The Complete Butchers’ Guide to Different Cuts of Meat

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between short loin, sirloin, and short ribs? Do you know where these different types of cuts of beef come from? Most people don’t understand much about the meat they eat other than what’s written on the package.

The HowToCook team has created a butcher’s graphic featuring beef, pork, lamb, and poultry cuts as well as the most popular retail cuts to help inform professional and home chefs alike with a list of different cuts of meat.

Click to view the full-size infographic

The Complete Butchers' Guide to Different Cuts of Meat for Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Poultry

What Are Primal Cuts?

Primal cuts are the initial pieces of meat that are separated from an animal during the butchering process. These primal cuts are then broken down into retail cuts of meat, which are then packaged and sold at butchers’ shops and grocery stores. For some animals, many retail cuts can be created from the primal cuts, such as the many cuts of meat on a cow. Smaller animals like poultry generally have a smaller variety of cuts due to their size.

Primal cuts and their names can also vary by country. The cut that is called “rump steak” in British English is called “sirloin” in American English, for instance. And different cultures may also use different parts of the animal that others do not.

A Guide to Cuts of Meat

Our beef cuts chart outlines the primal cuts of meat on a cow, which are:

  • Chuck
  • Brisket
  • Shank
  • Rib
  • Plate
  • Short loin
  • Sirloin
  • Flank
  • Round


The best cuts of beef are generally regarded to be the rib, short loin, and sirloin cuts. These are the cuts where the popular prime rib, rib eye, and filet mignon steaks come from. While these steak cuts are generally the most tender, many other beef cuts are coveted for other reasons. The plate can be broken down into short ribs as well as skirt steak, which is generally more affordable than the steak from the rib section.

The following are the primal pork cuts of meat in America:

  • Head
  • Blade shoulder
  • Arm shoulder
  • Hock
  • Loin
  • Spare rib
  • Side
  • Leg


As pigs are smaller animals than cows, there are fewer retail cuts available. The loin is one of the most popular pork cuts, as it is the cut that produces pork tenderloin, pork chops, and baby back ribs. What part of the pig is bacon? That would be the side, which can be broken down into pork belly, from which bacon is made.

The following are the American lamb cuts of meat:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Chuck
  • Shoulder
  • Rib
  • Loin
  • Breast
  • Blank
  • Leg
  • Fore shank and hind shank


The most famous cuts of lamb are lamb chops, which come from the loin, and leg of lamb.

These are the primal chicken cuts:

  • Neck
  • Wing
  • Wing tip
  • Breast
  • Tenderloin
  • Thigh
  • Leg
  • Drumstick
  • Back


Most chicken cuts are not broken down any further than the primal cuts, as they are already quite small. Many chicken dishes call for a rotisserie chicken, and these recipes often use all portions of the chicken.

While the average person may not butcher an animal themselves, it’s helpful to know just what you’re eating and what part of the animal it comes from!

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This page was last updated by Megan Miller