Beef grading is carried out by USDA to determine the best application of each of the beef carcasses. Yield and quality are the two purposes of beef grading. Grading is not mandatory, and therefore, all beef available throughout the United States is not graded.
USDA’s beef grading procedure is based on the following parameters
Marbling: This refers to small fat pieces present within the meat. Increased marbling improves the meat’s quality because it makes the meat more tender and flavourful. Excess marbling, however, may spoil the quality of meat.
Animal Age: The best variety of beef is only available from animals that are within the age of eighteen months to two years. The meat from animals those are older than two and half years are extremely flavourful, but are tougher.
Others: Firmness, color, and texture of the meat.
The USDA indicates beef’s quality utilizing eight different levels of grading.
• Prime: This is the highest possible quality of beef and represents just about two percent of all graded beef. With optimized marbling, this variety is extremely tender and flavourful. Prime beef is available mostly to the largest of the restaurants. However, they can be available occasionally in the specialty markets for meat.
• Choice: This is the best grade available in the food stores and supermarkets. About 45% of graded beef available to the common consumers represents this grade. Though less than prime beef, this grade also has an excellent fat marbling. Choice beef can be cooked with both moist and dry heat methods.
• Select: The leanest amongst the top three grades, Select beef represents almost twenty percent of total graded beef. It has less marbling compared to Choice or Prime, and is less juicy and tender compared to the higher grades. Select beef is a good choice for people looking for a minimum fat intake.
• Standard & Commercial: Commercial and standard grades have extremely low fat content and lack considerably in terms of tenderness. They are available in the market as ungraded and are often sold under the store’s brand name.
• Utility, Cutter, and Canner: These three grades are generally completely devoid of marbling, and are not available in the food store. These grades are mostly used for making canned and processed meat products.
What are the different cuts of beef?
I am sure most of you are aware of a few cuts of beef. However, quite a few different types of cuts are available in the market. The animal part from which the meat is cut determines its flavor and texture. This makes all the difference in terms of deciding whether it is suited for braising, grilling, taco filling, or sauce espagnole.
Here are some of the most common cuts of beef:
Brisket: This is a cut from the lower chest and breast of beef. In general, some of the inner and outer pectoral muscles are included in brisket. This is a relatively tougher cut of beef.
Chuck: This is a rectangular cut of beef that partially includes the shoulder and areas above the rib. This cut is also somewhat tough because this area contains many intersecting muscles. Shoulder steak, shoulder top blade, and chuck eye steak are some examples of chuck steaks.
Flank: This is a relatively long and flat cut from the animal’s lower abdominal muscles. This cut is characterized by its specific types of grains that feature string-like, long fibres. Though a tough cut, flank is known to be extremely flavourful.
Plate: Also known as short plate, this cut is from the animal’s front belly portion. This cut possesses a large quantity of cartilage and high fat content. Hanger steaks, short ribs, and cut steaks are produced from this cut.
Rib: This cut is derived from the central portion of the rib, and is one of the most sought after beef cuts because of its even marbling and tender texture. Rib-eye steaks and rib roasts are made from this cut.
Shank: This cut comes from the animal’s upper leg portion. This being the body’s one of the most exercised parts, the meat is dry, sinewy, and contains less fat.
Short loin: This cut comes from the animal’s back, and includes the tenderloin, top loin, and certain portions of the spine. This cut is known for its superior flavor and tender texture.
Sirloin: This cut refers to the meat from the entire back portion of the animal. Sirloin is often classified into different cuts, with top sirloin being the most popular one. The bottom sirloin is less tender, and cheaper compared to the top. Generally speaking, sirloin cuts have good flavor, and are less expensive compared to short loin.
Round: This cut comes from a part of the cow just above the shank but below the rump. The different types of round cut include top round, bottom round, and eye round. This cut is lean and has moderate toughness.