Beef Cuts in a Half Cow

Purchasing half of a cow (also known as half beef, side of beef, half a steer) can be so daunting. Do you actually get the entire half of the cow? Who has a freezer that large? Will you have to cut it all down yourself? No way! Buying half a cow means that you get all of the cuts of beef that are made from half of the animal. Each section of the cow is custom cut to your specifications.

But! That’s a lot of options. Most folks don’t know all of the possible cuts of beef. Where do you even start? Right here with your favorite beef farmers. 

We will break down (pun intended) each section of beef, the characteristics of each section, and your options for beef cuts. At the end, you can check out our Beef E-Cookbook to get delicious recipes for every beef cut in your half cow. How easy is that?

The More You Know

People like to learn when they are making an investment and purchasing from a local farm is definitely an investment. Will it save you hundreds of dollars in the long run? Absolutely. Is it a lot of money up front? Definitely. If you know the proper verbiage and understand how the process works, you can talk the talk and walk the walk with your friends and family while you are slinging your locally-raised and deliciously marbled steaks on the grill. Knowing all of the beef cuts in your half cow makes it even better. 

Technically, it’s not a cow. At least, not always. 

This just might be a thorn in the side of your beef farmers, but! it’s a good thing to know. Technically, most beef (especially locally-sourced beef) comes from steers, not cows. Cows are female cattle who have had a calf. Steers are castrated males, typically raised for beef. Heifers are females who have not yet had a calf. Bulls are intact males, typically used for breeding. If you purchase your beef cuts from the grocery store, your beef is from all four of these categories. It can also be from beef breeds or dairy breeds. But, that’s a story for another day.

For the purposes of this lesson, when you purchase from a small farm, nine times out of ten, your beef will be coming from a steer. For the purposes of this article reaching the most people based on what they Google to find this article, we’re going to continue to call it a half cow

Beef Cuts in a Half Cow

Turning a half cow into delicious beef cuts is no small task. Understanding how beef is processed gives you insight into what you’re going to stock your freezer with and sheer appreciation for the dying craft of butchering. 

Primal Sections

The cow is broken down into eight primal sections, which are large sections of each part of the cow. If you are purchasing a half cow, you will make cut selections for each of the eight primal sections from one side of the cow. If you were purchasing a whole cow, you would make cut selections for each of the eight primal sections from both sides of the cow. It’ll make a lot more sense once we move along. 

Once your half cow has dry aged and is broken down into the eight primal sections, the butcher takes your cut sheet and cuts each primal section into cuts according to your specifications. For a detailed walk-through of the entire process at the butcher, check out our article The Process, Pricing, and Timeline of Buying a Whole or Half Cow

Ground Beef

Unfortunately, the entire half cow can’t be made into steaks. When most folks inquire about half a cow beef cut options, they often ask for ways they can get the least ground beef and the most steaks.

Picture it like this, the butcher has a giant bowl set to the side for ground beef. All of the trimmings as their working and anything you select to “grind” on your cut sheet goes into that bowl. When the butcher is done, all of the beef in that bowl is ground together into ground beef and packed together. Even if you don’t choose to grind any sections of your half cow, you will still get a good amount of ground beef, typically 30-40lbs. The “grind” selection is available for each section of the cow. 

If you choose ground chuck, ground brisket, ground round, etc. that means the butcher will take that specific section, grind it separately, and pack and label it separately. More on that later! 


The chuck, which is the shoulder of the steer, is known for its delicious fatty goodness. Fat equals flavor, y’all. The chuck section is a very large section of the steer that can be made into a variety of different cuts. Since the shoulder tends to bear a significant amount of weight, the beef needs some cook time to break down the tissues to make the meat tender. All of the fat means that you won’t need too much help in the flavor department and your risk of the beef becoming dry is very low. The chuck section yields approximately 40 pounds of meat per half cow. 

Ground Chuck 

Ground chuck is made when the butcher takes the shoulder section, trims it from the bones, grinds the trimmings, and packs it separately from the rest of the ground beef. Typically, you will see ground chuck have a 80/20 lean to fat ratio. This is great for meatballs and making your own burgers, as the fat helps it stick together. 

Chuck Roast

By far, the superior roast, in my opinion. With all of the fat, the flavor is awesome! It doesn’t need a whole lot of extra TLC like many other roasts do due to their lack of fat. The bone will give it extra flavor. If you select boneless, the roast will come trussed with either twine or a net wrap. 

Chuck Steaks

Bone-in and boneless options here. Typically, for a subcategory of chuck steaks that we call “boneless chuck steaks”, which are more tender than the main chuck steaks. These are: Denver, Ranch, Flat Iron, or Chuck Eye. Our butcher cuts Denver and Ranch steaks small, under 6 ounches. Flat Irons and Chuck Eye are a lesser known but delicious cut. For your straight up bone-in or boneless chuck steaks under the main category, they will have good flavor. Just remember, since the shoulder gets a lot of work, they aren’t going to be as tender as a filet. 

Stew Meat

Stew meat in a half cow means that the butcher takes the chuck section, cubes it, and packs it into one-pound packs. This is a great option if you like to just crack open a pack, dump it into the crock pot, and forget it. 


The brisket is the lower chest area. The brisket it responsible for supporting approximately 60% of the steer’s weight. Due to all of that work and connective tissues, cooking the brisket requires a little finesse and a lot of time. 

Typically, you’ll see the brisket kept whole or cut in half. Our butcher gives the option to make ground brisket, similar to ground chuck, but only on a whole cow. 

When leaving your brisket whole or cutting it in half, choosing to get your brisket untrimmed is smart. Meaning the butcher is going to leave most of the fat on. If the butcher trims the brisket, depending on the butcher, they may trim all of the fat off. This is how our butcher does it. Check with your butcher or farmer to know exactly how they will cut the brisket. 

