6 Best Cuts of Meat for Beef Jerky: Options Explained

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
January 6, 2023

When I first got started with making beef jerky, something I found quite difficult to understand was that the cuts of beef that are great for barbecue, usually tend to be bad for making beef jerky.

In the world of smoking low and slow, fat renders. However, in the world of jerky - fat won't render and will go rancid.

Meaning, the best cuts of beef for jerky are lean, cheap meats. Usually cuts that line up with these qualities are the round roasts: Eye of round, top round, and bottom round.

Best Cuts of Meat for Beef Jerky

The best cuts of meat for beef jerky usually come from the hind legs of the cow. However, any cut that's both lean and cheap is desirable for jerky.

Cuts from the round primal include the eye of round, top round, or bottom round. Aside from these, cuts like the flank steak, sirloin tip roast, and brisket flat can work well too.

1. Eye of Round

Eye of Round is a sub-primal cut sourced from the round primal - the cows hind legs.

eye of round for jerky

Round cuts are some of the most inexpensive beef cuts that you can find in a grocery store; They're typically quite lean and lack tenderness (meaning they cost less); When making jerky, these are wonderful qualities to have.

Of the different round cuts, eye of round is typically what most resources would say is the best cut for beef jerky.

While I agree with this sentiment, I think it's important that people realize that any of the "round" roasts will work great for jerky - they are all quite literally taken from around the same area on the cow - the round primal.

People opt for the eye of round specifically because it's the leanest of the three.

You can think of the eye round to be like the beef tenderloin - both in terms of size, shape, and fat content. The major difference being the tenderness; Eye of round is substantially less tender than tenderloin.

This is because the musculature of the hind quarters is used for movement and the tenderloin/dorsal area of the cow isn't.

While Eye of round typically contains minimal, if any intramuscular fat, there is sometimes an exterior fat cap. Butchers will tend to leave this fat cap on as the eye of round is used for roasts. When making jerky, this fat cap is easily removed.

eye of round trimmed for jerky
Eye of Round Trimmed and Fat Cap Removed

It should also be noted that the natural cylindrical shape of the eye of round makes it easy for home-jerky makers to use.

2. Bottom Round Roast

Bottom round is also taken from the hind legs of the animal. More specifically, it is taken from the outside of the rear legs, away from the backbone.

round primal

Bottom round is typically smaller than top round - a whole bottom round is rectangular where-as a whole top round has an egg-like shape.

Bottom round is also a tighter grained muscle than the top round. Due to this reason, this meat is usually used for ground beef or is used to make cube steak (which is pre-tenderized).

Keep in mind, the the top round is also used to make both of these too.

Another way this meat is used is to make beef jerky.

For some reason, a lot of other articles will put top round in front of bottom round in terms of their preference for jerky. However, from the perspective of making jerky, this doesn't make sense.

To me, the order of importance for meat selection for jerky looks like this:

  1. What's the fat content? - Eye of round wins because it's more lean than bottom round and top round; Bottom round and top round are both comparable in terms of marbling.
  2. What's the price? - Of these three round roasts, Bottom round is the cheapest option. In some cases I've seen bottom round roasts up to 2x less than top round.

Just to illustrate, I live in New Hampshire and a common place I grocery shop is Price Chopper.

Using their pricing data as of 12/9/2022:

  • Bottom Round Roast: $2.99/lb
  • Top Round Roast: $6.99/lb
  • Eye of Round Roast: $5.99/lb

So Bottom Round roast is 2x cheaper than Eye of round and 2.34x cheaper than Top round. Due to the fat cap - which is removed - you could argue that Eye of Round is roughly the same price as top round.

3. Top Round Roast or London Broil

Top round is a cut also taken from the round primal - or the hind legs; More specifically, top round is taken from the inside of the rear legs.

Due to the fact that the legs are used for movement, these cuts are quite lean - which is perfect for jerky.

london broil
London Broil

To reiterate, the main reason I put Bottom round ahead of top round is because it's cheaper. A big reason Top round is more expensive is because it's more tender than the bottom round.

People will use top round to make roasts, London broil (pictured above), Swiss steak, and it's often cut thin to make roast beef.

When buying it as a roast, I'd suggest looking for meat that is void of veins or "gristle." While most places will butcher the Top Round correctly and remove the gristle, I have seen it with the veins in - which won't render when used for jerky.

Typically all that needs to be removed is small amounts of exterior fat and silver skin.

trimming london broil for jerky
London Broil Trimmed

Gristle isn't palatable or edible. On the off-chance your top round roast has gristle - remove it.

As pointed out above, price differences between top round and eye of round is usually negligible at best. I've seen eye of round be both cheaper and more expensive than top round on several occasions.

4. Flank Steak

Flank steak is a beef primal that produces only one sub-primal cut - the flank steak.

