In the United States, all beef is inspected for safety by the USDA. The USDA also provides grading services that grade beef according to quality and/or yield. Both types of grading are optional and costs the producer (rancher) some money to pay for the USDA grader to provide a grade. We'll look at quality grades in this article since these are the most influential to the consumer. Two factors are used when the USDA grades beef for quality: physiological maturity and marbling.
In addition to looking at the bone structures, the lean tissue of the ribeye will help determine the physiological maturity of the animal. In a young animal, the muscle will be a light pink-red tone and the texture will be fine. While the animal matures, the lean tissue will become darker in color and more coarse.
Maturity is rated into five groups labeled from A to E (where A is the youngest). For most cattle, the age groups are approximately (some variation from sex to sex):
A - A < 30 months
B - 30 months < B < 42 months
C - 42 months < C < 72 months
D - 72 months < D < 96 months
E - 96 months < E
Marbling is the amount of fat that is distributed within a muscle (not surrounding the muscle). When determining marbling of a carcass, the quantity and distribution of fat in the ribeye at the 12th rib is examined. Beef with higher amounts of marbling usually produce more tender, flavorful, and juicy cuts. How maturity and marbling relate to determine quality grade is shown in the table below.
|Slightly abundant||Prime||Prime / Choice||Commercial|
|Moderate||Choice||Commercial||Commercial / Utility|
|Modest||Choice||Commercial||Commercial / Utility||Utility|
|Small||Choice||Standard||Commercial / Utility||Utility|
|Slight||Select||Standard||Utility||Utility / Cutter|
|Traces||Standard||Utility||Utility / Cutter||Cutter|
|Practically Devoid||Standard||Standard / Utility||Utility / Cutter||Cutter||Cutter / Canner|
For more information the Official U.S. Standards for Grades of Livestock and Carcasses can be found at http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/stand/st-pubs.htm.
Anyway, the best options I found for obtaining prime:
1. A butcher can usually order it for you, at least sometimes and in some cuts.
2. Some high grade steakhouses will sell their beef to you; which is nice because it's usually been dry aged already.
3. You can order it shipped overnight (at fabulous cost) from http://www.lobels.com/ .
Although there are of course ranges within all the grades. Some choice is very close to prime. Usually the grocery store custom brands and are choice, and pretty decent choice at that. There can be variety though; always check out what you buy.
Is it worth it? If you have trouble finding decent choice grade beef, need consistency, or have one particular dinner that you want to "knock out of the park" then I'd say yes. But if you have a good butcher and can ask him/her for the best they've got, that's going to be pretty close (both in price and quality). I've found some very good choice grade beef.
Try it if you never have, you won't ever eant to go back.
USDA Prime beef means young and fat
I feel so confident now.
FYI for most people in the world who appreciate food and cooking, USDA graded meat is *not* a quality product. In fact, people with a real experience of meat will definitely stay away from USDA meat, because the label carries the promise of safety and constant quality levels *in the context of industrial production*.
This context has important implications if you are looking for an absolute or personal rating of quality and safety. (For example: "USDA quality" seems to mean "fat" and "soft" and is mostly a North American aquired taste, as world obesity statistics show. As for "USDA safety" it seems to mean: "will not make you sick from in the next 24 hours" but has little concern for epidemiology, long term effects of hormonal and antbiotic supplements etc.)
So in a way, it's like McDonalds: you know what you will get, and you are guaranteed a certain level of quality... but would you say that they serve "quality food"?
A long a detailed article is available here that may explain a bit more: http://www.mercola.com/2002/apr/17/cattle1.htm
PS: the comment applies to US production of pretty much anything. It is quite efficient and prolific... but quite bad in absolute value. Beef. Philosophy. Chicken. Graduates. Music. Movies. Software. Cars... Nobody would really pick US products as "the best" for any of these... but they are cheap and predictable. That is *a* quality. It's not *quality*, at least for most of us.
Of course how a piece of food can be considered 'inorganic' is beyond me as they are all made of meat and not, say, iron.
