Of the top 15 beef producing countries in the world 5 are in Latin America, Brazil (2) Argentina (5), Mexico (7), Colombia (9), Uruguay (13) amounting to 41% of the total. In the consumption per capita category in the top 15 consuming countries there are 4 from Latin America, Argentina (1), Uruguay (2), Brazil (6), Mexico (15) amounting to 37% of all consumption. Argentineans on average ate 70 Kg (144 Lb) of beef in 2009, that's a lot of beef.

The best cattle raising region in the world is composed of southern Brazil, Uruguay and northern Argentina, there the conditions are so optimal that cattle can live on their own and prosper. In the history of that region one can read of the many European settlements that had to be suddenly abandoned because of indian attacks, often leaving behind some cattle, sometimes as little as 1 bull and 4 cows. When the settlements were recaptured some 20 years later, the settlers were astonished to see cattle by the thousands as far as the eye could see. There were so many that all the meat could not be consumed and cattle were often shot for the skin and the carcass left for wild animals.

Uruguayan beef is famous for being the best free ranging grass fed beef in the world, but it is somewhat difficult to get to eat it, you would have to be the president of the USA or someone traveling with him, Mr. George W. Bush was invited to a BBQ in a Uruguayan cattle ranch by the president of Uruguay, Mr. Bush said that it was the best beef he ever ate and coming from a Texan that means a lot; or you could be a rich Englishman since most Uruguayan beef is exported to England where the English lords gorge on it and develop gout, the butcher shop at Harrods sells beef from Uruguay but it is pricey; if you are in neither of the previous categories you are left with the option of visiting the Harbor's Market (Mercado del Puerto) in Uruguay's capital Montevideo, the market is a den of carnivorousness where a vegetarian will have a heart attack because of the blatant display of grilled meats, but the place is cheap to eat and is usually full.

In this blog I will not refer to every cut of beef since there are too many, but I will identify the most popular in the USA and Latin America, some popular cuts will not be referred to because they are obvious, such as the universally famous T-Bone steak known by that name in every country. The table below shows the name of some popular cuts in the USA and Latin America:
Below are some links to beef charts in various countries:

NUTRIENTS: beef is of course a great source of protein and iron, and if not properly consumed it may add a lot of cholesterol to your diet. For the nutrients in specific cuts go to this link and search for the name: Nutrients in Food

PROCESSING: There are many ways to cut beef below you will find some videos on the most popular cuts:

Cutting Sirloin and Tenderloin Steaks
Preparing Rump Cap Brazilian Style
STORING: Beef always benefits from a little aging, 1 week in the refrigerator or more if it is in the freezer, will make beef more tender. Some people are not aware that most refrigerator have a drawer designed for aging beef, usually the bottom one. You place in this aging drawer your beef in the same package it comes in and leave it for at week before preparing.

CHIMICHURRI: The universal sauce for grilled beef in Latin America, very easy to make: 1 packed cup of finely chopped parsley, 2 clove of finely chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste, 1 cup of vegetable oil, mix well and serve with beef for dipping. Parsley can be replaced by other fresh herbs or mixture of fresh herbs, such as cilantro, basil, mint or oregano.
GUASACACA: This is a Venezuelan version of the Mexican Guacamole, one may say is a chunky guacamole. Coarsely chop 1 red onion, 1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, 2 plum tomatoes, 1 ripe avocado, 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped cilantro and garlic, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste, mix well all ingredients except avocado, then add avocado and mix gently to avoid mashing it. Serve as a side for grilled beef.
RUMP CAP: it is a very popular cut in Latin America, particularly in Brazil where it is called Picanha and it is served in all Churrascarias, above you can see a video on preparing Brazilian style Picanha on a spear. Rump Cap is found at the top of beef Round, it has a thick layer of white fat on one side, which is essential to its grilling for juiciness and flavor. To grill a whole Rump Cap you first age for it about a week in your refrigerator. When you are ready to grill cut some gashes across the fat side and rub with salt and pepper. Grill over red hot charcoals fat side first for 10-15 minutes until fat is golden, then turn over and grill for another 20-25 minutes, it should be medium rare inside, cut 1/2 inch slices against the fiber and grill additionally for medium, or well done, serve with yucca, chimichurri or guasacaca.

SIRLOIN STEAK: Very popular in Steak Houses in Latin America, goes under different names: Churrasco, Bife. For the best steak age your whole piece of sirloin for about a week, then cut it againts the fiber in 1 inch thick steaks with a layer of fat on one side, fat although it should not be eaten after grilling is essential for tasty and juicy steaks. Season the raw steaks with salt and pepper and grill over hot iron to make sure the steak is marked by the irons, that will give it the real steak house look, grill 4 minutes on each side for medium rare, more time for medium or well done. Serve with yucca and chimichurri or guasacaca.

