Ours is a nation of unapologetic carnivores.
From ground chuck used for backyard burgers to dry-aged tenderloin medallions, beef is what’s for dinner … and lunch and breakfast. Thanks to improved ranching and production methods, we have even more reasons and ways to love every cut.
According to the USDA, that’s how much beef the average American consumes each year. That’s more than a pound a week. But a closer look at the statistics and headlines shows that we’re trying to amend our carnivorous habits. “Instead of so much meat, we should eat better meat,” says James Peterson, author of Meat: A Kitchen Education (Ten Speed Press, 2010).
Americans are getting that message. We are paying closer attention to the quantities we consume and demanding higher quality. In response, the meat industry is producing more organic, grass-finished, hormone-free beef—a win for ranchers, consumers and the environment. So, as it turns out, your red-blooded affection for red meat and your green-leaning conscience can coexist.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve perused your grocer’s meat department, it’s time to make a visit and see what you’ve been missing. To that end, we present this overview of America’s favorite protein, from the various cuts of beef to the best prep methods for each, plus a few helpful tips and hints sprinkled throughout. Go ahead—dig in.
Making the Grade
In his book Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World (HarperCollins, 2009), Andrew Rimas gives this insightful overview of the beef industry’s grading system: “‘Meat science’ uses numerical data like skeletal maturity, preliminary yield grades, and marbling subunits to calculate the expected tenderness of a carcass, and hence its worth. There’s art involved, as well as science. The U.S. Department of Agriculture awards grades to beef, much like figure-skating judges rank a lutz. Inspectors eye the marbling (flecks of fat within the lean part of the meat) and stamp the beef with a grade: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, or Canner. Prime makes up a mere three percent of graded beef.”
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