The name "flank" is derived from the anatomical location on the steer - the flank of the carcass, just below the loin.

flank primal

This muscle - like the brisket - is heavily exercised/supportive in nature and as a result is rather fibrous.

Contrary to popular belief, the flank steak has minimal, if any fat. There may be exterior fat as a result of poor butchering but unlike the skirt steak, it's very lean.

flank steak

Due to the lean nature of the meat, flank steak works wonderfully for jerky.

With that said, flank steak has become somewhat expensive - this is especially true when compared to the round roasts described above.

Again, just to use my Grocery store's pricing, at the time of writing this - December 9th, 2022 - the price of each cut was as follows:

  • Eye of Round: $5.99/lb
  • Flank Steak: $13.99/lb

So you're paying double the price for flank steak.

If I was at a grocery store and they had eye of round, london broil, and flank steak - I'd go for the eye of round or the london boril for jerky every single time.

5. Round Tip Roast (Sirloin Tip Roast)

The round tip roast goes by lots of names; To name a few:

  • Knuckle,
  • Ball of the round,
  • Round tip,
  • Sirloin tip roast,
  • Tip center,
  • "Thick flank"

You get the gist.

Either way, this cut is taken from the front side of the hind leg.

While the sirloin tip is more tender than other parts of the round (like the ones above), it still isn't what most folks would deem "tender." For this reason, it's fabricated into both steaks, roasts, and ground beef.

If you intend to make jerky with it meat from this area, look for the roasts as apposed to steaks to save money; Granted, the Sirloin tip "steaks" are more or less just thinner roasts.

Where I'm from this part is usually cut up into thin steaks, pricing is usually similar to that of Bottom and Top Round.

At the time of writing this, my local grocery store had Sirloin tip steak for $5.99/lb.

Sirloin tip roast does tend to have more inter-muscle fat and sinew. While fat can render quite well when slow-roasted, it's not useful for beef jerky.

This is more pronounced towards the end of the sirloin tip where the muscles start to articulate/separate themselves. The end will start to have more sinew between the muscles.

Granted, most butchers are aware of this. Instead it's usually cut up into stew meat.

This muscle is also separated from the "tri-tip", which sits just above it on the outermost edge.

6. Brisket

While I personally have never used brisket meat to make jerky, I know of several craft jerky makers and meat processors that specifically use brisket.

Brisket is taken from the breast section of the steer, under the first five ribs.

brisket primal

Brisket is comprised of two muscles - the point and the flat.

Of these two muscles the one that's used for jerky is the flat because it lacks intramuscular fat. Due to this fact, this muscle is colloquially called the "lean."

The point is the opposite, and is heavily marbled with intramuscular fat; It's colloquially called the "fatty."

brisket flat
Brisket flat highlighted

In a grocery store it's possible to find flats separated from the point. You can also easily separate the flat with a sharp knife as the muscles are simply separated by a seam of fat.

A whole brisket can weigh anywhere from 8-20 lbs, with a majority of that weight being the flat muscle.

In terms of slicing, it's super simple as the flat is just that, a flat thin muscle with a defined grain structure.

in terms of trimming, you may have to remove nodules of surface fat and silverskin.

Which Cuts to Avoid for Jerky?

To reiterate, while fat content can be desirable for cuts of meat like steak or for larger cuts of meat like brisket - both instances where you can render the fat - it is not useful for jerky.

To illustrate:

While flank steak and skirt steak are quite similar, where they differ is their fat content. This is why you can use flank steak for jerky and why you shouldn't use skirt steak.

When making jerky, this fat will not render and will go rancid. Starting with a cut that is naturally lean is your best option.

This is also why I said a cut being "cheap" is desirable - meaning you don't have to look at USDA grading.

Cuts that are graded as Choice or Prime by the USDA imply that they were derived from a steer with abundant fat marbling in the ribeye muscle. A cow with a ribeye muscle that is prime means the other musculature is also deemed Prime.

Likely the leanest cut of beef on a cow is the tenderloin. While you could use it for jerky, the tenderloin is also one of the most expensive on the entire animal - which isn't great for jerky.

Remember, cheap and lean are best for jerky.

Slicing Any of These Cuts for Jerky

Regardless of the cut of meat you choose, cutting jerky against the grain is paramount and even more pronounced when done incorrectly.

Slicing is an aspect that a lot of resources really gloss over too - be sure to check out my guide.

While slicing a steak against the grain makes it more tender, with something like jerky, if you slice with the grain, the lack of tenderness is readily apparent.

london broil grain direction
London Broil Grain Direction

With all that said, I definitely know lots of people who like chewy jerky so line up your preferences and slice accordingly.

To summarize these cutting methods in terms of their outcomes:

  • Meat cut against the grain = soft jerky
  • Meat cut with the grain = chewy jerky
Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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