herbs and wine to make the classic Italian dish Osso Buco.
  • Leg A large and expensive joint: use it for roasting.
  • Loin A large joint from the back. It can be sold on the bone or boned and rolled, but is often cut into chops.
  • Neck (best end) Most often sold boned, stuffed and rolled for roasting; but often bought on the bone in a piece or as cutlets.
  • Neck (middle) A cheaper cut, used for braising, stewing and in pies.
  • Scrag An inexpensive, boney cut, used for stews.
  • Shoulder Known as ‘oyster’ when boned, this is the most economical roasting joint.