The term often refers to standards regulated by the government of the state of California, as they have laws regulating when a product may be labeled "organic". These laws can include specifications for things like how long it's been since pesticides or hormones have been used on a farm.
You may also be interested in knowing whether a product is the result of genetic engineering, as this is generally banned from import in Europe, and the environmental effects of genetic engineering are still seen as grim... and effects on humans (aside from engineering more deadly contagions) are largely unknown.
I want to know WHICH genes (and therefore what proteins) are being expressed if they're not part of the original organism, past that it's just hysteria.
Isn't this all just a marketing scam? I mean, aren't they really only certifing that the meat is from a Black Angus cow? Has anyone done any studies to show that Black Angus cows produce better meat? Isn't it more important on the marbling, age, dry-aging or wet cryovac aging process used, etc. etc?
Anyway, anyone know what all this madness about "Certified Angus" is all about?
1. Came from a Black Angus (a breed of cattle)
2. Quality is either USDA Prime or upper 2/3 Choice
3. Young cattle (A Maturity)
And some other requirements with respect to hump size, quality, etc.
Naturally, beef preference is up the diner, but many people believe that Angus beef is more tender and flavorful than other varieties. A lot of it is marketing (for example Burger King's Angus Burger) and hype, but if you're looking for Angus beef, then looking for the Certified Angus Beef brand ensures you will get what you are looking for.
I really feel sorry for the folks who live away from the main agricultural parts of the country...or at least away from where they know how to feed cattle.
I grew up in the heartland where beef is king and Vegitarian is a Native American word for "Bad Hunter". My parent's home is right around the corner from a neighborhood meat market which buys its sides of beef from a little company called "Omaha Steaks" They custom grind their hamburger from the same sides.
I now find myself living in a part of the country where beef gets fed Cotton waste and prickley-pears. Thank heaven for Costco. (Julia Child bought her meat at Costco...need I say more?).
There are grades of beef with more rmarbling than USDA Prime. The famous Japanese Kobe beef is one such grade.
Black Angus beef is indeed wonderful meat, however, advertising aside, most people won't tell the difference between Angus, Hereford or "Black Baldie" (a Hereford/Angus cross) if the cattle come out of the same feedlot, and are of the same USDA grade.
Now, if, as a previous poster said, this is meat from a steer which was raised by a 4-H kid, there you will have some really good beef, breed of steer notwithstanding.
Every year, the steak houses in Omaha have a bidding war for the AkSarBen 4-H cattle show grand champion steer. The money goes to the 4-H member who raised the steer. Often the bidding is high enough that the kid can pay for his or her college education from the proceeds.
If you are ever in Omaha, Check out Mr. C's, Angies, The Venice Inn or literally any of the home grown steak houses. You won't be disappointed, however, don't be supprised when the waitress asks if you want Spaghetti, Angle Hair or Mostacolli with your meal. Many of the local steak houses were founded and are still run by Italian families.
The Old Soldering Gunslinger
standard - good, healthful, lean meat
select - typically the best you can buy
choice - heart attack or obesity?
prime - heart attack AND obesity.
Angus - like choice or prime, but for people who take pride in buying expensive stuff. Have to keep up with the neighbors you know...
Kobe - like Angus, but worse.
I hate to tell you, but cattle that produce CAB ARE graded on the hoof. The USDA requirements for all branded beef programs are here:
Click on Certified Angus Beef and then the Schedule GLA link and you'll find this:
"Cattle eligible for certification in Angus influence beef programs based on phenotype (appearance) must be predominately (51 percent) solid black. Blue roan, gray, etc., are not considered to be black or a percentage of black. Such variations can qualify only when it occupies 49 percent, or less, of the body area with the remaining 51 percent, or greater, being solid black.
1/ Angus influence cattle may be either horned or polled. Carcasses of certified live animals which display certain non-Angus characteristics (e.g.; dairy conformation, Brahman humps) shall be excluded as specified in the carcass specifications for approved programs."
