Love Meat Tender :: The 10 Most Tender Beef Muscles

Twice in the last 24 hours I have encountered some misunderstanding about the relative tenderness ranking of beef muscles. In one case, someone asked about the teres major (petite tender, and thank you for asking!) and in another, I found an article about prime rib (a very poor article about prime rib) stating that the the only muscle more tender than the longissimus (more specifially, longissimus thoracis = ribeye and longissimus lumborum = loin eye) is the psoas major (tenderloin). Not so fast.

There is a nice fact sheet that summarizes tenderness research findings, right down to the kilograms required to shear across a given muscle, perpindicular to the muscle fiber (often obtained by the Warner-Bratzler Shear Force procedure).  Though there are many more than 40 muscles in a beef carcass, 40 of those most likely to appear as a steak or roast are listed in that fact sheet.  You can access the tenderness data for any muscle in beef here.  The tenderness ranking list was developed using data from A and B maturity cattle, excluding purebred bos indicus cattle, though crossbreds (like Brangus) were included.

The Top 10 line up like this, starting with the most tender:

  1. Posas major, or tenderloin.  Surprise!
  2. Infraspinatus, or Top Blade / Flat Iron.  Here’s my explanation of the difference between the two.
  3. Spinalis dorsi, or Ribeye Cap.  It’s the outside muscle on a ribeye steak (or, see the Beef Alternative Merchandising opportunity to make steaks just out of this muscle).
  4. Serratus ventralis, or Under blade.  A cut option for this is the new Denver Steak.
  5. Multifidus dorsi.  This rope-like muscle is long and has a small diameter.  It runs alongside the longissimus dorsi (ribeye, loin eye).
  6. Subscapularis. I’m not sure how this one is being (or if it is being) individually used.  If you know, please comment.
  7. Teres major, or Petite Tender, sometimes seen as the shoulder tender.  These are usually sold as whole muscles, resembling a pork tenderloin in shape and size.*
  8. Rectus femoris, or knuckle (part of), tip.
  9. Tensor fascia latae, or Tri-tip.  As an added benefit, it’s fun to say.
  10. Biceps brachii, part of the clod.  A trimmed up version of the triceps brachii is called the Ranch Steak.  I don’t know the what the current fanciful name for a biceps brachii steak is … if there is one, please let us know!

The loin eye or ribeye muscles do not appear on this Top 10 list.  They rank 12th and 15th among the other 40 muscles profiled, respectively.

*Also worth noting is that the Petite Tender is not the same as the Mock Tender, which is the supraspinatus muscle.

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6 thoughts on “Love Meat Tender :: The 10 Most Tender Beef Muscles

  1. What are your thoughts on the current DNA testing for Marbling, Tenderness and Feed Efficiency. I have been testing for the past 10 years and sell bulls to customers seeking to increase Tenderness markers for the elite trade eg: Casinos. Angus Breeders currently have access to the 50,000 panel marker, other breed of cattle can only run off MVP. How do you see the future with DNA testing?

    What other tests are there other than the Warner-Bratzler Force proceedure, and how reliable is it?

    Regards,
    Sharon.
    Melbourne Australia.

    • Hi, Sharon. Thanks for your note! 10 years? You’re ahead of the producer curve!

      I think that the evaluation of DNA markers are very important to the advancement of the global beef industry. One of the common arguments against using these technologies in some applications is that there is not always a direct incentive to use such technologies, perhaps most notably for tenderness, because there is not always a premium received for the cattle. Marbling is a bit different because of how beef pricing grids and quality grades work in the U.S., and a feed efficiency benefit is obvious. Because you are able to capitalize on the elite trade, you then have a market and realizable premium (I hope).

      One of the challenges with these markers is that, so far, many of the commercially available ones only test a handful (even just 1) of markers. That’s a problem because there are a whole host of markers related to specific beef quality and efficiency factors and, of course, that can interact with environmental factors. Whole genome analysis is helping to get a handle on this (http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?SEQ_NO_115=237604).

      I imagine (though this is not my area) tests developed that will take multiple contributors into account.

  2. Subscapularis

    I live in London and recently discovered this muscle as a substitute for onglet. It took great persistence to even find out the name of the meat that I had enjoyed. I treated like onglet and flash fried it to rare.
    Why do you think it is not used more often and doesn’t appear to even have acquired a butchers’ name?

    Best
    Paul Nedas

    • Hi Paul — M. subscapularis is traditionally included in larger, multi-muscle chuck cuts and can be rather difficult to isolate (if not difficult, very time consuming). M. infraspinatus, though not always isolated from the chuck, has been cut into steaks (like the top blade steaks) for quite some time. There are a variety of “new” steaks that butchers can cut, but there are holdbacks such as tradition, time, and the question … what do I do with the rest of this now that I’ve hacked it up to isolate this one muscle? On the other hand, the ongelet (hanger steak) is the easiest muscle in the carcass to isolate.

      Best regards.

      Chris

    • Hello. I’m afraid I do not understand your question. When an animal dies, the muscles experience a series of biochemical reactions that result in the conversion of muscle to meat. When identifying different cuts of meat, one can still identify them by the living muscle it once was. To locate each muscle on a carcass, check out bovine.unl.edu.

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