Buying meat can be very intimidating when you aren’t exactly sure what you are looking for or at. What’s the difference between this cut and another? How can you tell when meat is of good quality? Ultimately choosing your piece of beef comes down to judging three different items, as well as what you need for your particular recipe.
1. Grade: Unlike mandatory inspection, beef quality grading is voluntary and paid for by beef packers and ultimately consumers. Grading sets standards of quality and yield used in buying and selling beef. There are three different levels at which beef can be graded.
· Prime: Contains the largest amount of marbling also known as the amount of small flecks of fat throughout the cut. It is generally sold in finer restaurants and to some select meat stores. Usually higher priced due to the limited quantity of this highly desired product. The higher amount of marbling the better the flavor and the juicier the cut is.
· Choice: This grade is preferred by many consumers because it contains sufficient marbling for taste and juiciness.
· Select: Generally the lowest priced grade of beef with less marbling. Select beef cuts are leaner but also less juicy and flavorful.
2. Appearance: Consider how your meat looks at the counter. Look at the color of the meat (lean), the amount of marbling (fat) and if it looks like it was well handled. Another thing to keep in mind is that just because a piece of beef is turning brown does not mean it is bad, actually quite the opposite, it has begun the process of wet aging making the meat more tender and flavorful. Check out this post to learn more about the aging process. *Disclaimer* Please use your instincts to know when a piece of meat has gone past aging and is actually bad, a rancid smell should be your first tipoff.
3. Texture: We also look at the grain of the meat (the direction muscle fibers run) and how uniform this looks. If the fibers are broken, very loose, or uneven, these can be more signs of poor handling or just poor quality meat.
If you follow these suggestions when selecting meat for your recipe, we guarantee an excellent result of course this is assuming you don’t burn anything . :)