When choosing a steak or roast, look for beef that’s a bright, light cherry red. A dark color probably is from an older tougher animal. The fat that runs along the outside and through the meat should be as white as possible.
Younger animals will be more tender with more marbling, and the age of the animal has a direct effect on the juiciness and flavor of the beef.
Grading is voluntary and is based on the amount of marbling (the white flecks of fat) throughout the steak or roast. The more marbling the more flavorful and juicy the meat will be, it should be smooth and fine running through the meat, not in clumps.
Although there are eight grades of beef, in reality most beef falls into the top three grades in the U.S. and the top four grades in Canada.
PRIME – Prime beef is heavily marbled, only about 2 percent of beef is graded prime. Prime beef is high priced and found in high-end meat shops and fine restaurants.
CHOICE – The majority of graded beef found in supermarkets is graded choice. Choice beef is moderately marbled and are a fine and more affordable option than prime.
SELECT – Select beef has little marbling and is the leanest. Select therefore can be tough, drier and less flavorful than prime and choice grades.
PRIME - Prime beef is heavily marbled, only about 2 percent of beef is graded prime. Prime beef is high priced and found in high-end meat shops and fine restaurants.
AAA – The majority of grades of beef found in supermarkets is either AAA or AA, AAA has small amounts of marble and is quite tender and flavorful.
AA – This grade has slight marbling and very commonly found in most supermarkets, AA is a more affordable option to AAA and prime.
A – This grade has small traces of marbling and therefore can be tough, drier and less flavorful than other grades. These meat grades are rarely found in supermarkets.
Many factors affect quality in beef; the age of the animal and its breed, its diet, the conditions of slaughter, the temperature at which the beef is stored, whether the beef has been aged, and how it was packed and shopped.
But the single most important factor in determining tenderness and flavor is what part of the animal the beef comes from and how you cook each cut.
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