There’s nothing quite like delicious, perfectly-cooked chicken strips or a savory, tender bite of red meat. But many people at the meat counter have the same question: What are lean cuts of meat?
Whether you’re preparing to barbecue for many or grill for one, it’s good to know about the leanest cuts of meat available. If you’re looking for low-fat options, which cut of beef should you buy? Strip steak, flank steak, top round roast, and lean ground beef are good sources of protein, but it helps to know which provides a lean option.
Read on for help when it comes to recognizing the leanest cuts of meat.
Why Choose Lean Meats?
There are several great reasons to choose lean meat. For one thing, lean meats can provide you with a significant portion of your recommended daily protein. And, as you may understand by the adjective “lean,” they do tend to have fewer calories than fattier meat selections.
Of course, if you’re pursuing a low-fat or low-cal diet, you may already know about the benefits of lean meats. While lean beef is a popular protein source, turkey and chicken are great sources of lean protein as well.
For one thing, turkey and chicken can help provide some helpful nutrients like choline, selenium, vitamin B3, and vitamin B6. Selenium helps support immune health with its antioxidant properties. Also, the vitamin B3 and vitamin B6 in chicken and turkey might also help your body turn carbohydrates into the fuel your body needs to complete its most important physiological tasks.1
Selecting Lean Cuts Of Beef
In moderation, lean cuts are a good source of iron, lean protein, vitamin B-12, and, of course, flavor.2
It’s important to check dietary guidelines and serving size. According to the USDA, the appropriate serving size for lean protein like round steak or sirloin steak is approximately a 3-ounce serving. Furthermore, the USDA describes extra-lean beef as containing fewer than 5 grams of total fat (that’s very little fat content). Of that 5 grams, 2 grams will be saturated fat.3 As you can see, there are good low-fat options.
The list down below consists of some of the absolute best cuts of lean meat to incorporate in a balanced diet (in order from leanest to fattiest):
- Round-top roast
- Round steak
- Shank cross-cut
- Chuck shoulder pot
- Sirloin steak
- Chuck shoulder
- Bottom round
- Top loin steak
- Petite medallions
- Flank steak
- Shoulder center
- Tri-tip roast
- Tenderloin roast
- T-bone steak4
What Is A Common Lean Cut Of Beef?
Some people get intimidated buying meat in steak form. But the list above is a good start to knowing what to ask for. There are a few meats from the above list that also happen to be EXTRA-lean. They’re listed below and you can find them at almost any meat counter.
- Eye of round steak
- Sirloin tip side steak
- Top round steak
- Bottom round steak
- Top sirloin steak
Your butcher will know what to do and you can always ask them to give you the leanest cuts. If you crave a fattier cut, you can also serve thin layers to make sure you’re taking in less fat. Just cut the serving weight — try for 2-ounce servings on fattier cuts.
If you’re looking at pre-packed cuts, check out the nutrition labels. These labels do have to follow USDA regulations. If the cuts are not lean or extra lean, when it comes to fat and cholesterol levels, then they won’t be labeled as such.
A great tip for recognizing lean beef: If the label says “round,” “loin,” or “chuck,” chances are the cut is lean or extra lean. Prime cuts usually have more fat — so avoid those cuts entirely.
Tips To Help You Tenderize And Increase The Flavor Profile Of Your Lean Beef
Now, some of the cuts on the lean list can be tougher, but you can tenderize them by using an easy homemade marinade. It’s as simple as combining lemon juice and minced garlic. This combo will help tenderize your meat without eclipsing the flavor.
You can also add just a small touch of soy sauce for flavor, but usually, lemon, garlic, salt, and pepper will be more than enough to do the trick.
And here is another great recipe for a low-fat marinade: 3 heaping tablespoons of parsley, a single teaspoon of ground white pepper, 2 tablespoons of fresh garlic (minced), 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of onion powder, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, and a 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Mix it all in a lockable baggie and let your meat rest in the marinade. You won’t need to do this for longer than an hour, but if you like you can marinate for as long as a day.
Bonus Tip: Don’t try to use cooking oil to tenderize your meat. The oil will just add fatty acids that are uncalled for. Also, cook your meat over direct heat. This will give it that lovely char and sear to pack the flavor in.
And don’t forget, lean meats aren’t limited to beef, chicken, and turkey. If you get hungry for a bit more variety in your diet, feel free to try any of the following animal proteins as they are all considered “lean”:
- Lean sausage
How To Incorporate Lean Meats In Your Diet
One thing you do want to remember when incorporating lean meats into your diet is to control the number of organs you eat. Organs like beef liver should be limited to no more than 3 ounces per month.
While many claim beef liver is super healthy, there are some drawbacks to eating too much of it. For one, beef liver has an incredibly high level of vitamin A. Overconsuming vitamin A can lead to bone fractures.5
Also, one 3.5-ounce serving of beef liver can contain up to 500 mg of cholesterol. That’s quite a lot of cholesterol. In fact, that’s about as much as 2 large eggs. Especially if you have issues with blood sugar regulation, you’ll want to consume less than that. Half the fat in beef liver is saturated fat, too, so beware.6
Preparing Cuts Of Beef
Now, even if you’re consuming less than the recommended limit of beef each day, there are a few useful tips and tricks you can use to cut down on the amount of fat you’re taking in. Even the extra-lean cuts can ruin your diet if you prep it with high-calorie or high-fat marinades.
Remember these tips for healthy preparation:
- Trim Your Meat — Trimming simply means you’ll be cutting off any of the visible layers of fat before you cook your meat. After you cook it, you may notice more fat. You can cut that off, too, right before serving.
- Drain Your Cut — Usually, when you cook ground beef, the fat collects. It’s easy to get rid of the collected fat by dumping the cooked beef into a strainer and letting the fat run out. Rinse the beef with warm water. You can also use a paper towel to pick up some of the fatty juices.
- Cool Your Meat — Finally, once you’ve cooked your meat, you can cool it so you can collect some of the congealed fat.
This is just a handful of ways in which you can decrease the fat content of your beef when you’re preparing it for any meal.
When It Comes To Lean Cuts Of Meat: Everything In Moderation
In the end, you should only be eating so much lean meat, to begin with. You’ll likely enjoy your steak dinners more if you don’t eat them that often. Moderation is key to enjoying beef while on a balanced diet.
One of the best ways to think of adding beef to a meal is to consider the meat the side. Load your plate up with healthy greens, cruciferous veggies, or whole grains. Sweet potatoes make a great compliment to lean cuts of meat. Less is more when it comes to lean meat.
Remember, it’s okay to enjoy lean cuts of meat, just be smart about how you prepare them and how often you indulge. Make your butcher your friend — always ask for the leanest cuts and see if they have any tips when it comes to preparation. Then, enjoy cooking, smelling, and finally tasting your healthier meat selection.