PULLED BEEF: This preparation is widely used in many Latin American dishes (carne mechada, ropa vieja), sometimes as a main dish, sometimes as an ingredient. Is the most economical way to eat beef. People usually prepare it in big lots to freeze in packages of 0.5 Kg (1 Lb), the shredded beef is seasoned before serving. Take 1 Kg (2 Lb) of beef skirt or flank (falda) and cook it in boiling water until it is so tender you can shred the fibers with your fingers, in a regular pot this may take 3 hours in a pressure cooker it would take 45 minutes. Once the skirt is tender enough for shredding let it cool and proceed to shred it completely if necessary you may whack it with a kitchen hammer or a good round stone (my favorite) to loosen the fibers. To season make a sofrito (fried mixture of seasonings) by finely chopping 1 small onion, 1 red pepper, 1 clove or garlic, and fry them in 1/4 cup of vegetable oil over medium heat for no more than 8 minutes until the aromas are released. Add the shredded beef, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 2 tablespoons of ketchup, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste, stir well and let simmer for 5 minutes, you may substitute the salt and pepper by adobo (spiced salt) for extra flavor. Serve with rice and plantains.


  1. Cool! I always wanted to know how the cuts of beef translated between English and Spanish. Now I just need to look it up in German :-)

    Also, when I cooked my shredded beef, I put it in the oven at 200 Farenheit (low temperature) on top of a bed of carrots and celery. Then I left it there for 4 hours. Got it out of the oven, and let it rest overnight, then sredded it the next day. There were lots of juices left in the pan that I used in the sofrito as well.

  2. Juan,
    Many of us North Americans enjoy grilled steaks but find Cental American beef has a great taste but its tough. The filetes down here seems to be the best choice but you can get a bad one. Other than ageing is there anything else we can do to help tenderize our steaks? Marinate changes the taste too much for me.

    1. Look into sous vide. Cooking the meat in a vacuum bag submerged in a water bath at 134degF for 8-60 hours depending on the cut. Then remove and brown on the bbq for a few minutes.

    2. Sous vide is a great technique to maintain the juices of beef and tenderize it, but 8-60 hours sounds like a long time are you sure of your times or did you mean minutes?

  3. Most of the beef in North America is grain fed, which avoids exercise on the animal so it acumulates fat on the tissues and these remain tender due to the lack of movement. Central American beef is grass fed, but unlike Uruguay the grass is not always green and abundant, so cattle move around a lot looking for food, all the exercise makes their tissues lean and tough. The beef is tasty but is not tender because the absence of fat in the tissue, the so called marble (streaks of fat) is not present. Older animals are even tougher than younger animals, so look for meat that has light color, pink rather than purple. I find the packaged beef at PriceSmart quite tender after aging. You may also try a little kitchen chemistry, scrape about a tablespoon of flesh from inside the skin of a papaya, that is where most of the papain exist (see blog on papaya), and blend it with 1/2 cup of oil (olive or vegetable), rub this mixture on your beef and let it marinate a couple of hours at room temperature before grilling. This papaya oil will leave no flavor on the beef and the papain should help the oil penetrate the fibers and make it tender, do not use more than tablespoon of papaya or you may end up with mushy beef. Eat the papaya sprayed with lime juice after your meal, it will make you feel good. Regards Chef Juan

  4. You can get high quality grass-fed Uruguayan beef in the US. I work for a company called Estancia Beef www.estanciabeef.com We are headquartered in San Francisco. We have distribution throughout California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Texas. You can also buy it online at http://atmytable.com/ Our beef is all Hereford and Angus steer raised exclusively on green grass. This is the major differentiator between our product and other grass-fed beef raised on less choice grasslands. It is also the biggest competitive advantage of the region as alluded to by the author, "The best cattle raising region in the world is composed of southern Brazil, Uruguay and northern Argentina, there the conditions are so optimal that cattle can live on their own and prosper." In the end you just can't make/fabricate high quality grass-fed beef. It is the expression of a specific terroir. Just like the way we look at specific vintages of wine or regional cheese.

  5. Hey Mr. reid your comments are an enhancement to my blog, thank you very much. I watched your videos on your cattle producing property, it is cattle heaven. Regards Chef Juan

  6. A friend just sent me a link to this blog and I am so glad he did! The description of the various cuts will help me next time I am dining out a steak restaurant.

    I look forward to your future posts. Keep up the great work!

  7. Great post! I'm a bit confused about aging the beef. I usually buy my beef from a grocery store, or occasionally a butcher. Should I still age it in these cases? I kind of assume it might have already been in their freezers/refrigerators for awhile :)

  8. Most beef sold is fresh for quick consumption, some cuts of thicks steaks are sold aged in the USA, thicks cuts for roasting and grilling benefit from aging, ground beef and other thin cuts do not and should be eaten fresh. Regards Chef Juan

  9. Mr. Juan, Leo has just cooked a steak and make the chimichurri sauce and both were very DELICIOUS!!!

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