For those who might be interested, I'll give you a short history of the Certified Angus Beef program. About 35 years ago we had an influx of Continental cattle into the US. Limousin from France, Simmentals from Germany are two of the breeds. They were much larger than the British cattle here in the US, Angus, Herefords and Shorthorns. The packers loved them. They got a lot more meat from one animal. But a problem occured. They meat quality was lower than the British breeds produced. So the packers and others petitioned the USDA to change the grading standards. Lower them. The American Angus Association fought that change hard, but lost. They truly believed the American consumer would pay extra for quality beef so they started the Certified Angus Beef program. It started slow and times were tough for the Association. The larger cattle were more popular, registrations of Angus cattle dropped. But a strange thing happened. Beef demand slowed. Now that was about the time doctors were telling people to cut down on red meat, so that may have also had an influence, but I'm convinced the changing of the grading system is partly responisble for the lowering of beef demand in this country. Gradually CAB became recognized as a quality, consistent cut of meat and demand grew. Today almost every packing plant is licensed to sell CAB. There are about 40 branded beef lines in the nation's supermarkets that use the word "Angus" in their name, but Certified Angus Beef is the oldest and best recognized and is owned by the American Angus Association. So, go ahead, guys, enjoy a good steak. We Angus producers need the money!! :)
USDA Prime (especially) will give you a great strip or sirloin stake.
USDA Choice will give you a prime rib or triple trimmed fillet mignon that will taste so close to USDA Prime that it won't justify the extra cost. USDA Choice is also sold by some supermarkets here in the Midwest as the everyday meat at everyday price. Any choice steak should be acceptable.
USDA Select can go either way.
All my comments assume non aged meat. As for Kobe, I've never had it but I would tend to guess that the price might skew some people's opinions of it. Kind of like expensive vodka.
Genetically Modified foods are not healthy. Below is more information explaining this but as far as cooking purposes I can recommend avoiding corn-fed beef as virtually all corn in the US is GM now. I just called Rancher's Reserve and they do use hormones and antibiotics but their cow's are fed non GM grain. I purchase Organic Beef only because of the overwhelming evidence against the use of pesticides, genetic modification, hormones, and other nasty chemicals.
And if reading something isn't going to prove it to you and you don't mind spending a little more for a week- Buy a small bottle of CellFood (little droplets you add to water) and detox yourself(removes toxins), eat organic food, and keep the use of any kind of products with more than 20 things listed under ingredients to a minimum (like make-up). You will feel like crap the first couple days as you detox with CellFood depending on how healthy you are, but you will notice you have much more energy and require less sleep. I realize this sounds like a nature-nut rant but I am just a civil-engineer trying to help out. I have experienced the effects of this first hand, I now have more energy than I had at 18. This also cures most health problems.
Several recent studies confirm fears that genetically modified (GM) foods damage human health. These studies were released as the World Trade Organization (WTO) moved toward upholding the ruling that the European Union has violated international trade rules by stopping importation of GM foods.
Research by the Russian Academy of Sciences released in December 2005 found that more than half of the offspring of rats fed GM soy died within the first three weeks of life, six times as many as those born to mothers fed on non-modified soy. Six times as many offspring fed GM soy were also severely underweight.
In November 2005, a private research institute in Australia, CSIRO Plant Industry, put a halt to further development of a GM pea cultivator when it was found to cause an immune response in laboratory mice.
In the summer of 2005, an Italian research team led by a cellular biologist at the University of Urbino published confirmation that absorption of GM soy by mice causes development of misshapen liver cells, as well as other cellular anomalies.
In May of 2005 the review of a highly confidential and controversial Monsanto report on test results of corn modified with Monsanto MON863 was published in The Independent/UK.
If you are interested in reading more about CellFood you can rad more about it at cellfood.com. I am not affiliated with them in any way I am just a huge fan of their product and what it has done for my life. (It also makes your sweat not smell bad as it removes the toxins which attach themselves to odor-causing bacteria).
Thanks for reading and enjoy those steaks! Throw some habeņeros and lime in with the steaks before you cook them and make sure to cook them as cold as possible to seer in the juices!
