• Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor

Beef Breakdown — Front Quarters; What are they?

Updated: Apr 25

If you are enchanted by the idea of having a quarter beef in your freezer but haven't purchased one yet, you may be wondering about what cuts are in a quarter, how much space it takes, and whether a front quarter, hind quarter, or split quarter is the better fit for your family. Or maybe you're wondering why front quarters and hindquarters are so differently priced.

The front quarter is not the best choice for everybody

The hindquarter is where the Porterhouse and T-bone; or alternately the New York and tenderloin; the sirloin; London Broil; and round steaks come from – we’ll hit that one a different time, but suffice to say if you're looking for the most expensive steaks, you want the hindquarter shares.

If you want an assortment of as many different types of cuts as possible, you're better off getting a "split quarter sampler."

The front quarter is the least expensive option, but that doesn't mean it's somehow "lower quality." It's about honestly assessing your cooking and eating preferences, and then matching your preferred cooking techniques and recipes and household size to the quarter that best suits your style.

At a time when putting up a supply of food in your freezer has never seemed more attractive, and yet also a time that encourages conservative spending, beef from the front quarter is a great option.

What cuts come from the front quarter of a cow?

There are four main "primal sections" in the front quarter of a cow: the rib primal, the plate primal, the brisket, and the chuck. We'll go over each one separately.

Rib steak, bone-in, and with cap. This is how rib steaks are trimmed in our Kookoolan standard 1/8th shares (you'll find rib steaks in our 1/8th front/burger share; our 1/8th front/roasts and braises share; and our 1/8th regular/sampler and split quarter shares).

The Rib Primal Section

Let’s start with the ribs. Did you know? Cattle have 13 pairs of ribs. Humans have 12 pairs of ribs. Sheep have 12 to 14 pairs of ribs. Pigs have 14 to 16 pairs of ribs. For Kookoolan Farms beef, the carcass is always separated between the lowest two ribs when cutting the front quarter from the back quarter (in other words, the rear quarter contains one rib bone, and the front quarter all the rest).

The rib section can be separated in several different ways to yield various cuts. One of the most coveted cuts of beef comes from the front: the cherished ribeye, shown above. You have this muscle too: it’s the long vertical muscle that runs parallel to your spine on either side. Because this muscle does little work, it is a very tender cut that is usually well-marbled. When it’s boneless, it’s a ribeye or Delmonico steak.

I love this explanation of the rib section, from SpruceEats.

Short ribs, spare ribs, and flanken ribs can be cut from the rib section while also allowing rib roasts and/or rib steaks. These are short ribs.

Ribeye steaks can instead or also be cut as a bone-in rib steak, with the rib cap muscle and the bone left in. Many people feel that this small rib cap muscle, although just a tiny bit on each steak, is the single most delicious bite of beef on the entire cow. And of course cooking steaks bone-in gives them more flavor.

Or, the rib section can be cut as a roast instead: either a standing rib roast, a cross-cut rib roast, or a prime rib roast. Each front quarter has about 15-20 pounds of premium rib meat in it which can be cut as rib steaks or rib roasts or a combination of the two.

The ribs themselves can be frenched, made into a standing rib roast, or flanken ribs, short ribs, spare ribs, prime rib roast, bone-in rib steak with cap, or boneless ribeye (Delmonico) steaks.

Steaks can be boneless or bone-in and cut to any thickness you prefer, from half-inch-thick “minute steaks” to 2-inch thick steaks, or anything in between. You can also specify how many steaks you want in each package: one, two, or any other number, whatever works best for your household. Getting a custom front quarter allows you to choose exactly how you want it processed.

Pot roasts are one of the most popular ways to cut the chuck section. Pot roasts are ideal everyday dinner cuts that braise, roast, or slow-cook particularly well. Ideal for your InstantPot!

The Chuck Primal Section

This is the shoulder, and typically yields about 40 pounds of meat. These are often cut as pot roasts, or might be called chuck roasts, under blade steaks, mock tender roast, mock tender steaks, top blade steaks, or shoulder center cut roasts or steaks. You can have it made to roasts, steaks, stew meat, or ground meat, or a combination of all of the above.

The 7-bone roast is one of the most classic chuck roasts, hearkening back to a time when Americans ate a lot of beef and had plenty of time to cook a roast that required three hours of braising. The 7-bone roast is a slab of beef produced by making thick vertical cuts straight through the shoulder section. A "seven-bone roast" doesn't have seven bones in it; it's named that because the cross-section of the shoulder blade bone looks like the number 7!

The brisket is the ideal first piece of meat for your first project in a new smoker! It also makes a terrific roast, and leftovers make outstanding sandwiches.

The Brisket Primal Section

The brisket is the loose muscle flap under the neck, sort of the décolletage of the cow, and consists of the pectoral muscles. These muscles work hard and are fairly tough, so slow-cooking and slow-smoking recipes are best. Brisket is often cured and smoked, and can be made into corned beef. You can have it made to roasts, stew meat, or ground meat.

About Ground Beef and Fat

Ground beef will always be part of every sharewell-trimmed steaks and roasts always yield scraps that are best used as ground beef.

