Let’s face it. When it comes to buying beef, if you aren’t affiliated with ranching life, this can be a challenging task because who knew when you went to the grocery store to buy steaks for dinner you’d have to know whether you want grass-fed or grain-fed beef, what cut of beef you need, which beef quality grade will taste the best, and what your beef is supposed to look like? Well, to save you time in the grocery store, we’ve broken down everything you need to know when it comes to buying beef, so you and your family can enjoy quality, delicious and nutritious beef.
The presentation of beef will likely be the first thing you notice. And well, if you can’t get a hold of your mom to ask her what your beef should look like (we’ve all been there), we have a few general recommendations that will guarantee you leave the grocery store with a delicious cut of beef. When it comes to looks, you want your beef to have a rich, pink color, with bright white bones (if any) and lots of visible wispy white flecks known as marbling. You typically should avoid deep purple or dark brown colored beef, yellowing fat and dark bones. Pro Tip: A lot of blood in the package may be an indication that the beef has been previously frozen.
Understanding Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Beef
All beef cattle spend most of their lives grazing in green pastures consuming grass. Grass-fed beef comes from cattle that spend their entire lives consuming grass in pastures, and grain-fed beef, like grass-fed beef, comes from cattle that spend most of their lives consuming grass but also are free to consume a balanced diet of grains. While both are ideal options for raising quality cattle, these two unique feeding approaches impact the flavor and appearance of beef.
In general, grass-fed beef provides for a complex flavor profile that results in a gamier taste and leaner beef. On the other hand, grain-fed beef usually provides for increased marbling and juiciness that results in a buttery, rich flavor. There is no downside to either kind of beef, and your purchase choice will depend on the flavor and consistency you prefer.
Cuts of Beef
When purchasing beef, you need to consider which cut of beef will satisfy your recipe and your taste buds. Each cut comes from different regions of cattle including the chuck, rib, loin, sirloin and round, and the cut of beef greatly affects its tenderness. For more tender, juicy cuts of steak, we recommend the porterhouse, sirloin, New York strip, or filet mignon from the loin, or the Delmonico from the chuck. For more tender roasts, we recommend the rib from the rib or the tenderloin from the loin. You find less tender cuts in the rump and bottom round roasts, chuck cuts, shoulder cuts and brisket.
The cut of beef you select also determines how you will cook the beef. In general, 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 best cooked using stewing or braising methods.
This chart provides a breakdown of each region and the corresponding cuts that come from them. As you become more familiar with beef, we encourage you to be adventurous and try different cuts to find out what you like best. You might be surprised!
Beef Quality Grade: Prime, Choice and Select
Grading. Yes, it’s like you’re back in high school again, but this time, the term “grading” has a bit of a different meaning. When it comes to beef, grading is based on the USDA system, which considers the animal’s age, the beef’s texture and color, and the amount of marbling found in the cut.
Prime is the highest and most expensive grade. 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. Choice is usually leaner than prime and is most often found in the grocery store. For regular consumption, we recommend going with choice grade beef.
Select grade is also found in supermarkets and is mostly used for stewing and braising. This beef is leaner than choice and prime beef and typically contains minimal marbling.
Shopping for beef doesn’t have to be difficult. The next time you embark on a beef buying adventure, make sure you understand the USDA grading system, the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef, what your beef should look like, and which cut of beef you need. If you’re searching for quality, local (Florida) and sustainable beef, you can head to one of our pop-up locations to purchase our Florida Cattle Ranchers Beef or you can purchase our beef at local restaurants and grocery stores throughout Florida. For a complete list of pop-up locations, restaurants, and grocery stores, click here.