People have eaten the flesh of bovines from prehistoric times; some of the earliest known cave paintings, such as those of Lascaux show aurochs in hunting scenes. People domesticated cattle around 8000 BC to provide ready access to beef, milk, and leather. Most cattle originated in the Old World, with the exception of bison hybrids. Examples include the Wagyū from Japan, Ankole-Watusi from Egypt, and longhorn Zebu from the Indian subcontinent.
It is unknown exactly when people started cooking beef. Cattle were widely used across the Old World as draft animals (oxen), for milk, or specifically for meat. With mechanization of farming, some breeds were specifically bred to increase meat yield, resulting in Chianina and Charolais, or to improve texture, as the Murray Grey, Angus or Wagyū. Some breeds have been selected for both meat and milk production, e.g. Brown Swiss (Braunvieh).
Beef is first divided into primal cuts, pieces of meat initially separated from the carcass during butchering. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. The term "primal cut" is quite different from "prime cut", used to characterise cuts considered to be of higher quality. Since the animal's legs and neck muscles do the most work, they are the toughest; the meat becomes more tender as distance from hoof and horn increases. Different countries and cuisines have different cuts and names, and sometimes use the same name for a different cut; e.g., the cut described as "brisket" in the US is from a significantly different part of the carcass than British brisket.