Different beef grades

Discussion in 'Beef' started by jaxrmrjmr, Aug 13, 2015.

  1. jaxrmrjmr

    jaxrmrjmr Smoking Fanatic

    I posted this in a different post and then thought it might be better served here......

    All major slaughter houses are inspected, thus the "USDA inspection" stamp that is on the carcass.  This is for public safety, cleanliness standards, etc.

    However, having beef "graded" is a choice - no pun intended. If the slaughter house chooses to to have it graded then they have to pay for that.  They usually choose to have this done as a higher grading demands a higher price. 

    But.  There is always a "but".  Some cattle come in and they know that they will not meet a reasonable grading so they don't even pay for it.  Think 20 year old milk cow instead of plump, juicy steer.  70% of the beef we eat come from old milk cows - not beef cattle.

    I grew up thinking there were 3 levels of grading - prime, choice, select.  I was big time wrong!  There are many levels below select.  That's why you will actually see some lower end retailers advertising that their meat is "select grade".  When old milk cows come in, they don't pay for grading.  The typically call it "utility" or "ungraded" if they are selling the tenderloin sections and such but don't mention it when it's ground beef.  Religiously slaughtered animals (such as Halal) are usually not graded either.  Muslims automatically buy the non-graded Halal beef just like certain people automatically buy the "grass-fed" beef.  "Grass-fed" means nothing other that it does not meet the criteria for being called "grain fed".  Twenty years ago, "grain fed" was what everyone wanted because it is typically better.  Today, ''grass fed" beef is about like people that want eggs from free range chickens raised in free range pens.  Go figure.

    Just a little FYI from a guy who used to raise beef cattle.  BTW, there are two great beef deals out there on the market that most people don't know about.  1) a filet mignon graded "utility" is still tender and tasty if cooked no more than MR.  2) a cut called the "hanging tender" or "hanger steak" or "butcher steak" is very tasty and very tender.  I love this cut for kabobs.
    noboundaries likes this.
  2. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    An enjoyable read.  Thanks for posting.
  3. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    I am familiar with Steer and Heifers as Graded and No-Roll Beef, both wholesale, sold to restaurants and retail in Grocery Stores. I have always been told by Meat Packers and Butcher/Slaughter operations, I have bought from , that Old Dairy Cows are only used for processed canned beef items, Dinty Moore Stew, Cambell's Soup, Hormel Chili, Etc and Ground Beef. But no Cow meat is sold for general consumption unless identified as such. I have bought Cow Tenders at half the price of Steer Tenders. The quality was noticably inferior, limp and soft raw and nowhere near as tender when cooked med/rare. I would like to find a supplier of Cow Meat for making things like Jerky and Shaved Rib Eye for Cheese Steaks.

    I have seen this article on Mindful Meats developing a niche market for Cow meat...http://www.businessinsider.com/they-finally-figured-out-what-to-do-with-old-dairy-cows-2015-6

    Can you provide more info on Cow Meat being sold, un-labeled, for general consumption and do you know of any sources where the average joe can buy it? This is not intended as a challege to your 70% statement but I am inquiring for my personal education. I had always been taught and was teaching my culinary students that the only beef they will see is Steer and Heifer...Thanks...JJ

    Here is some great infor on Grading... http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/12/how-to-read-usda-beef-steak-labels.html
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2015
  4. floridasteve

    floridasteve Smoking Fanatic

    When I was a kid, my Uncle raised Angus cattle in Illinios. He had his own feed lot where he finished them out with corn. This was before Angus had a reputation. My family and his would share a cow about once a year. He also always had a milk cow that he kept to supply his family with milk. Every so often, it was time to change milk cows, so he would move the old milker to the feed lot to fatten her up on corn, then that would be the animal he butcher for that years meat. I don't remember it being inferior at all. Of course the milk cow lived in the pasture behind the house and was fattened out with homegrown grain. Modern commercial milk cows probably don't have it so good.
  5. reinhard

    reinhard Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I think the vast majority of cow meat is sold for grinding as far as I know.  There was also a grade years back that was USDA Good  which was eliminated and Select was then put behind Choice.  I have seen cow rib eye's being sold in Asian markets also along with cow tenders which are sold in grocery stores all the time and wholesale to Asian restaurants.  Years ago we would get in cow trim to grind along with choice boneless shanks for wholesale accounts.  When we recieved hanging cattle years ago it would be labeled by grade and by yield .  The lowest yield number [yield 1] would be the one we looked for.  So we usually got choice, yield #1 or #2.  Most of the beef we get up around here is USDA Choice black angus.  Reinhard
  6. jaxrmrjmr

    jaxrmrjmr Smoking Fanatic

    I think I might have come across wrong if you are questioning it.  When I say "70% of the beef we eat is old milk cow", I do not mean it's sold as cuts of beef for what we would use to grill, smoke, or create our recipes.  For the most part, we don't even have access to it.  It's the beef in stuff we eat.  My understanding of it is pretty much close to yours - i think.  I agree with the canned beef stew and such use.  Probably Slim Jims as well. 

