The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

11:33 PM

Food Tip - Beef Grading

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

Grading Beef
During the summer, there is nothing quite like a nice barbeque on a beautiful day, with a cold drink.  And when it comes to barbeque, there is nothing quite like a thick, juicy steak.  However, not all steak is created equal.  Steaks may look similar, but there are various cuts and grades that make each steak a unique treasure.  Higher quality steaks have more fat interspersed between the red parts of the meat (this is known as "marbling"), and this results in a more flavorful, tender steak.
In the U.S., beef is graded by the United States Department of Agriculture.  There are many different types of cuts, but each is given a rating by which consumers can ascertain the general quality of the steak.  Here are the ratings, from lowest to highest:
In this post, I will be discussing the grades of meat.


Utility (also Canner or Cutter)
Canned Corn Beef Hash

If you ever see a steak in the store with this rating, run screaming out the door! This type of meat has not met the minimum requirements for a standard piece of beef.  This should not be used to make a steak.  This sort of meat is usually used in low-quality ground beef, or for canned meat products, etc.

Standard (or Commercial)
 Standard Steak ("lean")
This type of beef has very little or no marbling, and is usually not very tender.  This is often sold in many stores, and unfortunately, is probably what many people would think of when they imagine a steak.  While this is perfectly usable, it is lacking the flavor and tender quality of more premium steaks.

 Select Steak

This type of meat is also often sold in stores, but will usually be labeled as "Select," rather than unlabeled or sold as a store brand.  This type of steak has relatively little marbling, but it is more tender and juicy than lower-quality cuts. This is a common budget type of steak, but if you want a flavorful steak, you will want to go for something with more marbling.

 Choice Steak

This is a high-quality piece of meat.  This is usually the best cut you will find in most stores.  It has a greater degree of marbling than lower cuts, and you will find it to be more juicy and tender.  Cooking with a Choice steak will result in a much more flavorful bite.  If you can find it, this is the steak you should be looking for if you want a great meal.

 Prime Steak

This type of beef has been given the highest rating.  It will have a heavy amount of marbling, and will be very flavorful and tender.  This type of beef is also taken from a much younger animal than other types.  This type of meat is much more expensive, and you will usually not find it in a store.  Prime steaks are usually prepared and served in high-class steakhouses and restaurants.  If you are lucky, and your local specialty food market sells USDA Prime steaks, prepare for a treat (and don't burn them!)

American Wagyū Beef

When choosing meat in a store, look for marbling.  This indicates the white fatty parts that are "marbling" the red meat.  In general, the more marbling, the juicier and more tender the steak will be.  If you are unsure, look for the USDA Shield.  Steak listed as "choice steak" may not necessarily be "USDA Choice".  Don't be fooled by these products, the lack of marbling and lack of a USDA shield will give them away.
Also, look for steaks that have a nice, bright red color.  Dark meat is old or poorly-handled, and you should never buy it.  Also, beware of markets that pump steak up as "lean".  When we're talking about steak, lean is definitely not a good thing.

Look for my upcoming post on Wagyū beef.

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