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What is U.S.D.A Choice Steak?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the body that grades steak and certifies them as safe and high quality. These quality grades are widely used in the beef industry as a language that makes business transactions easier. Both sellers and costumers highly benefit from the great efficiency offered by these grade standards.

There are three main types of USDA steaks – Prime, Choice, and Select. This article is going to talk specifically about USDA Choice Steak.

What Makes Great Steak

Before we talk about USDA Choice Steak, let us first have a look at the factors that make good steak. There are two main things looked at to determine the best beef – marbling and age.

Marbling

Also referred to as intra-muscular fat, marbling is the most prized feature in steaks. It is mostly characterized by streaks of fat between the muscle tissues. When you cook the steak, the fat melts away, offering your meat with unparalleled tenderness, and a rich flavor.

Age

Another important element often looked at when analyzing the quality of steak is age. Younger steaks offer more flavor and tenderness than older cuts. It is because of this factor that most Choice and Prime cuts come from steers 1 to 3 years in age. You can know the age of the steak you want to purchase by simply looking at the color, as steaks turn to a darker color with age.

USDA Choice Steak

Anyone that has gotten a chance to enjoy USDA Choice Steak understands that it is tender, juicy, and has an outstanding flavor that makes it unique from other steaks. Choice of high quality, but has a less marbling compared to Prime. However, it is widely available to customers in restaurants and supermarkets. In fact, it accounts for about 50% of all graded beef in the United States. Choice steak can be cooked with either moist or dry heat methods without leading to excessive dryness. Consumers are free to grill, roast, bake, or fry this beef, as well as braise and stew it.

As a general rule for grading beef, the younger the beef and the greater the marbling, the better the grading. High marbling simply means that beef has more fatty tissue, providing a more juicer, tender, and flavorful experience. On the other hand, younger beef means it has a finer texture. USDA Choice steak comes in the middle category, and thus has modest marbling.

Choice steak might not be the cut, like Prime, but it is still a high-quality steak. It is rated just below the Prime, and is readily available in most restaurants and grocery stores. A Choice steak will at most times have the same reddish-pink color of Prime, but has a lower level of marbling. The amount of marbling that a Choice steak has can vary widely and depends on the exact place it is cut. Therefore, it is always a good idea to inspect the Choice steak you purchase for the marbling it contains.

Preparing USDA Choice Steak

For the best possible results with USDA Choice Steak, you should consider preparing it through dry-heat cooking methods. This is because they mostly utilize fat or air, like grilling, roasting, and broiling. You can also consider simmering or braising, to achieve a perfectly cooked USDA Choice meat, guaranteed to melt in your mouth.

Buying USDA Choice Steak

If you are at the supermarket or grocery store, and are looking to buy quality beef, be sure to choose the one with the official “USDA Choice” sticker on it. Be wary of a package with just a “Choice” sticker on it but does not have the official USDA certification. This is because it can potentially be labelled wrongly. Since shoppers do not have a way to confirm whether the grading is true and accurate, this can leave room for deceitful labelling tactics.

If you are a steak lover, then you need to understand that the USDA’s grading system is the main standard for all things concerning beef. For those individuals that have no understanding of how beef is graded, the distinct grades can be quite mystifying. Some supermarkets, suppliers, and restaurants are also not helping the situation, as they do their best to serve you inferior steak.

To ensure that you are getting the best steak, you should be aware of how the USDA’s system works. With the information provided in this article in regards to USDA Choice Steak, you should be better placed to ensure that you are getting the best possible steak for your meals.

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Three Things You Didn’t Know About the USDA Beef Grading System

Steak enthusiasts often hear about USDA grades of beef and wonder how this grading process is actually performed, why it started, and what it actually means about the cut of meat on your plate. These are all good questions, and if you’re serious about enjoying steak, it pays to have a working knowledge of the USDA beef grading system. It can help you order the right steak, ask the right questions, and even choose the right steakhouse before you grab your keys and head out the door.

1. Why it exists

The USDA beef grading system is vital to the American beef production and distribution industry because it gives us a common set of terms and quality standards to work with. In short, it allows the entire supply chain, from cattle farmers right down to steak house chefs, to know exactly what they’re buying and selling. If there were no grading system in place, or if it were left to each individual cattle farmer to grade their own beef, people could say whatever they wanted about a cut of meat. It would be very difficult to manage quality throughout the supply chain.

2. How the beef is graded

The USDA employs professional meat graders who use a variety of methods to assess the quality of the meat. These methods fall into two main categories: Subjective and objective. The subjective methods involved the meat grader’s own experience and training. Looking at and handling the beef can give these professionals a great deal of valuable information.

The object methods involve special tools that give a more scientific analysis of the meat. Again, knowing how to use these tools and retrieve the right information is a matter of professional training.

This information gives the meat grader a score for how tender, juicy and flavorful the meat is. Another aspect of the grading involves yield; in other words, how much lean meat is harvested from a single animal.

3. What the grades actually are

USDA Prime is the highest grade. The cattle that produce this meat are young and fed a healthy, robust diet. The meat itself has excellent marbling abundant marbling, is exceptionally tender and flavorful, and is usually sold to high-end steakhouses and other establishments.

The next highest grade is Choice. This is still a very high quality meat, but you won’t see quite as much marbling. Some of the cuts will be very tender, specially those from the loin and rib, but others will be less tender.

The third grade is Select. This grade is very lean, but definitely has less of that beautiful marbling that makes such a tender, flavorful steak. Select beef tends to be dryer, and will often benefit from a good marinade before cooking, in order to maximize tenderness.

Many people are unaware of this, but there’s also a “fourth” grade. Ungraded USDA beef is seen everywhere. Sometimes it’s labeled “USDA ungraded,” and sometimes it appears as a “store” brand product. Moving down the line, you have even lower grades (canner, for example) which are used for things like canned soups and ground beef.

What’s your steakhouse selling?

If you get a bargain on a piece of USDA Select or Choice beef, and the preparation is excellent, you could still have a really good steak experience. But serious steakhouses will almost always deal in USDA Prime when it comes to pleasing their customers. Now that you know a little more about the grading process, ask your waiter about the USDA grade of that steak you’re eyeing on the menu!