    You mentioned ground beef.  That's where I understand that it mostly used.  The preformed patties that are listed as "beef patties" is where I suspect most of it goes.  "Beef" is anything from the hoof and up.

    My 70% reference is based on a conversation I had with a USDA inspector at the slaughter house we used to use.  He was there 2 days per  week when they slaughtered animals and would sometimes show up in between.  I guess I could be passing on bad info, but he seemed pretty on top of his game.

    I have bought tenderloins labeled as "utility" at Restaurant Depot.  I think they were around $8 per pound.  Not sure if they were old milk cow or not.  I have only bought 2 and they were pretty good.  I am NOT comparing it to a nice 2" thick premium fillet steak.  Rather, cut it an inch thick, wrap it bacon, cook it MR, and it's damn good and tender for what it is.

    The beef you and your students will see and prepare are probably steer or heifer.

    I used to sell whole sides as well.  We would ask them how they wanted it broken down.  I actually had one customer tell me that she wanted the whole thing cut into Porterhouse steaks.  She looked at me like I was stupid when I told her that only about 10% of her beef would be "steak".  She wanted me to cut her chuck steak into porterhouse.  Go figure.
  7. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Jax, I see what you mean and now understand we were talking about the same uses. I conducted 2 tours a semester at an area slaughter house, including the kill room. The USDA Inspector and I became very friendly so he would often share some crazy stories and little known info, like the use of Cow Meat in processed meats...Yum HOT DOGS and some Fast Food Chains and such. There is nothing wrong with Cow Meat, was just worried that, that $12 a pound Rib Steak was Old Bessie! We are on the same page. Thanks for qualifying...JJ
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2015
  8. foamheart

    foamheart Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I am not a butcher, here we only raised three cattle at a time, killing one and adding a new calf every year. The family on the other hand raised 100% registered white face, or Herefords. My Uncle who owned or well.. managed the old family ranch always said there were 4 grades of beef. a. prime, b. choice, c. select, and d. dog food. Dog food was any meat in a can including dog food, stews, processed meats, welfare meats, potted meats, Vienna sausages, etc etc...... If it wasn't in a can, it was either A., B., or C. (I don't know how hotdogs fit in).

    I don't know if its true, but it seemed to make sense to me as a kid.

    LOL.. guy I worked with in New Mexico who wanted soooo bad to be a cowboy but was landless, he went to college to become a meat inspector and he told some great stories. I was most impressed how they were always not only getting tested, but in competition. He went from getting out of school and working for the USDA to trying his hand as a oilfield salesman (not so good), last I heard he was a Stock Ranger (I think that's what they are called) Kind of like the cattle cops. I teased him about writing speeding tickets to cows that ran too fast.
  9. chipgiii

    chipgiii Newbie

    I once worked at a meat packing facility and was told that beef can be graded 8 ways and at least the top two grades with one of five yields:

    1.  Prime

    2. Choice

    3. Good - select

    4.  Standard

    5. Cutter

    6.  Utility

    7.  Canner

    8.  Cutter

    At least the top two (maybe more) are giving a yield of 1 - 5 with the higher the number the greater the amount of fat.  Prime Yield 3 was considered optimum.  That was supposedly corn fed and not too lean, not too much fat.

    There are also things called upside down yields.  Fat yield has something to do with the thickness of the fat on the outside of the carcass.  An upside down yield meant that it was "trimmed" to a certain yield and not really that yield naturally.
  10. bruno994

    bruno994 Master of the Pit

  11. worktogthr

    worktogthr Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    This is a very interesting thread because a local supermarket near me always has what seems like the best beef prices but most of the sales are for "USDA Inspected" without any specific grade given on the package.  I once emailed them and asked why they are not graded and they explained what Jax mentioned above about how the market was able to save money by purchasing ungraded meat from suppliers/slaughterhouses because the grading process is costly. The representative from the market explained that the meat can be anywhere from select to choice with the rare chance of some prime meat depending on the particular animals the suppliers receive.  As a person who is fairly knowledgeable about meat I explained that I think this needs to be explained to the average customer who thinks they are getting a tender rib eye or prime rib roast, which ends up eating like a roast beef.  For the most part I know when to pass on select looking meat at a choice price, and stock up when it has the marbling of choice grade or higher for a fair price.  Just feel bad for all the others that don't know what to look for and might think they are getting  great deal.
  12. jaxrmrjmr

