Just about all pieces of beef share two characteristics: age and fat.
Seems paradoxical, since in most other areas, age and fat are not thought of as desirable, but when we’re talking about beef, these are the magical elements that propel it into the highest stratosphere of taste and tenderness. Let’s examine, in a simple way, why.
No one likes a tough piece of beef, other than your occasional piece of jerky. When beef ages, the muscle relaxes, natural juices redistribute, tension is released, and the activity of enzymatic action, which occurs naturally, takes place. Many high end restaurants take this a step further, by dry aging their product. This process controls the temperature and humidity level that the beef is stored at, and a dark hard crust forms over the exposed muscle. Flavor concentrates, enzymes do their job, and a distinctive, nutty taste develops. From this process a great steak comes, but age can only do so much without its partner, aka fat.
Types of Fat
When it comes to beef, the word fat doesn’t refer to exterior fat, which is often trimmed away. It also doesn’t mean interior fat, such as in prime rib, which we usually cut around. No, we’re talking about the fine white flecks located in the red muscles: this is what we love. This is marbling, and it’s the most visible way to identify quality in a piece of beef. Marbling is so important that even the government uses it as criteria for grading. Abundant, fine flecks of fat, evenly distributed, are a hallmark of the “Prime” grade, which is the top for beef. Ever wondered why beef is so coveted? It is because Angus cattle are the most efficient at converting carbohydrates in grain to fine flecks of fat in the muscle. This is why the breed is prized for its superior texture, taste, and tenderness. Marbling makes a steak juicy, a roast tender, and a hamburger simply delicious. Sure, there are other factors and reasons why beef is delicious, but always remember to look for the fine flecks of fat!
The government also tries to help us in choosing a delicious piece of beef, by allowing beef packers to voluntarily participate in a grading program. Prime is the top grade, followed by Choice, and then Select. These three grades encompass the majority of beef most people come into contact with. Confirmation, maturity, size, as well as other measurables go into determining which grade is awarded to which piece of beef. Generally speaking, the higher the grade, the more tender, juicy, and favorable the beef will be.
Find a prime piece of beef, handle it with care, and be prepared to have an unbelievable eating experience!
Coming soon: Proper cooking tips and one of our favorite recipes for short ribs.