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All beef is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is graded for quality. Marbling plays a big role in quality grades because more marbling means more flavor.
Here’s the breakdown of the grading scale:
USDA Standard – LOWEST "USDA Inspected" on the label may sound dandy, but be smart. If it doesn't say Select, Choice or Prime on the sticker, it usually means the product received a Standard grade. Standard Grade beef has only traces of marbling or is practically devoid of marbling. Translation: practically devoid of flavor and tenderness.
Cheap beef may seem economical, but that doesn't mean it will look good on your plate or taste good in your mouth.
USDA Select – a lower quality grade. With a name like "select" it's a bit confusing, but USDA Select beef tastes nothing like Choice and Prime cuts. It doesn't have the flavor or texture of the higher grades. USDA Select beef has very little marbling, and if you remember, that's what makes beef taste great.
USDA Choice – below Prime on the scale. There are extreme variations in marbling, with some steaks looking more like Prime and others, more like Select. The fact is, USDA Choice is the "every man" grade and for the tastiest beef, look for more marbling. Choice is most commonly advertised by retailers and restaurants.
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USDA Prime – best grade given by USDA. Prime represents the highest degree of marbling and an elite product. Less than 3% of beef qualifies as USDA Prime, often found in high-end steakhouses touting exclusive, high-quality beef.
Meat is basically muscle, and the chuck happens to be a heavily exercised area. Luckily, this area contains a great deal of connective tissue, including collagen. Collagen melts during cooking, making the meat intensely flavorful. Cuts from this area benefit from slow, wet cooking methods like stewing, braising or pot-roasting.
• Blade Roast—an inexpensive cut which lies next to the ribs; more tender than most chuck; makes an excellent roast. Alternatively, the roast can be cut into a rib-eye steak, with meat above and below the bone excellent for stir-fry dishes
• Chuck Steak—a good choice for kabobs if well marinated
Tender and flavorful ribs can be cooked any number of ways. Most recipes call for ribs to be roasted, sauteed, pan-fried, broiled, or grilled.
• Rib Roast—known as a standing rib roast (bone left in), or without the bone for convenient slicing. Excellent when dry roasted. A seven-bone prime rib roast can be quite a hefty addition to the dinner table. It is great for a crowd, but for a small family a bone roast will do. Many butchers will cut a roast to order for you
• Rib Steak—also cut from the rib section, these tender steaks can be purchased bone-in or as boneless rib-eye
>> Short Loin
This area boasts extremely tender cuts and can be prepared without the aid of moist heat or long cooking times. Cuts from the short loin may be sautéed, pan fried, broiled, pan broiled or grilled.
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• Porterhouse Steak—a very popular steak cut from the rear end of the short loin; the name originated from the days when it was served in public alehouses that also served a dark beer called porter. The porterhouse consists of both tenderloin and strip steak. The tenderloin is often served separately as filet mignon
• T-bone Steak—cut from the middle section of the short loin; similar to the porterhouse steak; has a smaller piece of the tenderloin; usually grilled or pan-fried
• Tenderloin—often considered the most tender cut of beef; responds well to sauces, meaning the meat does not overpower the flavor of the sauce. It can be cut as the whole strip, or into individual steaks for filet mignon
"The backbone's connected to the … hipbone"—not a song, but a sirloin. These tender cuts respond well to sautéing, pan-frying, broiling, pan-broiling or grilling.
• Sirloin Steaks—these steaks are available in a variety of boneless and bone-in steaks
• Sirloin Tip Roast—excellent when dry roasted or marinated
This meat is lean, muscular and very flavorful. Flank is primarily used for flank steaks and rolled flank steaks. It can also be used for kabobs.
• Flank Steak—this steak has a great flavor, and should be sliced thin against the grain for maximum chewability. Use to make the classic London broil
>> Short Plate
This section is best used for stew meat, where its rich, beefy flavor can be appreciated.
The round consists of lean meat well-suited to long, moist cooking methods.
• Top Round—this is the most tender part of the round; it can be prepared as pot roast or cut into thick steaks for braised dishes
• Rump Roast—a very popular cut for pot roast, but can also be roasted at low temperatures
Traditionally used for corned beef, brisket is best prepared with moist heat. Suitable preparation methods include stewing, braising and pot-roasting.
• Foreshank—excellent stew meat
• Brisket First Cut—a leaner cut of the brisket, for those who want the flavor but not the fat of a brisket pot roast
• Brisket Front Cut—fork tender and succulent, a pot roast made with this cut is truly mouthwatering
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