Beef is a fully developed animal going to market at an acceptable weight of 800 - 1200 lbs, yielding 550 to 950 lbs. of finished weight. USDA quality grading is an evaluation based on factors that affect the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the meat, and is voluntary. There are many factors that go into this grading that I will not cover here, if you would like more information feel free to contact me. Here I will cover the different grades and what to look for.
Prime - most expensive, marbling is the most prevalent, however varies from abundant to slightly abundant. Ideal age of animal is between 9 - and 30 months, weighing 800 - 1200 lbs.
Choice - this is the most used grade, marbling ranges from small to moderate. Slightly abundant in an animal that is mature at 30 - 42 months of age. However as an animal ages, the connective tissue increases as the animals tenderness decreases.
Select - marbling can reach slight, and small with a 3 0 - 42 month mature animal. Again as the animal ages, the connective tissue increases as the animals tenderness decreases.
No Roll - this is ungraded meat, (grading is voluntary). Often rushed to market, this animal may not have had time to sit in a feed lot before market. As is the common practice. These animals may be dairy cattle, have inferior age development. Lacks marbling, tenderness, and juiciness. Tend to be softer, meat often caves in.
Angus Beef - original Scottish Black Aberdeen Angus, has superior marbling, has a good yield. However, must be certified to be authentic. It used to mean that it was 51% black and have Angus influence. Certified Black Angus now means that plus 10 other criteria to be graded Certified Black Angus. Make sure it is certified though, or you may be merely getting beef from a black cow family.
Aging - this is the process after slaughter that allows the meat to develop character in its flavor, and tenderize. If not aged at all the meat will be full of blood, as it ages the blood settles, and the enzymes begin the process of tenderizing the meat. There are two ways to age beef.
Wet Aged Beef- after slaughter the beef is broken down into smaller prime muscle cuts as you see in the cut charts. A primal muscle is a whole muscle within the: Rib, chuck, loin, sirloin, round, brisket. They are then cryo-vacum packaged, then shipped out to meat cutters and grocery stores where they are cut further. This packaging is wet aging, no weight loss, enzymes work on tissues to tenderize it.
Dry Aged Beef- this process takes the same primal cuts and places them in a controlled environment room where conditions are perfect. The exterior of the muscles drys as the enzymes work within the muscle to tenderize. The process develops, what is considered amongst many, full beef flavor. A piece of meat with a heavy fat cover starts the process. The process can be as short as 5 days, up to 30+ days. The longer the process the more weight loss of to the muscle. This is usually done with the best cuts, and a prime cut along with the shrinkage makes an expensive piece of meat. However considered the best.
Determine what method to cook with:
A. Braising is commonly used for many cuts of meat where the muscles are more developed, they tend to need help, (acid, moisture) to make them more tender. You could braise any cut of meat, but often times the tougher cuts have more connective tissue, which adds to the flavor in the braising process that more tender cuts of meat don't have. They come from the primal cuts: chuck, fore shank, round, brisket,short plate, flank. See Braising for more details on braising.
B. Grill/Broil/Saute/stir fry is commonly used for cuts of meat that don't need as much help to make them tender. These cuts primarily come from the primal cuts: rib, sirloin, loin. You could braise or roast these as well. See Grill, Broil, Saute, Stir-fry for details on these cooking methods.
C. Roasting used for larger cuts of beef, this doesn't make meat more tender. This method can come from the primal cuts: rib,chuck, sirloin,round, brisket. The best roasts come from the more tender primal cuts, although leg in lamb seems more tender than veal, and beef. For More information on roasting go to Roasting.
Proteins to: Braise
7 - bone pot roast
Eye of the round
Shoulder pot roast
Proteins to: Grill
Club Steak steak
Top sirloin steak
Marinate and Grill:
Flat iron steak
Top Round steak
Proteins to: Roast
Rib eye roast
Top round roast
Eye of the round