What to Know About Lean Cuts of Beef

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 25, 2022
5 min read

Research shows that red meat can increase your risk of developing heart and metabolic problems. Doctors and nutritionists recommend cutting red meat like beef out of your diet to maintain health. So, if you have health problems or are watching your weight, leans (lean cuts of beef) are a great way to include red meat in your diet. They are beef cuts with the least fat content.

The best cuts of beef are ones with higher fat content. But lean cuts of beef are not just healthier but can be flavorful, too.

Here’s a look into different lean cuts of beef, their benefits, and how to add them to your diet.

Lean beef meat is red meat without too much fat. It has a low fat content equivalent to that of a skinless chicken breast or thigh. Beef meat is lean when 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of beef contains less than 10 grams of fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. 

Extra-lean beef meat is when 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of beef contains less than 5 grams of fat, with less than 2 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.

There are various types of leans (lean cuts of beef). Here’s a list of the lean cuts of beef from each part:

Chuck or shoulder. From the chuck portion, you get shoulder or arm roasts or steaks. Roasts are large beef cuts, whereas steaks are thin slices. Lean beef cuts from the chuck also include shoulder ranch steaks and shoulder tender roasts or medallions, which are small round steaks.

Brisket or lower chest. The flat half of the brisket or lower chest area is ideal for lean cuts. You can slow-cook it in gravies and add it to sandwiches.

Shank or front leg. Shank crosscuts are lean beef cuts obtained from the front leg.

Short loin or the back.Tenderloin steak used in dishes like filet mignon comes from the short loin portion. This part also offers lean cuts like the top loin or strip steak and T-bone steak. These are some of the most popular lean cuts of beef and may be among your favorites. 

Sirloin or the lower back. The sirloin portion provides the tri-tip roast or steak, sirloin center-cut roast or steak, and top sirloin steak. These cuts are juicy and flavorful portions that work well in stir-fries. Top sirloin steak is one of the leanest cuts of beef. 

Flank or abdomen. The flank portion lies behind the belly. You can use the flank steak obtained from this part to make beef stir-fry.

Round or the rear leg. The round is the hind portion of the beef, which includes the back legs. The eye of round roast or steak, top round roast or steak, bottom round roast or steak, and sirloin tip side steak are extra-lean cuts from this part. 

The rib and belly portions of the beef don’t contain any lean options as they are rich in fat. Some lean cuts of beef may have different names in different parts of America. A top loin steak is also called club sirloin steak or strip steak.

Research shows that red meat like beef is not good for health because of its high fat and cholesterol content. Eating too much red meat is associated with an increased risk of heart problems like coronary heart disease

But studies show that lean beef has low levels of saturated fat. If you consume it with a low-fat diet, it can reduce bad cholesterol levels in your body. Research also shows that lean cuts of beef prevent the release of blood-related factors associated with heart problems. 

Other lean beef benefits include the following:

  • Lean beef is a great source of protein, which improves muscle development.
  • It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids or good fats that help protect your body and mind.
  • Lean beef has minerals like zinc and iron, which promote the healthy growth of your cells and boost your immunity.
  • It also has essential B vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. They promote well-being by ensuring that your cells function properly.

Adding lean cuts of beef to your diet is better than having fatty cuts. But eat them in moderation.

When choosing lean cuts of beef, check the labels. Choose cuts with the grades “Choice” or “Select” — “Prime” beef is usually higher in fat content. Lean cuts of beef will have less visible fat or marbling, which makes it easier to choose. When choosing ground beef, opt for 90% or 95% lean beef with the lowest fat percentage. Also, avoid organ meat like the liver, as it is high in fat.

If you’re still unsure, ask the butcher or grocer. When you're at a restaurant, ask your server or chef to recommend low-fat or lean meat options.

The leanest cuts of beef have very little fat, so they may need slightly more cooking oil for grilling or frying. When you add lean cuts of beef to your diet, you must prepare them in healthy ways. Here are some tips to make lean beef healthier:

  • Trim off visible fat. If you notice visible, solid fat, cut it out before preparing and eating the meat.
  • Drain the fat after cooking. After you cook lean beef, drain the fat using a strainer or colander. Rinse ground beef with hot water to remove any remaining fat. Remove the water by patting it with a paper towel.
  • Chill the beef juice. When you cook beef, it releases juices that contain fat. Chill the beef juices to harden the fat. Skim the liquid and remove the hardened fats. You can use the remaining juices to make stews, soups, or gravies. 

Cooking with Lean Cuts of Beef. You can sear lean cuts of beef on a grill or in a skillet. Searing helps seal in all the flavorful beef juices. You can then cook, grill, pan-fry, stir-fry, or roast the beef. 

Lean beef cooks quickly and requires a third less cooking time than fatty beef. Typically, lean beef steaks, especially grass-fed beef, are enjoyed rare or medium-rare. But if you like well-done beef, consider slow-cooking the beef in your favorite sauce. You can use lean ground beef to make burgers. Add peppers or caramelized onions to add flavor and moisture. 

Avoid using the microwave to defrost or cook lean beef. It will make it tough to eat.