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What is the Best Beef to Buy

Updated on October 9, 2015

Prime Rib

Is Angus Beef Worth the Extra Money?

Maybe, but as usual it depends on other details. Let’s start with some definitions. Angus cattle used to be called Aberdeen Angus and Black Angus is the most popular breed of cattle in the U.S. If what you are buying is labeled Black Angus, what does that mean? The name signifies very little because most beef is already Black Angus. Labeling beef as Black Angus is nothing more than a marketing ploy, there are no more rigorous standards for Black Angus than any other type of beef. Do you know someone who claims he/she can taste the difference between Black Angus and supermarket beef? Then you know a certified food snob, the differences lie in the grading not the breed.

The Black Angus breed is widely used because they have larger muscles than other breeds as well as distinctive "marbling". Marbling is critical to the quality of beef, the main difference between grades of beef are defined by marbling. Marbling is the little streaks and speckles of fat that appear inside the muscle. Texture of marbling is also important; you want to see fine little bits and streaks of fat distributed throughout the muscle. The more marbling the beef has, the more tenderness, juiciness and flavor the beef will have. Angus cattle are raised all over the world and generally come in two colors: black and red. Now that that’s out of the way we can look at C.A.B., certified Angus Beef.

Certified Angus Beef

The "Certified Angus Beef" brand was started by the American Angus Association in 1978. The goal was to promote Angus beef as higher quality than beef from other breeds of cattle. They have been very successful, not because of the Angus cattle but because of the grading process that CAB must go through to win the label.
Black Angus cattle have a fairly rigorous set of specifications to meet in order to be marked as "Certified Angus Beef". Cattle do not have to be 100% Black Angus to pass certification, but they must be at least 51% black (Meaning the hide must be 51% black) and exhibit “Angus influence”, which include black Simmental cattle and others. Certified Angus Beef is in the top third of the USDA quality scale, it must be Prime or Choice. As of standards that were revised in January 2007, they must meet all 10 of the following criteria to be labeled "Certified Angus Beef" by USDA Graders:

Beef Grading

Black and Red Angus

Factors Needed to be CAB

1.       Modest or higher degree of marbling

2.       Medium or fine marbling texture

3.       "A" maturity

4.       10 to 16 square-inch ribeye area

5.       Less than 1,000-pound hot carcass weight

6.       Less than 1-inch fat thickness

7.       Moderately thick or thicker muscling

8.       No hump on the neck exceeding 5 cm

9.       Practically free of capillary rupture

10.    No dark cutting characteristics

What is not widely known and what contributes to a great deal of confusion and even some fraud is that you have to be licensed by the American Angus Association to be able to sell CAB products.

Marbling a New York Strip

Japanese Wagyu Beef Has More Marbling

Wagyu Beef, eats like butter
Wagyu Beef, eats like butter | Source
Kobe Beef is famous for its quality
Kobe Beef is famous for its quality | Source

American Beef Cuts

Wusthof Gourmet 4-Piece Steak Knife Set

Meat Quality

Anyone of a certain age is likely to agree, the beef we eat now is of a lower quality than it used to be just 25 years ago. Prior to 1987, the top three grades of beef in the U.S. were Prime, Choice and Good. The major difference then as now, was the degree of marbling: Prime beef had 15% more marbling than Choice, which was 15% more marbled than “Good”. Doctors, dieticians and just about everybody was recommending that consumers eat less fat. The National Cattleman’s Association saw an opportunity for profits and they jumped on the bandwagon, they asked Texas A&M University to conduct a survey. Texas is cattle country and the study was taken: "National Consumer Retail Beef Study” The result was to expand the definition of “Prime to include some of what had been “Choice” while some of “Good” was upgraded to “Choice”. Then the “Good” grade was renamed to “Select”. Apparently this was supposed to trick consumers into thinking that a lean cut was better than a more marbled cut.The Japanese are producing the most highly marbled beef in the world, even going so far as to massage the cattle and feed them beer, compare the pictures of Wagyu and Kobe Beef to our US beef.

It’s true, eating less fat is better for you but beef with less fat is drier and tougher than the higher grades. As a matter of diet it makes more sense to eat less beef of a higher quality, but that’s just the opinion of one old chef. Well done for the beef industry though! Now, 80% of prime beef is exported at exorbitant prices, mostly to Japan and we are eating leaner, drier beef. Our beef is cheaper to produce yet prices have risen for being lean, very profitable!

USDA and Grading

All of the beef you see in your supermarket has been inspected by the USDA for wholesomeness. However there is no requirement that beef be graded by the USDA. Some supermarkets will use their own grading system rather than the USDA system. In a case like that you should become your own inspector and rely on your own past experience.
There are eight beef quality grades. The grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef, and the maturity (estimated age of the animal at slaughter). Most beef offered for sale in supermarkets is graded US Choice or Select. US Prime beef is sold to hotels and upscale restaurants and a few upscale grocers. Beef that would grade out lower than select is almost never even offered for grading.

