Cuts of Beef a Hundred Years Ago

Source: Foods and Household Management : A Text-book of the Household Arts (1913(
Source: Foods and Household Management : A Text-book of the Household Arts (1913)

Here’s some  hundred-year-old advice for selecting meat:

Beef should be a bright red and well streaked with fat.

To understand the difference between the tough and tender cuts we must be familiar with the structure of the muscle. Each muscle consists of bundles of tubes held together by connective tissues. In tough meat, the muscle tubes are thicker and there is more connective tissue present.

Exercise strengthens the muscle, and this accounts for the fact that the unexercised muscles of the young animal give us a softer meat. In the mature animal the muscles most exercised furnish a tough meat, and the less-used muscles the tender.

The tough cuts come from the neck and legs, the tender cuts from the middle of the back, the toughness increasing as the cuts approach the neck and the hind legs. The muscles of the abdomen are also tender, but they give a coarse-grained meat.

The tender cuts from the ribs and loin are the most highly prized, and therefore bring the highest price. These cuts are liked because of their tenderness although the nutritive value of the tough meat is as high or possibly even higher than the tender. We must take pains to use the cooking processes that will make the tough meats palatable.

Excerpts from Foods and Household Management : A Text-book of the Household Arts  by Helen Kinne and Anna M. Cooley (1913)


37 thoughts on “Cuts of Beef a Hundred Years Ago

    1. This is a slight exaggeration, but if often seems like my local supermarket has totally different cuts of meat from one week to the next. I’ll try a certain cut – like it, and make am mental note to buy it again. But when I look for it the next time, it will no longer be available (but the store will instead have a different group of steaks and roasts).

      1. Do you have any idea what part of the animal the ‘Mock Tender’ cut is from? Because sometimes it’s tender and other times I can resole my shoes.

  1. Very interesting! Wonder how they came up with some of the names–like porterhouse, for example? It is easy to see why shoulder or rump are named, but porterhouse?

    1. Some of the cuts do have strange names. I have no clue how they came up with porterhouse . . . maybe it’s named after a restaurant? 🙂

    1. I also have found that most cuts seem to be tough. For some reason, I never seem to be able to remember which cuts are tender and which aren’t, and too often purchase steaks that are disappointingly tough. 🙂

    1. I also have memories of seeing similar diagrams in mid-20th century cookbooks. It’s interesting how this apparently was considered important information for cooks for many years. Personally, I don’t really care which part of the cow the different cuts come from. What I really want to know are the characteristics of the various cuts.

  2. Good choice. Reminds me that my father-in-law was a butcher — the old fashioned Italian kind who chose the lambs to buy and slaughtered them himself for Easter customers. My husband worked with him on weekends. I was frequently referred to in (affectionate) cuts-of-meat terms.

    And where did porterhouse come from? A famous restaurant somewhere?

    1. I’m sure that there are still many skilled butchers, but it seems like some of the old-fashioned butchers had a very deep understanding of the entire process. I have no clue where porterhouse comes from – a famous restaurant sounds like as good a guess as any. 🙂

  3. This is a real handy chart. It’s amazing how many different cuts they get from different areas of a beef. Thanks for sharing.

  4. There’s an explanation for “porterhouse” here, along with the source of other names for meat cuts. Actually, there three explanations for porterhouse — I guess plenty of people want to claim it.

    When the talk turns to meat cuts, I always remember the process of buying beef in the market in up-country Liberia. The cattle were walked down from Guinea, which didn’t do much to keep them tender. The vendor would asked how much beef you wanted, and you would show him the size of the chunk you desired with your hands — as in much. Then, he’d get out a machete or a knife, make a couple of whacks, and snicker-snack! Beef for dinner!

    1. Thanks for the explanation of porterhouse, all of which seem logical, although I would go with 1 and 3 as “most likely.” 🙂 Enjoyed the list of others too–who knew that about Canadian Bacon?

      1. hmm. . . They all seem like possibilities, but I think that I agree with you that #3 (that it was named after a hotel) seems the most likely.

    2. Thanks for researching this and for the link. It’s interesting how there are several plausible stories for how porterhouse steaks got their name. I enjoyed the story about buying meat in Liberia. I guess you got a custom cut of meat. 🙂 The way they walked the cows from Guinea to market in Liberia reminds me of the old-time cattle drives in the U.S.

  5. Oh wow, never saw a drawing like this one .. Most have head remove. How a beef has been taken care definitely has an influence on taste and tenderness,as does age. “Old cow” the best thing you can do for it, is can the meat. 🙂

    1. I also thought that it was unusual to have the head on the cow in the diagram – though I think that is what made this drawing seem particularly interesting to me. I haven’t had canned beef in years – but I do remember it being wonderful when used to make beef noodle soup.

  6. This was so interesting to me, and it made me remember sitting in my home ec cooking class in junior high school, fifty years ago, while our teacher expounded, using a rubber-tipped pointer to tap on a chart much like the one in your post. I’m so glad you shared it!

    1. I’m glad this post brought back some good memories. It seems like home ec was a much more popular class back when we were kids than what it is now.

    1. I had similar thoughts. It makes it impossible not to think about the source of beef. I really just need a list of which cuts are tender and which are tough – though I guess that I learned something from the cow diagram and explanation.

    1. It is amazing how many of the names haven’t changed for at least a hundred years. It would be interesting to know what the Navel and Horseshoe cuts are called now.

    1. I also like some of the old pen drawn figures and diagrams from the days before computer graphics. There were some very creative commercial artists back then.

  7. I love seeing these diagrams! I love your blog. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one that enjoys classic cookbooks and such. Most people “tease” me about my old cookbook collection. 🙂

    1. It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoy this blog. I have so much fun doing it. It began more than 5 years ago when I began posting my grandmother’s diary entries a hundred years to the day after she wrote each entry. I provided some background information, including some recipes and food related posts, to add context to the diary. After I posted all the diary entries, I quit doing this blog for awhile, but I really missed it so I reinvented it as a blog focused on food a hundred years ago.

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