Hello and welcome back!
Awhile ago, I shared few posts highlighting several cheeses I love and use a lot in my cooking. If you’d like a look back, you can find them in the Cheese category.
This time, I thought about focusing on another food that I simply cannot live without. You’ve seen the title, so you know what to expect – STEAK!
I have some interesting things to share when it comes to Steak, so I am really excited about this series. But you really have to start at the beginning, so we’re going to go to the very early stages of making great steak – shopping for it.
The terminology surrounding steak can be a bit confusing, but once you learn a few key words, you will feel more comfortable and be able to purchase exactly what you are looking for.
The major keywords that you’ll come across are Angus, Choice, Prime, Grass-Fed, and Grass-Finished.
It’s important to know the details of each of these, from there you can further narrow it down by selecting a cut within that category. (I will highlight those in a different post.)
Now, it gets a little more murky when it comes to cuts because even if you buy and cook a lot of steak, there can be unfamiliar names now and then. Sometimes it’s because there is not a lot of a particular cut produced – such as hanger steak. There is only one per cow! And sometimes, it’s just a marketing ploy to sell lower quality cuts to unsuspecting, hungry customers.
So, in this post, I’d like to walk you through a few key words you are most likely to see at the butcher’s counter: Angus, Choice, Prime, Grass-Fed, and Grass-Finished.
(Black) Angus is a breed of cow. Originally from Scotland, it is now the most common breed of cattle in the US. There is very little that determines whether or not the cattle is actually Angus: its hind has to be at least 51% black. Hence, the name. Since there is no thorough testing done to determine whether or not it’s genetically Angus, you may not know for sure.
Now, you may see the tag “Certified Angus Beef” which is a brand name used by the American Angus Association. There are 10 quality standards that go into Certified Angus Beef, making it more of a grading scale, but in reality it is simply marketing.
All beef in the US is thoroughly tested for safe consumption by the USDA. It is then graded, which brings me to my next point:
Choice vs Prime
Choice and Prime are grade levels, each bringing with them their respective price points. The grading is determined by the amount of intramuscular fat marbling in the cut. Prime steak has abundant levels of marbling, and is therefore considered a better quality, representing the top three percent of beef in the United States, and it costs more. That’s why you see restaurants list it on their menu – it’s indicative of the tenderness and juiciness you can expect. Choice has less marbling than prime, but depending on the cut, can still be tender and juicy when grilled or roasted.
It seems funny to think that cows, which are ruminant animals, can eat anything other than grass, right? But, an alternative feed is grain, which fattens them up. In the past, grass-fed was taken to mean the cow fed on grass its entire life. However, as we’ve seen with other terms used in the meat industry, there is no firm definition, and nowadays the term grass-fed can be used for animals that were fed a grass diet at any point in their lives, which is almost all beef raised in the U.S. If that seems confusing, keep reading.
And, finally – grass-finished. The grass-fed label alone can still mean that the diet was mostly grass, but still grain-finished.
However, grass-finished meat offers a significant health benefit. Not necessarily flavor – health. I would like to encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself depending on your nutrition goals. Just remember – if your focus is on the health benefit, look for the “grass-fed & grass finished” or a “grass-finished” label.
The first few times my husband and I cooked a grass-finished steak, it felt a little tough. It’s leaner, so it can definitely feel that way. Because of this fact, grass-finished beef is rarely scored by the USDA, as the leaner fat profile would be difficult to reach the levels required for Prime or Choice.
However, we now order our grass-fed steaks from US Wellness Meats and we couldn’t be happier. It’s always very tender and juicy. Grass-finished steak from a quality farm will cost around the same as a locally sourced Prime steak.
And last, but not least: meat is not bad for you. Especially if you are lucky enough to be able to source good quality product from a farm with regenerative practices. It has been tremendously vilified in the last few decades. There is value and an irreplaceable health benefit to be derived from the most natural to us fat and protein sources. And it doesn’t hurt that it is that delicious 😉