“Whoe’er has gone thro’ London street,
Has seen a butcher gazing at his meat,
And how he keeps
Gloating upon a sheep’s
Or bullock’s personals,
as if his own;
How he admires his halves
And quarters–and his calves,
As if in truth upon his own legs grown.”
– Thomas Hood, 19th century poet and humorist
Buenos Aires – One of the most common areas of questions I get is about the cuts of meat here in Argentina. The usual comes from an expat, looking for a particular cut of meat that they remember fondly from back home. Or sometimes it’s a visitor simply trying to figure out what part of the animal they’re ordering off a menu. And here’s the rub, as they say, beyond different names because it’s a different language, they’re simply not the same cuts of meat. Think of it this way – if I put a block of clay in front of you and tell you I want it divided into eight pieces that don’t have to be equal in size or form, I’m going to get a different division from every person I do that with. And, culturally, traditional ways to cut up an animal have come to vary from place to place – not just Argentina. Look, for example, at these first two diagrams (lifted and modified from answers.com, though I have the feeling they got them from elsewhere) – the “primary” cuts of beef in the U.S. and Britain (each primary cut gets further broken down into secondary cuts):
The first diagram is that of the primary cuts we’re used to in the U.S. (with a minor alteration, where I have “Hanger and Skirt” is tecnically referred to as the “Plate”). The second diagram is the same animal cut the way it would be cut in Britain. You can see that the animal is simply divided up in a very different manner, let alone different terminology. That’s not to say you can’t roughly approximate a particular steak between one country and another, but it would be hard to get the exact same thing.
Moving on to Argentina, the primary cuts look like this:
Where does one begin? The cow is divided up in a very different manner – and, as anyone who has picked up meat here has probably seen, the cuts are often made perpendicular to the way we’re used to in both the U.S. and Britain – along the grain rather than across it. Beyond that, most Argentine cuts are boneless.
Now as I mentioned, these are just the primary cuts – for example, if one starts along the spine of the animal, moving from about midway through the azotillo and on through the bife de costilla, the individual cuts are the aguja, bife ancho, & bife angosta. The cuadríl is divided into the cuadríl, colita de cuadríl, & peceto. The costillar is split into part of the bife de chorizo and various rib cuts, while the paleta, continues down to the falda and then into that white space in front of the matambre and becomes the entraña. The ever popular bife de chorizo runs basically the same as a U.S. tenderloin, along the bottom of the lomo and on into the top of the costillar.
The most common cuts you’ll see in steakhouses, and their closest U.S. equivalents, since those are the ones I’m most familiar with (keeping in mind that they are almost all served boneless here), are:
asado de tira – ribs, but cross cut in strips (with bone)
bife de lomo – sirloin
bife de chorizo – tenderloin
cuadríl – rump steak
entraña – skirt steak
ojo de bife – rib-eye
peceto – top round
vacio – flank steak
Three other terms to know, though only two that you’re likely to see on a menu – ternera is a calf that is 1-2 years old, novillo is a male calf that is 2-3 years old (there is some overlap of the categories as the grading is partially by weight), vaquillona is a female calf, 2-3 years old, but I’ve never seen that on a menu, though very occasionally in a butcher shop.
Obviously there are more cuts here and there that aren’t diagrammed or explained, but hopefully this gives a good basic overview, and gives a sense of why it’s so hard to answer the question when someone asks for a direct translation.