You're a nut. People have been eating genetically modified (GM) food since the beginning of civilization... what is selective breeding and wild-crop domestication if not an inefficient method of genetic modification?
No difference, except that 1, we're a lot more efficient now, and 2, anti-technology Luddites tend to follow their emotions and fearmongering claims rather than actual science.
As for searing to keep the juices in, that's simply false. You lose the same amount of liquid either way. Searing is to create a savory, carmelized crust.
Perhaps a short article for each primal would work.
We are engineers. We can solve this problem.
2. Fat does not equal flavor. In fact, beef fat is pretty flavorless as anyone who has ever cooked apple pies with beef tallow can attest. Flavorful feed (i.e. flavorful pasture grasses and wildflowers) give the flavor to meat.
3. Living in small town or rural America will not give you any access to higher-quality meat, just the opposite: the best beef is invariably shipped directly from slaughterhouses to wealthier locales, like New York City and Chicago. Small-town America is a perfect gastronomic hell of Wonderbread and Chicken McNuggets and those hopelessly mediocre "Omaha" steaks.
To conclude.. If you care about good food, choose 100% pasture-raised, organic beef from Arizona and neighboring states (flavorful pasture grasses). If REAL beef is too lean for you, cook it rare and serve it with plenty of butter (REAL butter, over 80% fat, from free-range pastured cows, not the watery flavorless supermarket variety).
Beef in Europe and Asia is notoriously bad. The US has the best beef in the world.
I saw this as somebody who's travelled extensively--Argentine beef wins hands down, followed by (believe it or not) New Zealand and Brazil.
American beef is mushy and tastes vaguely of corn. Eating steak in Argentina was a near-religious experience. Ironically, because so much of it is exported, the best New Zealand beef I've ever had was in the United Arab Emirates--but what a piece of meat it was.
Free-range, semi-feral beef wins hands down - always, in any taste competition. Argentine beef is not hugely different from Brazilian beef or, for that matter, from most of South American beef. Likewise, 100% pastured Australian beef is as good as NZ beef. Europe's beef is mostly as flavorless these days as American beef. Fully pastured cattle from the Scottish highlands, the Pyrenees and some other regions do produce excellent beef. Asia has never been a big beef-eating region. I'd suggest looking for excellent lamb there, though. Sadly, it's harder and harder to find.
Simply put USDA Prime is the best, only 2% of all beef is graded Prime.
It important to note that the breed is also important as the dairy industry can grade the holsteins breed prime. So stick with hereford, texas longhorn, angus etc. :unsure: See the List of cattle breeds - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Dry aged vs Wet aged, the dry age beef is the ultimate in total dining experience, costs are more but well worth it.
last I looked, it is a USDA inspector that did meat grading, not "the dairy industry" - based on their impression of meat quality and marbling - regardless of breed.
>>wet vs dry aging
no quibble about that - dry aging reduces the moisture in the meat, concentrates flavor, etc. "wet aging" in Cryovac is not much more than keeping the meat from spoiling for an extended shelf life.
You are exactly correct what I should have said was Holsteins as well as other breeds are graded by the inspector and not the dairy industry, just pointing out that the breed is just as important in the final grading process.
Try Holstein Prime vs Hereford Prime etc .side by side and you'll soon understand the difference in eating quality>>BIG difference !!
wish I could speak to that - but being 'off the farm' my source for beef is either the supermarket or our local butcher.
in the supermarket we've got "organic" labels and "Certified Angus Beef" labels but the rest is mystery breed beef - I'll ask the butcher (we have a real "meat cutting department" at the supermarket) and my butcher if they can specifically ID the breed.
our local butcher deals exclusively with a local slaughterhouse - he would certainly have some idea - or could easily inquire - about what breed the slaughterhouse always/sometimes processes. he's third generation of the business - he knows his stuff - does a mean dry age for my Christmas prime rib. when 'it's got to be good' he's my goto source.