· U.S. Prime - Highest in quality and marbling. Currently only, about 2.9% of carcasses grade as Prime.

· U.S. Choice - High quality, less marbling than prime. Choice cattle are 53.7% of the graded total.

· U.S. Select (formerly Good) - lowest grade commonly sold at retail, acceptable quality, fairly lean.

· U.S. Standard - Lower quality, yet economical, lacking marbling.

· U.S. Commercial - Low quality, lacking tenderness, produced from older animals.

· U.S. Utility,  · U.S. Cutter.   · U.S. Canner

Modernist Cuisine at Home

Angus Cattle

4H member shows off his Angus Steer
4H member shows off his Angus Steer | Source

Feedlots ans Zilmax

Feedlots control marbling by adjusting how long the cattle are feeding and the type of feed they eat. The more time cattle spend eating corn the more likely they are to grade higher on the USDA scale.

A relatively new drug called Zilmax is being widely used in the industrial feedlots where most of America’s beef comes from, not because it produces a better sirloin but because it adds muscle weight before slaughter. The sad truth is, it has been shown to make steak less flavorful and juicy than beef from untreated cattle. More muscle weight means more profit and the practice is spreading.

Feeding a lot of grains also changes the color of the fat from yellow to the white we are accustomed to. Unfortunately for the cattle, they are not designed to eat grains. Cattle are ruminants and they are designed to digest grasses not grains. A diet high in grain will lower the pH in the animal's rumen causing acidosis. Antibiotics are then necessary to be given to the animal to keep the livers functioning long enough for the animal to reach slaughter weight. The beef cow is now being selected and bred for the ability to eat large quantities of corn and efficiently convert it to protein without getting too sick. Like chicken farming this is another instance where we torture our food animals before we slaughter them. What remains to be discussed is the impact our beef habit is having on the planet

For information about roasting a prime rib and for using a thermometer


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    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hey Billy, thanx for the comment but I didn't suggest that anyone was injecting antibiotics into cattle. Antibiotics are widely used in animal feed to combat illness and promote growth.

      "June 5 (Reuters) - A federal judge said the Food and Drug Administration had done "shockingly little" to address the human health risks of antibiotic use in animal feed and ordered the agency to reconsider two petitions seeking restrictions on the practice."

      And, there is some antibiotic residue in small amounts, in the beef we consume. The agriculture industry has been instrumental in setting the amount of these substances that is allowed.

      One result of rampant use of antibiotics is the development of super bugs that resist the antibiotics being used.

      "Eighty percent of antibiotics bought in the United States are used in animals, not humans. Meanwhile, outbreaks of illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in number and severity, killing thousands."

      Also, from Cattle Today:

      "Some antibiotics, for reasons that aren't totally understood, help cattle grow faster and get more out of the feed they eat. These medicines are used at lower concentrations than when they are used to treat illness, and typically are included in the feed that cattle eat. The decision whether to use such products for this, or any other application rests with the individual cattle raiser. Not all producers use antibiotics in this manner. In turn, not all cattle are fed antibiotics."

    • profile image

      billy beefeater 4 years ago

      Antibiotics are not given to every steer or heifer in the feed yards only when an animal becomes sick do they receive these help cure them of illness. The cost of antibiotics is too expensive for the feeder to give everyone a shot and feed them corn too. Also your steaks will not be coming from an area on the carcass where injections are administered so you will not be having medicine on the grill. The packer will not allow that.

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 5 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hey Mary, Thanx for reading and commenting.

      I'm afraid the answer to your question is the answer to most things in this country, it is profitable. Cattle gain a lot of weight be being fed grain in the feedlot. Grass fed organicallyraised beef, regardless of breed is both nutritionally and ethically a better choice. unfortunately it also costs a lot more

    • profile image

      Mary 5 years ago

      I did not know a cow can not eat grains. So, why are we doing it?? I would rather have a natural steak, then a steak full of antibiotics because the cow came down sick, cause of grains!

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 5 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Dave

      Yeah, you can't get better than that

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Thank you! This is extremely important information to have. My preferance is always USDA or Canadian Prime, for great taste and tenderness.

    • rjsadowski profile image

      rjsadowski 6 years ago

      Thanks for debunking many of the myths about Black Angus beef. I defy anyone to tell me which stew or casserole I made with or without Black Angus beef. Mostly, it is an excuse to charge more money for it.

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 6 years ago from Citra Florida

      The entire world is enduring issues with high prices and sometimes scarcity. Here in the US the politicians are trying to take help away from the poor and the elderly. I think it reflects the value of our money, slowly becoming worthless

      Thanx Faye

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 6 years ago

      I thought I'd read this because I have promised myself that after I empty my freezer, I will not buy anymore beef. (Liar, liar, pants on fire). I'm going to try.

      It was not that many years ago when chicken went on sale for 39 cents a pound, turkey was practically free and the butcher gave soup bones away...not anymore. Who am I telling? :)