Angus Beef – Originating from a Scottish breed of cattle known as Aberdeen Angus, Angus Beef is usually used to refer to the Black or Red Angus cattle. In the United States, the Black Angus is the most commonly raised beef cattle. Due to the increase of Angus Beef in the United States, the American Angus Association created a certification process as a way to ensure quality standards. Today, the USDA relies on 10 specific criteria standards in order to determine if Angus Beef can be considered “Certified Angus Beef.”
Antibiotic-free – Due to growing concerns regarding the use of antibiotics on animals, and the possible side-effects that are associated with it, there has been a growing movement to remove all use of antibiotics throughout the farming industry. Thus, the USDA has begun issuing “No Antibiotics” labels for animals that are raised without the use of antibiotics.
Certified Organic – Since the early 2000s, the USDA has only labeled meat as “Certified Organic” if it passes a very strict set of criteria. Among this criteria, farmers must keep records of breed history, never use antibiotics, never use growth hormones, and only allow roaming on land that has organic crops.
Choice – Quality grade used by the USDA based on a meat’s juiciness, tenderness, and flavor. “Choice” quality beef is associated with high quality beef, being second only to “Prime” quality, mostly due to less marbling.
Dry Aged – With this technique, the cut of meat will be hung in order to dry for a period of multiple weeks, typically in a refrigerated unit that can be closely monitored for temperature and humidity levels. While this method is the less common form of aging meat, usually only used for higher grades of meat, it does allow the meat to develop an incredible flavor and texture. This is because the process involves the evaporation of the majority of moisture from the meat, concentrating its natural flavors, while at the same time breaking down more of the connective tissues, tenderizing the meat even further.
Grass-fed and Grain-fed – Each of these refers to the diet of beef cattle as they are raised. Grain based diets are the predominant form of feeding for cattle, consisting of cattle in feedlots eating mostly corn or soy based food. Farmers that choose this method tend to do so because it fattens the beef cattle up quicker. On the other hand, Grass based diets have slowly been becoming more popular, as it is considered to be more environmentally friendly and stress reducing for the cattle since they are allowed to roam around more open space. Along with this, many consider Grass-fed beef to be healthier. (See post about Grass-fed and Grain-fed)
Marbling – Refers to the amount of intramuscular fat the meat has, usually seen as visible white streaks or flecks throughout the meat. The degree of marbling oftentimes determines the meats juicieness, flavor, and tenderness. One example of a meat with a high degree of marbling is Wagyu.
Prime – The highest quality grading given out by the USDA. Typically sourced from younger beef cattle, these cuts of meat tend to have the highest degree of marbling, along with amazing tenderness and flavor.
Wagyu – Specifically refers to four different beef cattle raised in Japan. Wagyu is known for its superior texture and flavor, which it receives from increased marbling. The four different types of cattle include the Japanese Black, the Japanese Brown, the Japanese Polled, and the Japanese Shorthorn. Commonly known names of Wagyu beef include Kobe and Matsusaka. (See Post about Wagyu)
Wet-Aged – As this aging process takes less time than dry-aging, it has become the predominant form of meat aging in the United States. In contrast to dry-aging, the wet-aging process is actually intended to keep as much moisture as possible in the meat. This is done by keeping the meat in a vacuum-sealed bag as it ages for ten days or less.
Primal Cuts of Beef
Brisket – Cut from the chest and pectoral muscle of the beef cattle. Since Brisket is very thick and fatty, it is usually best prepared by being slow-roasted at low temperatures
Chuck – Cut from the front of the beef cattle, the Chuck consists of the neck, shoulder blades, and upper arm. Due to a large amount of connective tissue, the Chuck tends to be a very tough meat; however, it also has a high fat content, which produces a lot of flavor.
Flank – Cut from the underbelly of the hindquarters, the Flank is a long, flat cut of meat that tends to be tough but also very lean.
Plate – The Plate is located under the Ribs, including the subprimal cuts such as Short Ribs and Skirt Steak.
Rib – The Rib primal cut is located between the 6th and 12th ribs, including subprimal cuts that are known to be tender and have a high degree of marbling. Much like the Plate primal cut, the Ribs also contain Short Ribs and Skirt Steak. Along with this, one will also find Ribeye among the Rib primal cut.
Round – Cut from the back end of the beef cattle, the Round primal cut is known to be a lean and versatile cut of meat. Popular subprimal cuts include the Round Steak and Eye of Round.
Shank – Cut from the legs of the beef cattle, this primal cut is a less commonly used because its extremely tough. With this in mind, the most common ways to cook this cut of meat is in soups and stews.
Short Loin – The Short Loin region of the beef cattle is located above the Flank, and includes very popular cuts of beef including the New York Strip and Porterhouse.
Sirloin – The Sirloin primal cut is located between the 13th rib and the hip of the beef cattle. The Sirloin is usually split into two sections, the top and bottom. Among these two sections, one will find popular cuts of beef including Top Sirloin Filet and Tri-Tip.
Tenderloin – The Tenderloin is situated between the Sirloin and Short Loin, and is considered the most tender part of the beef cattle. The extremely flavorful Filet Mignon is found among the Tenderloin.
Ways of Cooking
Braised – Braised meats are typically less tender cuts of meat that have a high degree of connective tissue. Because of this, braising the meat, which involves a long, slow cook at a low temperature and partly in a type of liquid such as a broth or oil, will break down that connective tissue, producing a more tender result that has amazing juices and a delicious flavor.
Broiled – This method uses a direct source of high heat from above and is best for tender cuts of meats.
Confit – While using this cooking method, the meat is cooked for a long time at a low temperature, while submerged the liquid fat of the meat.
Fried – Meat submerged in hot oil or fat.
Grilled – One of the most common ways to cook meat, grilling involves a heat source from below, typically with wood, coals, or gas.
Roasted – This method is mainly used for large pieces of meat, and involves heating from all around, usually in an oven.
Seared – When you sear a piece of meat, you want to use a flat metal surface and high heat for a short time in order to brown the outside of the meat.
Sous Vide – This unique method involves sealing a cut of meat in a plastic bag or glass jar and submerging it in heated water for a long period of time. Also, the temperature must be carefully regulated, as it tends to be lower than normal cooking temperatures.
Degrees of Doneness
Blue – Basically raw; prepared with minimal amounts of char on each side of the meat so that it is left cool and completely red on the inside.
Black and Blue – Almost the same as a “Blue” meat; however, “Black and Blue” meats tend to be quickly cooked on a hotter flame to give it more char on the outside, while still keeping it cool and completely red on the inside.
Rare – Typically, meats cooked rare are lightly seared in order to be slightly warm and mostly red in the center with pinkish-brown edges.
Medium Rare – Arguably the most common way to get a meat cooked, medium rare meats are meant to be warm throughout the whole meat, mostly pinkish-brown but slightly red in the center.
Medium – A meat cooked medium will have a solid char all over the meat, be mostly brown around the edges of the center, and pink in the middle.
Medium-well – Cooking a meat medium-well should give it a darker char around the outside of the meat. Along with this, it should be brown throughout, with a slight hint of pink in the very center.
Well Done – A well-done meat should be brown throughout the whole center, while having a good amount of char on the outside.