Monday, July 16, 2012

Meet Your Meat

With summer in full swing, and the grilling season likely at full throttle, I thought it might be a fun and fitting topic to discuss how meat is cut and graded to providing an understanding for proper steak selection.

To start with, I will briefly explain where some of the most popular cuts come from and how this relates to their tenderness, taste and consumer appeal.

A beef carcass is divided into five sections upon harvest and the front three sections are then split in half. The sections are the chuck, rib, short loin, sirloin, and round. The chuck and round are where a majority of large cuts are taken from. These sections produce a lot of roasts, ground beef and lesser quality steaks (such as Round and Cubed steak).

The rib, short loin, and sirloin sections produce most of the famous steaks cuts and bbq favorites, such as ribs and burgers. The most common cuts to come out of these sections are the Ribeye, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Tenderloin (or Filet Mignon), and Sirloin.

The Ribeye steak comes from anywhere within the rib section and is the center of a Rib steak without any bone or excess fat on the edges. This cut is also referred to as a Delmonico in some parts of the country. Ribeye steaks are an industry favorite for their tenderness and lack of extra bone and fat. When cattle are harvested, a significant trait that is recorded is the size of their ribeye area, which is measured in square inches. Sizes vary between breeds, but most ribeyes are between 11 & 18

The T-Bone, Porterhouse and Tenderloin (Filet Mignon) all comes from the short loin section. T-Bone steaks are taken from the middle area of this section and Porterhouse cuts are produced on the posterior end. The only significant difference in these cuts is the size, with the Porterhouse being a larger steak. A Tenderloin is just like the Ribeye in that it is the center cut of a T-Bone or Porterhouse without any bone or surrounding fat. Although Tenderloins or very palatable, tender and enjoyable to eat, they are usually a much smaller and thicker cut making them a suitable choice for high end restaurants, hotels and occasions where guests prefer a smaller portion of high quality and tender meat.
The sirloin section produces one cut-the Sirloin. This steak can be eaten as a Pin Bone Sirloin, a Flat Bone Sirloin, a Wedge Bone Sirloin, or a Boneless Sirloin (which is most common). These cuts are interesting because they start with the Pin Bone being taken nearest the loin and the Wedge Bone harvested prior to the round, however the closer to the loin the larger the steak but the closer to the round, the more meat is in each cut. Again, the Sirloin that most people are familiar with is a center cut of any of these three steaks, with no bone and minimal surrounding fat.

Now that we've discussed where the most common cuts of steak are harvested, let's look at how meat is graded and how that affects quality, taste and tenderness.

Beef is graded according to "Quality" and "Yield". Quality grades are divided into seven groups: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter/Canner and are based upon marbling (speckles of fat layered in the meat) and maturity (age of the cow). Prime is the top end grade and meat with this title are young animals with abundant marbling which provides desired flavor, tenderness and juiciness. Most cuts with this grade are found in high-scale restaurants and hotels. Cattle grading Prime are purchased at a premium price because of their high quality. Choice graded meat is the most common among the majority of consumers because of it's availability. Most restaurants and higher end grocery stores where consumers purchase meat offer Choice graded beef. This beef is moderate to light in marbling and can be harvested from animals under 42 months of age. Select graded beef is found in most fast-food chains and contains minimal marbling. Meat following into the remaining grades consists of hamburgers and filler meat, such as that used in hot dogs and pre-packaged meat items.

Yield grades are determined by the percent of boneless closely trimmed retail cuts from the above mentioned sections of the carcass. This grading isn't as important to consumers as quality but attributes to the amount of meat within the cuts. Yield grades are numbered 1-5 with 1 providing the most meat from a carcass (over 52%) and 5 yielding less than 45%.

So next time you decide to grill, you can determine if you would like a Prime Ribeye, a Choice Sirloin, a Select Tenderloin (yeah right!) or if you just want to settle for a good ol' hamburger!!! Understand the cuts, evaluate the quality and fire up the grill to enjoy a juicy and mouth watering piece of beef!!!!

If you have any questions about meat grading or carcass quality, leave a comment or visit these following websites:

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!!

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