The Leanest Cuts of USDA Beef


If you're watching your fat or cholesterol intake, it can be tempting to skip the beef section of the meat counter. Some of the most tender and flavorful cuts of beef are well-marbled with fat. However, there are 29 cuts of beef designated as lean or extra-lean by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that, when prepared correctly, are as enjoyable as the fattier cuts.

USDA Requirements

  • Browsing the meat counter at the local supermarket, you might notice that some cuts of beef are labeled lean or extra-lean. These labels are regulated by the government and the demarcation of extra-lean is reserved for the leanest cuts. The USDA assigns the classification of extra-lean to cuts of beef that contain less than 5 gm of total fat, 2 gm of saturated fat and 95 mg of cholesterol.

Round Cuts

  • Round steaks and roasts are cut from the rear of the cow and considered by the USDA to be extra-lean. These muscles are well-developed and lean, and so should be cooked using moist heat. Popular cuts include top, bottom and eye of round roasts. Though steaks cut from these roasts often bear the same name, like eye of round steak, they may also have different labels. Cut thinly, eye of round steaks may be labeled breakfast or minute steak. Top round steak may also be called London broil.

Sirloin Cuts

  • Just in front of the round section, the sirloin sits at the hip of the cow. The sirloin is composed of several different muscles, each with a different flavor and degree of tenderness. Because of their location near the round section, there is relatively little fat on some sirloin cuts earning them the label of extra-lean. Sirloin cuts are flavorful, affordable and suitable for many cooking techniques. USDA extra-lean sirloin cuts include top sirloin and sirloin tip roasts and steaks.


  • Cuts of beef often have multiple names. It may be helpful to do some research before shopping for your cuts of beef or to invest in a pocket reference guide. Since lean cuts of beef tend to be tougher, some additional preparation may be required before cooking.

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