S e a r c h



Information about beef

LOS ANGELES, California Chefs who aspire to Steak Perfection face complex issues in the selection and preparation of beef steaks.  The most popular beef cut for steak is the New York strip or the tenderloin, but there are many other beef cuts that are often used for steak.  This will explain some of the facts concerning beef steaks.  See the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website for more information.

Breeds of cattle

There are dozens of breeds of cattle in the world.  Many breeds were developed for milk cattle, like the Holstein.  Others were developed for meat production, such as the Angus.

Oklahoma State University maintains a website for cattle breeds.

Number and names of beef sections and cuts

There are about 300 cuts of beef that are regularly marketed, but there are more than 1,000 names for these cuts.  Further confusion arises because names and labels differ from one part of the country to another. 

Barbecue cooks should learn the basics about beef cuts, USDA Grading, labeling and tenderization rules, and the like.

IMPS/NAMP identification numbers

In order to eliminate the confusing names given to meat cuts in different regions and by different vendors, a uniform system of designating cuts has been developed, and each beef, pork and lamb cut is identifiable by a numbering system under the IMPS/NAMP system.

IMPS means the USDA approved Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) for fresh beef, pork and lamb.  NAMP means the North American Meat Processors Association, which has been issuing a Meat Buyer's Guide since 1963, and has been issuing the Poultry Buyers Guide for the last two years.

The USDA IMPS for Fresh Beef is a 2-MB PDF file, available for downloading (which is practical only with a broadband connection and not with a slow modem).  The IMPS describes in great detail each cut of meat, with illustrations and photographs.  Other IMPS guides are available for other meat.  

The following explanations and descriptions of beef sections and cuts include (in parentheses) the designated numbers of the USDA Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS).  For example, the top sirloin is IMPS/NAMP No. 181A -- which will be shown as "top sirloin (181A)".

Beef primal sections

After a beef carcass (100) has been eviscerated and chilled, the carcass (100) is cut down the middle so that there are two sides of beef (101).  Each side of beef (101) is separated into the forequarter (102) and the hindquarter (155).

Then each quarter is separated ("broken" is the word used in the industry) into the nine primal cuts (each of which includes its IMPS/NAMP number).  These primal parts are the wholesale cuts which are customarily distributed to retailers.  The first five primal cuts are from the forequarter (102):

  • Beef Rib, Primal (103)
  • Beef Chuck, Square Cut (113)
  • Beef Foreshank (117)
  • Beef Brisket (118)
  • Beef Plate, Short Plate (121)

The next four primal cuts are from the hindquarter (155):

  • Beef Round, Primal (158)
  • Beef Loin, Short Loin (173)
  • Beef Loin, Sirloin (181)
  • Beef Flank, Flank Steak (193)

Here is an illustration of the primal cuts in a side of beef:

Note that the illustration above is Canadian and has slightly different terminology, although Canada uses the same sub-primal names and IMPS numbering as the US.  Here the "Hip" is known in the US as the "Round".

The retail cuts from each of the primal sections which are of interest to barbecue cooks will be discussed briefly.  Perhaps the best site for learning beef muscles and retail cuts ("beef myology") is the University of Nebraska Beef Myology website.

Related information:




Want to know where beef cuts come from?  Or information about hormones, Mad Cow Disease (BSE), Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), and other stories?  Check out these the Beef Industry Resource.

Here are pictures drawing and posters of the various retail cuts and where they come from.

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