Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Step Your Game Up: Knowing What To Look For When Purchasing Beef

For those of you who follow us closely and read all the delicious recipes where we call out the names of various cuts of beef / steaks, but don't truly know the difference between a rib eye and a flank steak, this article is just what you need to read. To quickly discover the difference between, cuts, and grades read below and become enlightened at the vast amount of knowledge you be able to bust out at the next BBQ you attend.
True indeed the only dumb question that exists is the one that was never asked and here we answer a great question; just how in the hell does the USDA grade beef and why?
Anyone that has savored a USDA Prime Graded Steak knows that it is delightfully tender and juicy with a buttery flavor that makes it distinctively superior to any other steak. Of all the beef produced in the US, less than 2% is certified as USDA Prime. Typically you will not find USDA Prime in the supermarkets since its limited supply is gobbled up by fine meat purveyors that retail it to upscale restaurants and affluent consumers.
How The USDA Grades Beef.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meticulously grades beef at the request of a meat packer. Only beef that is USDA inspected may carry the USDA shield of authenticity. The grading system determines the quality rating of beef based upon a very complicated inspection system which essentially measures the amount of marbling (fat specs) in the ribeye muscle (lean) portion and combines the maturity (age) of the beef carcass to arrive at the inspected grade quality.
Basically the higher the ratio of marbling and the younger the beef, the higher the grade. It is the fat marbling that determines tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The age of the beef determines beef texture and also effects flavor. Younger beef produces a finer texture and a lighter red color.
Therefore USDA Prime Grade has the highest rating of a combined high ratio of marbling with the youngest maturity of beef. That's why prime is the most flavorful and most tender with the finest of texture.
USDA Prime, Choice and Select Grades.
Although there are eight levels of USGA graded beef there are generally only three USDA grades of beef that you would buy in a supermarket, a butcher shop or a restaurant. They are USDA Prime, Choice or Select which is the order of grade from the highest to lowest. Two lesser grades are Cutter and Canner which is what you would typically find in frozen pot pie dinners, microwave burritos, hamburgers and other processed food products. USDA Select is not very far above the bottom of the edible barrel, though some major chain stores will try and infer to a consumer that Select is a premium grade that is often marketed with a "catchy brand". 
Beware of marketing deceptions where some supermarkets may try to fool an unsuspecting consumer by using the words "prime" and "choice" without being attached with the official "USDA shield". Unless prime and choice carries the USDA label, what you are buying may not be the real thing. Some upscale restaurants employ clever wordsmiths to write menu copy that deceives you into thinking you are ordering a USDA Prime Steak when in reality you may be being served the less costly "Choice" version. In fairness to restaurants that serve USDA Choice Filets, it's degree of marbling could closely approach that of Prime when the measurement is very near the threshold that separates it from Prime.
When shopping for quality steaks, always look for the USDA shield. When ordering a steak at a restaurant always ask your server what the USDA grade actually is. Often you'll hear a bit of stuttering and a quick diversion from the subject. 
That's a signal to become more inquisitive.

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