Know Your Cuts and Beef Grading
Buying beef products can be confusing when you consider all the terms that you see on beef packaging or labels. Once you are familiar with the cuts and grades, you can better choose which beef products will work best with your recipes.
There are a wide variety of cuts and grading for beef, and generally the type of grade or cut signifies the quality of the beef. Here's a quick guide:
Cuts of Beef:
Working Cuts: A working cut will come from an animal's shoulder, leg or flank. Typical names you will find on beef packaging include:
- Top Round
- Bottom Round
- Top Sirloin
- Bottom Sirloin
Luxury Cuts: A luxury cut of beef will come from the back of the animal, the rump, rib, or loin and is more tender than a working cut. Typical names you will find on beef packaging include:
- Rib Eye
- Filet Mignon
Beef Grading: Typically you'll find 3 grades of beef grading:
- Prime: Prime beef is the highest grade and most tender and flavorful, with abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat) and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as grilling, broiling, or roasting
- Choice: Choice beef is high quality, but is leaner than prime due to less marbling
- Select: Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. Select beef requires longer cooking at lower temperatures such as for stewing and braising
Marbling, Firmness and Color
While you don't want extremely fatty beef, a well-marbled cut of beef will be more tender and flavorful, and will remain juicy during cooking. A good piece of well-marbled beef will have white flecks interspersed throughout the cut, making it appear "marbled". Additionally, fresh beef should be firm, not tough or soft. A general rule is to poke the fleshy part of your palm below your thumb, that is how fresh beef should feel.
Different kinds of meat have different colors, and can vary depending on the particular cut or animal. Uniformity in color is generally a good indicator of quality since discolored spots can be a sign of poor handling. You'll want to avoid beef that has a brown color, this is a good indicator that it's been sitting out too long. Fresh beef will have a rich, vibrant color such as a dark or cherry red.
All Natural Beef
Be sure to check out our August, 2019 article "What Does All Natural Beef Mean?" where we discuss beef packaging labels, hormones and antibiotics, and the approach we take with our cattle at Circle L Ranch.