Grades, Ages, and Cuts

As we officially warm up for summer, it’s time to get out of the kitchen and fire up the flavor!  Few people can resist a sizzling steak right off the grill.  But how do you choose a steak?  What does USDA Choice grade mean?  What is aging?  Which cut is the best?  Let us help you answer some of these burning questions!

What does USDA Grade Mean?

Beef is almost always labeled by its grade: Prime, Choice, or Select; but what does it really mean? Each USDA beef quality grade is a measure of a distinct level of quality. The grade is determined by the amount of marbling and the age of the animal. Marbling is the flecks of fat that are distributed throughout the lean meat. The higher the grade, the more likely you will have a tender, juicy and flavorful eating experience.

Prime is the highest grade and is most expensive.  It usually is difficult to find in grocery stores since most Prime beef is sold to restaurants.  USDA Choice is the next tier and an excellent choice.  It exhibits good marbling and provides a great eating experience at a lower cost than Prime grade.  The third grade is USDA Select.  Select can still be tender but because it lacks some of the fat, may not be as juicy or flavorful as the higher grades.  Select grade can usually benefit from marinades and rubs to impart more flavors to your steak.  See the differences in grade on our video Choosing the Right Steak.

What is Aging Beef?

One of the most frequent questions that we get here at Creekstone is about aging beef – what is it and why is it important?

Aging is basically a process that allows natural enzymes to break down the connective tissue in meats and make it more tender.  If you’ve noticed a difference between that steak you had a restaurant and the steak you have at home, the difference is probably due to age.

There are two types of aging – dry aging and wet aging.  Dry aging is a very old method that is done by placing meat in a tightly controlled refrigerated environment.  It is not something that can be done at home.  The temperatures and humidity needs to be controlled precisely and you need a constant flow of air around the meat, which means it needs to be hung or placed on a shelf in a well-ventilated place.  When beef is dry aged, water will evaporate and the flavor of the beef will be concentrated.  Many people describe dry aged beef as having a nutty flavor.  Only the highest grades of meat make dry aging worthwhile.

Because of the high price and resources necessary to do dry aging, few places are able to do this.  It’s actually quite rare as only the few finest restaurants can afford to serve it.

If you would like to see what a dry aged cooler and beef looks like, check out this video from Pat LaFrieda Meats – one of the few purveyors who do this.

Wet aging is a less expensive and the most popular way to age beef.  When beef subprimals (the larger cuts that steaks me

e from) are cut at the packing plant, they are placed in vacuum packaging.  Butchers and purveyors can set this aside and the enzymes in the juices will actually age the beef.  It still needs to be temperature controlled but there isn’t the loss of liquid to evaporation like there is in dry aged beef so it remains less expensive but still nice and tender.

Which cuts should I choose?

Choosing a cut is a personal choice.  However, you don’t have to spend a lot to have a great steak.  Try something different this summer and step up your grilling game with some less well known steaks like flank steak or flat iron.  Here is a quick list of steaks and some recipes:

Ribeye steak is probably the most popular steaks.  It has the most marbling, which makes it a tender, juicy,  flavorfull piece of beef.  Doesn’t usually need much more than some kosher salt and coarse pepper to bring out the flavors on this one.

New York Strip, also called Kansas City Strip or Shell steak is also very well marbled, tender and has a great beefy flavor.  A great steak that will stand up to a nice dry rub like this one.

Beef Tenderloin or filet mignon has a lighter flavor but is super tender.  It has a buttery texture and is relatively lean.  It’s a great steak to finish off with a compound butter or sauce.  Or grill to medium rare and serve in a salad like this Tenderloin, Cranberry and Pear Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing.

Sirloin is a very affordable cut but provides a great value as it is still tender and has a great beef flavor.  It’s a great steak to marinate or serve with a sauce like our Grilled Sirloin Steak with Chimichurri Sauce.

T-bone or Porterhouse steak is really two steaks in one.  On one side is the New York Strip and on the other, a tenderloin filet.  A Porterhouse steak is cut further up on the loin, which makes it larger, and it has a bigger tenderloin than a T-Bone does.  When choosing this cut, keep in mind that meat next to the bone will be more rare than the rest of the steak. This steak is not a good choice if you like your meat well done, since by the time the meat is cooked near the bone, the other parts will be dry.

Flat Iron steaks are tender and uniform in size and thickness, making them perfect for the grill.  It has a rich deep flavor and works well with marinades and rubs.  Grill to medium rare or medium for best results.

Flank Steak is a long flat cut of meat and sometimes is labeled as London Broil.  It’s a great alternative to skirt steak for fajitas.  It is very lean so can be marinated to increase tenderness.  Just grill to medium rare and slice thinly against the grain.  Try Flank Steak with Corn & Red Pepper Quesadillas and you’ll have a new family favorite!

Here are some additional tips to make sure your steaks are sizzling good!

  • Warm it up! For an even cook, pull the steaks out of the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before you put them on the grill. This will take the chill off of the meat and ensure an even color throughout the steak.
  • Stop poking – always use tongs to turn the meat, if you use a fork or some other tool that pierces the meat you will lose the juices from the meat and the steak will be dry.
  • Don’t flip flop  – cook the steak halfway on one side then turn it over and cook it the rest of the way. You can move the steak to make grill marks if you like, but the more you turn the steak, the more likely you will have a less even cooked and dryer steak.
  • Be Prepared – some steaks may cause the grill to flare-up, so have a spray bottle with water nearby to control it.
  • Let it rest.  Always let the steak rest for 3 to 5 minutes before cutting/eating. Resting the steak will allow the juices to redistribute evenly throughout the steak. If you cut into the steak too early, the juices will run out onto the plate and the meat may become dry.

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ORIGINAL ARTICLE SOURCE

Creekstone Farms
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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