Shopping for steak at the supermarket can be a perplexing experience. From the wide variety of cuts, the different prices and grades of beef, not to mention the look of the meat itself, can all contribute to confusion.
Knowing more about the beef you’re about to buy can help to eliminate that confusion.
GRADING OF BEEF
First, we must know the difference between the different grades of meat.
In the U.S. meat is graded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or U.S.D.A. for short. Here are the grades:
PRIME: Only a small percentage of meat is graded prime and generally, you will not find it in the supermarket. It’s usually sold to top restaurants. No need to wonder anymore why that steak at that 5 star restaurant is so expensive.
CHOICE: Essentially, the medium grade and usually it too cannot be found in supermarkets.
SELECT: The lowest category, this grade usually makes it to the supermarket shelves.
BEWARE OF SUPERMARKET GRADES:
Although meat available in supermarkets falls into the “Select” grade, many meat packers prefer that it NOT be graded and marked. In this way, they can label it with their own brand, implying a high quality.
You’ll notice many super markets advertize their beef in terms such as “Butchers Prime” or “Market Choice” or others. These are really names given by the individual market and NOT by the USDA. Therefore, they mean absolutely nothing when it comes to the quality of the meat. Do not be fooled into thinking they are a better USDA grade.
To be sure, look for a stamp marking the USDA Grade on the beef. If you don’t see it, assume it’s Select.
You may however, have a great experience with one or another supermarkets’ meat products. If so, that’s great. They may be getting a better quality and you’ll likely benefit from this.
NEW LABELING LAW:
The newest labeling law to be passed here in the U.S., going into effect January 1, 2012, requires producers and/or supermarkets to label meat products, including poultry and others, with their nutritional information, including calories, fat content and other nutritional information. This will make it much better for consumers to decide on the best choice for them.
Although this is all good, it will mean another choice for you when standing in front of that meat case. In addition, don’t let this new law fool you into thinking that you’ll know more about the quality of the meat. Grading has not changed.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST:
If all supermarket beef is the lesser grade, how do you purchase the best you can find in the case? Two words: marbling and cut.
First, look for marbling. Marbling is the fat veins running through the meat. The more marbling the better. The less marbling, the leaner the cut and therefore, less juicy it will be.
Second, choose the correct cut. Knowing which cuts of meat are generally tough, and which are usually tender is essential in knowing how to pick the best.
TENDER CUTS OF MEAT:
TOUGHER CUTS OF MEAT:
Chuck Steak Or Roast
So the best you can do in the supermarket is choose your meat based on marbling and type of cut you desire based on your needs.
A better option, if you have the opportunity, is to go to your local butcher. They can be a huge wealth of information, and will often cut your meat to order. Personal service will go a long way to helping you get the best tasting and best cut of meat possible.
The only way to know for sure is to buy it and try it. Experience, as they say, is really the best teacher.