Ground beef comprises at least 35% of any share, and 40% to 50% is more typical for most people's custom cutting instructions. Kookoolan Farms standard-cuts 1/8th shares target 75-80% lean for the ground beef. When you order a custom quarter or half, you can request that additional fat be added, up to 30% fat/70% lean (which is what I choose when we have beef for our own freezer processed).

You might prefer the higher fat percentage in your ground beef because it’s more juicy and delicious, or because it’s a great way to stretch your food dollars to get more finished ground beef out of the same weight of muscle.

More likely, you’ll choose the higher fat percentage because of the Omega-3 fatty acids that presumably are a big part of the reason you’re choosing grass-fed beef in the first place. Those Omega-3 fatty acids are located in, well, the fat of course.

And if you’re trying to reduce the percentage of simple carbohydrates in your diet or to skew your diet toward Keto or Paleo, one of the very easiest ways to do this is to increase the fat percentage in your ground beef.

Ordering a custom front quarter, hind quarter, or half beef allows you the ability to do any or all of these kinds of customization with no extra charge.

The Plate Primal Section

This is the belly, the smallest of the front quarter primal sections, and it is typically fatty and tough. It can be cured and smoked as beef bacon or made to skirt steak or fajita strips. It’s also a good choice for ground beef and stew cubes.

Tip: when the butcher asks you "do you want your skirt steak?" they are NOT throwing anything away! If you say no, the skirt steak becomes ground beef. It does not get discarded!

Ways to Order a Front Quarter

ALL Kookoolan Farms front quarter packages are the same $5.25/lb. hanging weight price. Choose the option that fits your household the best, based on (1) how much freezer space you have, (2) how much money you can spend at one time, and (3) your family's cooking and eating preferences. A quarter is custom-cut to your specifications.

Custom Front Quarter

When you get a custom front quarter, you get to specify all the cutting: Steak thickness, how many steaks per package, whether steaks are boneless or bone-in, how closely they’re trimmed; roast sizes and trimming; stew cube size and package size; ground beef fat percentage and package size. You can also request bones, tallow, and organ meats.

This share is $5.25/lb hanging weight price. Any quarter beef is 170 lbs hanging weight on average but may range 120 to 220 lbs. In total, a front quarter of beef will run about $800-$900 and on average it will come in four of our meat boxes (sometimes three or five, but usually four). On average, you'll end up with about 120 lbs of finished beef requiring five cubic feet of freezer space to store.

This photo is showing a whole lamb in the freezer. But a 1/8 beef (ANY 1/8 beef) takes just about the same amount of space.

1/8th Front Burger Share

This is one of our most popular packages. We keep the rib steaks out of the grinder, and all the rest is made into 75-80% lean ground beef in 1-pound packages. Overall you get about 90% ground beef and 10% steaks. This is a great share for fast, inexpensive meals such as grilled burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, potstickers, and cutlets. It's also a great between-shares package if you just need a little more ground beef to get you through to the end of whatever else is in your freezer. Overall a 1/8th front will run you about $400-$450.

1/16th "Burger Only" Share

Same as the 1/8th above, just half the meat, half the money, and requires half the space. About $225, on average this gives you about 25-28 lbs of finished ground beef and one package of ribeye steaks.

Flanken ribs are included in our "1/8 Front/Roasts & Braises" package. Love them with our new chimichurri sauce!

1/8th Front/Roasts and Braises Share

Our “1/8th front roasts and braises” share includes prime rib roast, pot roast, flanken ribs, cross-cut shanks, stew cubes, and the least amount of ground meat of any of our standard packages, about one-third of the total finished weight. This package is also about $800-$900 total cost. Slightly higher yield because many of the cuts are bone-in.

Flanken ribs have become one of my favorite fast-food cuts of beef: These sections are sliced across the ribs with all the connecting muscles left intact. For all the world, each piece looks like a slice of bacon. Flanken ribs can go from the freezer to the table in under 25 minutes: just gently pan-fry or grill them until richly browned. They are so thin and tender that they cook to tender perfection in no time!

This share gives you an abundance of choices for roasts, stews, and braised dishes. If you like slow-cooked meals that you just set and walk away from and then come back hours later and dinner for the family is ready, this is a great package for you.

About "Hanging Weight" and Yield

"Hanging weight" means the weight of the front quarter when the quarter is hanging in one piece on a hook, on the day it was killed. On average, a quarter beef weighs 185 pounds (this is true whether we’re talking front quarter, rear quarter, or split quarter). Some weight is lost to evaporation during the 10 to 12 days of dry aging. More is lost to gristle, bones, and scraps during butchering.

Overall, beef generally yields about 60-66%, which means that when it’s been trimmed nicely and all the gristle and gross parts are discarded, you’ll end up with about 60-66% of the initial hanging weight as wrapped meat, or 185 X 0.66 = about 110-120 pounds of finished meat, not counting soup bones, tallow, and organ meats. (You can halve all these numbers for our 1/8th shares.) Our “1/8th front/burger” share yields less, about 55%, because it’s all processed into ground beef – ALL the bones are all removed from the finished weight. A quarter will require about five cubic feet of freezer space to store; 1/8th about 2.5 cubic feet. Beef keeps well in the freezer for two or more years.

Please feel welcome to call us at (503) 730-7535 or email us at we're always happy to answer your questions.

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