I do a (long involved...) beef dish where I always use "top round" - but I have noted the results aka 'quality' aka taste is not especially consistent - could be differ breeds, there is no obvious clue from the packaging / labeling.
Stick with native choice or prime, no exotic breeds and you should be go to go to enjoy a good steak. Most of the upscale Steak Houses use the high end of the beef spectrum, thats why you pay the preminum prices.
If you have a discerning palette as I do, you'll be hard pressed to find, at the least a decent steak in the moderatlely priced steak houses, eatable yes ,melt in your mouth with flavor and texture abound no. Good luck and good eating.
By the way what is the special recipe you prepare with the round steak ?
oh,,, indeed. more like "an exercise in chewing stamina" is more apt a description to some of that stuff.
ahhh... it's one of those internal to the family "comfort foods" things, passed down through my mother-in-law. she called it hash, that's what we call it - but it's not quite the exact definition of "hash"
get yerself a roast, salt/pepper, in a heavy pot, brown heavily. most of the browning / crusting goes away in subsequent steps, so more browned / seared is more better, eventually, flavor wise..... I use 4-5 minutes on a 'side' - x 4 - allowing for rotation, + end(s)
after the browning bit, remove roast, in same pan caramelize a batch of half-globe sliced onion. leeks work as well,,,, when onions are done.... I like onions, I use 2-3 mediums for the average 3 lb. roast.
put the browned roast back in the heavy pan, add liquid to "almost" cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer - covered - for four +/- hours.
as for the liquid, I've used 100% water, 80-20 water/wine, 50-50 water beer. take yer pick. for wine, a super dry type not recommended; that dry/tart flavor concentration goes 'off taste' - go with a medium to sweet white.
remove from heat, allow to cool, refrigerate overnight.
next day, low heat reheat to a simmer - covered - add diced fresh garlic to taste - simmer 3-4 hours. recheck for salt&pepper.
if you've done it right, at this point you've got "pulled beef" - the meat fiber/bundles are falling apart. remove meat, ladle out pot juice & thicken for a light gravy.
extra flavor tip: use the pot juice to reconstitute dried mushrooms; remove mushroom 'bodies' prior to service - I'm sure there must be a culinary use for reconstituted stems/caps, I've just not found it yet. love the flavor, not so big on the left-over chunkies.....
with a really sharp knife, cut across the grain & serve meat+limp onion strands smothered in the gravy, over mashed potatoes.
heh, that was her story, and I'm sticking to it (g)
steamed/braised brussel sprouts is a good side - nice conflict of tart & sweet.
"Organic", "Certified Angus", "KobeLoveYouVeryMuchBigTime", and others are great for improving your purchase perception. If you go to Japan try the Kobe but beware that your cash for a sushi-sized piece could have purchased both an excellent steak and good hooker back here in the States. If you buy Kobe here it will likely not be the same, much like the crappy beef they get from the US/Argentina/Brazil in the EU; any food product is going to be available at a higher quality locally. I digress. As an engineer from a beef raising family I felt the need to throw my hat in the ring here.
USDA grading is a great way to tell how your steaks will turn out, especially before you find a good butcher/can spot the golden cuts in a pile of big box packaging. A half-competent grill or oven operator should be able to make any Prime steak that has at least minimal aging (such as a 12hr cold kosher salt application or two days on a cooling rack in the fridge) a testament to the privilege of first-world living.
If this is not enough to satisfy your sick food fetish, however, there is a further option which the CfE folks in Austin can take advantage of with the ease of falling off a log. However, you damn Yankees may need to work/pay more for access. I am of course referencing direct sales of responsibly raised beef. While I have grown up with the good fortune of ready access to young beefs slaughtered having never seen a feed lot/antibiotics/ground corn "feed"/shit-reeking pens/pretty much any stress, most areas of the country are now served by a new generation of farmers and ranchers that offer the same access to those born without the marbled spoon in their mouth. I urge anyone that views cooking a quality steak as a privilege to investigate their local options. While they are not always the best available, they are almost certainly better than the grocery store pack.