How to Buy Beef

If judging by looks alone when buying, you want your meat to have a rich pink color, with bright white bones (if any), and lots of visible wispy white flecks (marbling). You want to avoid deep purple or dark brown colored meat, yellowing fat and dark bones. Also, lots of blood in the package may indicate that the beef has been previously frozen.

If judging by more than just looks, there are several things you should know when shopping for meat.

Grading is based on the USDA system which takes into account an animal’s age, the beef’s texture and color, and the amount of marbling found in the cut.

Prime is the highest grade and the most expensive. It is usually found in your high end steak restaurants and specialty butcher shops, not the grocery store.

Choice is the next grade of beef. It is usually leaner than Prime and is most often found in the grocery store.

Select grade is also found in supermarkets, and is mostly used for stewing and braising.

The cut of beef also affects its tenderness. Porterhouse, sirloin, New York strip, Delmonico, and filet mignon are more tender cuts of steak. Rib, rib eye and tenderloin are the more tender roasts. Less tender cuts are the rump and bottom round roasts, chuck cuts, shoulder cuts, and brisket.

Also, the type of cut determines your cooking method. Tender meats are typically cooked using dry heat techniques like grilling, roasting, broiling, or sautéing. Less tender cuts have less fat and more muscle tissue, and are better cooked by stewing or braising.

Marbling looks like little wispy white flecks of fat in the beef, and it is what makes beef tender and moist. The more marbling, the better the beef will taste.