Since brisket requires a long cook time to tenderize the tissues, the fat around it keeps the meat from drying out. Fear not, you don’t need a fancy smoker or a ton of experience to make brisket taste delicious. Our Beef E-Cookbook has a delicious recipe for tender oven-roasted brisket. 


The shank section is truly between the shoulder and the knee of the steer. It is the leg. The cuts are very distinct, as they have a bone in the center with the meat around it in a disc shape. 

Customers do have the option to get the shank whole; however, we rarely see this. The legs carry a lot of weight, obviously. So these cuts are tough and best braised and cooked low and slow to break down the tissues for a tender and flavorful dish. Don’t shy away from the marrow – it’s delicious and is loaded with nutrients.

Osso Buco

Larger discs with a thickness over two inches are considered Osso Buco.

Soup Bones

When the discs are cut smaller, they are considered soup bones.


Cue the singing Angels. The Rib section. Tender and flavorful. The rib section is a great indicator of the quality and grade of the entire steer. If the steer was raised and finished properly, the rib section will be heavily marbled with streaks of fat throughout.

Bone-In Rib Steak

Technically, a steak is an -eye (like ribeye) if it is boneless. If it is bone-in, it is simply called a steak. When the bone-in rib steak is left with a few inches of bone on it, it’s called a cowboy steak. If it is left with the entire rib bone intact, that is called your Tomahawk steak. Our butcher does not cut Cowboys or Tomahawks, but at least you can get it bone-in and know you’re getting all of that delicious beef. 

Boneless Ribeye

Otherwise known as a delmonico. Pretty straight forward that it is a boneless steak cut. 

Prime Rib Roast

The centerpiece of many Christmas dinner tables. The prime rib roast can be left whole (otherwise known as a seven-bone roast), cut according to your roast weight specifications, or it can be cut into one four-bone and one three-bone roast. 


Don’t you dare grind this, y’all. The loin section holds the most well-known cuts. A fun fact that most people may not know is that a t-bone and porterhouse are the same exact cut. When looking at a t-bone or porterhouse, it is actually the NY strip on one side and filet on the other. When the filet is over 1.25 inches wide, it is a porterhouse. Whenthe filet is under 1.25 inches wide, it is a t-bone. 

If you choose boneless steaks, you’d get filets and NY strips. If you choose to keep the steaks large and bone-in, you’ll get t-bones and porterhouses. It doesn’t get more simple than that. Either way you cut it, you’ll get a variety of sizes since cattle aren’t perfectly square. 


This rib plate section is the section most folks think of when they think of the ribs. Fatty and flavorful! The rib plate needs either a cook marinade or a long cook to break down the tissues. You can get the plate cut as a whole plate, otherwise known as Dino-bones. We don’t typically recommend this unless you have experience with the whole plate, as they can be upwards of 16 pounds. 

Short Ribs

If you can picture the ribs coming down vertically, the butcher cuts horizontally every two inches and sections out two bones for each piece. Typically, these come in 3-4 pound packs with several rib pieces inside. 

Korean Style Ribs

Otherwise known as franken ribs, korean style ribs are cut very thin, approximately 1/2-inch. Typically, they are 4-5 bones across. 


The round is split up into several sections – the eye round, the top round, and the bottom round. The round is a lean tough section as it bears a lot of weight and gets a lot of exercise. Tougher cuts require time to break down those fibers, either through a marinade or cook time, or both. Lean means no fat, so it will need a little help in the flavor department.


As mentioned, round roasts are lean and on the tough side. They’ll need some extra love and time. 


While the round can be cut into steaks, it typically isn’t recommended for a slap on the grill with some salt and pepper. If anything, folks have the option to get cube steaks. Cube steak is where the butcher cuts the round into steaks and runs the steaks through a tenderizer. Then, you’d take your grandma’s favorite recipe and dredge, fry, and pour gravy over top for country-fried steak. 

Shaved beef

Just like cheesesteak meat. This is a fan favorite. Sliced very thin, shaved beef is great for cheesesteaks, stir-fry, pho, and more. A great option for making good use of the round section. 

Fajita meat

Cut into fajita strips. Dump in the pan and season. Talk about easy. 

Kabob meat

Cubed round packed in one-pound packs. This is great for a last minute weeknight dump-and-go meal, although they could use a marinade if you have the time. 


It’s a little odd that this is a section all on it’s own, since the flank is pretty small. From our butcher, there is only one flank steak per half cow. It’s a thin cut, approximately 12-inches in length.  

Beef E-Cookbook and More Half Cow Resources

BEEF E-COOKBOOK for a walk through of each section, the cuts that can be made from each section, and delicious recipes for each cut option available. Plus! A guide to cooking the perfect steak and a bunch of our favorite recipes for ground beef to mix up your mundane menu. 

If you’re wondering how the entire process works from drop off at the processor to pick up, how everything is priced, timeline and more, check out our article The Process, Pricing, and Timeline of Buying a Whole or Half Cow from field to freezer. 

For how much meat to expect, as far as the number of beef cuts with half cow inventory sheet examples, our How Much Meat to Expect in a Whole or Half Cow article will get you what you need. 

Lastly, if you’re wondering how much freezer or cooler space you’ll need for your half cow, our article on on How Much Freezer Space Do I Need for Whole or Half Cow or Pig will give you estimates so you can make all of the necessary preparations.


Please note that the information in these articles are based on what our steers yield at Hayfield Farm and what our local butcher shop’s practices are.
If you are purchasing from a different farm, your hanging weight, meat (finished) weight, cut options, pricing, and packaging may be different.