    jaxrmrjmr Smoking Fanatic

    Yep, there's a place in my hometown that offers some really crazy low prices on beef from time to time.  It's some little Save More or something stores.  If you know what to look for, you can find some good solid "choice" pieces of meat in there.  My step-dad hit a home run with a whole loin section he picked out a year or so ago - they were selling it for $3.99 /lbs
  13. jaxrmrjmr

    jaxrmrjmr Smoking Fanatic

    We only raised White Faced Hereford for the most part - docile, poled, easy breed to handle, but they are small.  We also fed out a few Angus and a few "long reds", aka Limosines as well.  I loved a limo's loin section when they were freshly slaughtered.  I doubt that very many people have ever eaten beef that has been processed that same day.  The limo loin was almost "sweet", very lean, but a sweet taste. Hereford was my favorite.  The "angus" craze from the 80's caused that breed to be mostly inferior.  They started selling any bovine that was short, stocky, and black as a "Certified Angus". 
  14. c farmer

    c farmer Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Yup, any animal that has a 80%? Black hide is considered Angus.
  15. worktogthr

    worktogthr Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I do the same... I keep my eye out for sales and pass if they look too lean. I have hit the jackpot and found some well marbled rib eyes, strips, and rib roasts for as low as 4.77 per pound. Majority of the time they look more like select and I pass. Luckily I have access to restaurant depot now and eveything there is graded so that's where I buy the majority of my beef.
  16. venture

    venture Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    It gets complicated because the meat grading has changed over the years.

    Most supermarket prepackaged meat will be Select unless labeled Choice or Prime.

    Prime is only 1-2% of the beef carcasses raised and fed for slaughter.

    The best guide is the trained eye of the purchaser.  Some Select cuts can have better marble, and be at least OK, for meat generally found in that grade.

    Select is roughly what us old farts knew as the Good grade.  Originally, much of it went to schools, prisons and other institutional kitchens.  It is in vogue now because it is more lean.  I will usually pass on that.

    In my childhood, few people who could, would choose to buy anything less than Choice.

    Today, nearly no supermarket cuts will be sold at less than Select grade. Ground meat being a possible exception. Think McDonald's?

    As Chef Jimmy pointed out, there have always been uses for the least desirable grades.

    Good luck and good smoking.
  17. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Quote..." Just feel bad for all the others that don't know what to look for and might think they are getting  great deal. "

    An entire generation, with some exceptions, born after the 60's has been taught that FAT is bad and only the Leanest meat should be eaten. These are the folks that think Ultra Lean Grass Fed and Select meat is the only way to go. They search it out and many stores are making a fortune on this group. I frequently COUNT on this and am delighted to find Fattier, Marbled meats jn the ungraded selections. 

    A trend has been building with Baby Boomers, born 1945 thru 1964, and some younger Foodies, of seeking out Heritage Breeds of slower raised, fully Fattened animals, especially Pork. This is the type of meat we were served growing up prior to, " The Other White Meat " marketing that bred out the fat and flavor in Pork. The only problem is most of it is going to Restaurants or is sold at a higher premium price...[​IMG]...JJ
  18. jarjarchef

    jarjarchef Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Fat marbling = flavor
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  19. smokesontuesday

    smokesontuesday Smoking Fanatic

    Herefords, Angus, and Limousines are all good beef cattle. For my money though a Hereford/Limo cross is the best beef you can get to slaughter.
  20. jaxrmrjmr

    jaxrmrjmr Smoking Fanatic

    At one point, we used to grow the Hereford and Limo's to take to the butcher at the same time.  That way we could use the extra fat from the Hereford (kidney fat and such) to mix with the lean meat of the Limo.  Our Hereford would be 70-30 by itself while our Limo would be 90-10.  We decided to process one for one and come out somewhere 80-20.  It worked pretty well for our tastes and our customers.

    There is one steer that I always thought was a Hereford/Limo mix.  We called him "girly man".  Meat was great but we slaughtered him thin.  He just wouldn't put on weight for some reason.  Hell, he might have had a little bit of milk cow in him because he would burn though some grain and look good but never plumb.

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