Ranking of Beef Muscles for Tenderness

Chris R. Calkins, Ph.D. and Gary Sullivan | University of Nebraska



Tenderness and flavor are the most important palatability characteristics relating to consumer satisfaction with beef. Research has repeatedly shown consumers are willing to pay a premium for beef that can be guaranteed tender. Consumers, producers, and product development experts often ask about the tenderness ranking of various beef muscles. Through the years, scientists have completed studies that included many muscles and few animals as well as few muscles over many animals. Not surprisingly, the relative tenderness of specific muscles has not always been in agreement. 

On the surface, ranking seems like an easy task. Quickly, however, one encounters a number of questions that must be addressed. What kind of animals should be included? What about breeds and gender classes? How should the muscles have been cooked? Is it more appropriate to use trained sensory panels or untrained consumers? To what degree of doneness should the beef have been cooked?

This fact sheet compiles the data from 60 years of tenderness and sensory research to create a definitive ranking of beef muscles on the basis of Warner-Bratzler shear force and trained sensory panel evaluations of tenderness, juiciness, and beef flavor. These data can be used to identify raw materials for specialized uses and value-added products.