Choosing Good Meats
Choosing a good piece of meat can be as important as smoking it right. The USDA issued grades on meats in the industry. Not saying you can not take a less quality piece of meat and make great Que. This information is for you to know the grades of meat. Meat that has been federally inspected and passed for wholesomeness is stamped with a round purple mark. The mark is put on carcasses and major cuts. After trimming, the mark might not appear on retail cuts such as roasts and steaks. However, meat that is packaged in an inspected facility will have an inspection mark which identifies the plant on the label.
Inspection mark on raw meat
Inspection mark on raw poultry
Inspection mark on processed products
After the meat and poultry are inspected for wholesomeness, producers and processors may request to have the products graded for quality by a licensed Federal grader. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service is the agency responsible for grading meat and poultry. Those who request grading must pay for the service. Grading for quality means the evaluation of traits related to tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of meat; and, for poultry, a normal shape that is fully fleshed and meaty and free of defects.
USDA grades are based on nationally uniform Federal standards of quality. No matter where or when a consumer purchases graded meat or poultry, it must have met the same grade criteria. The grade is stamped on the carcass or side of beef and is usually not visible on retail cuts. However, retail packages of beef, as well as poultry, will show the U.S. grade mark if they have been officially graded.
USDA Grades for Meat and Poultry:
Beef is graded as whole carcasses in two ways:
Quality Grades - for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor
Yield Grades - for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. There are eight quality grades for beef. Quality grades are based on the amount of marbling (flecks of fat within the lean), color, and maturity.
Prime grade is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking (broiling, roasting, or grilling)
Choice grade is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful and are, like Prime, suited to dry-heat cooking. Many of the less tender cuts, such as those from the rump, round, and blade chuck, can also be cooked with dry heat if not overcooked. Such cuts will be most tender if "braised" roasted, or simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.
Select grade is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. Only the tender cuts (loin, rib, sirloin) should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.
Standard and Commercial grades are frequently sold as ungraded or as "store brand" meat. Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and processed products.
Yield grades range from "1" to "5" and indicate the amount of usable meat from a carcass. Yield grade 1 is the highest grade and denotes the greatest ratio of lean to fat; yield grade 5 is the lowest yield ratio. Yield grade is most useful when purchasing a side or carcass of beef for the freezer.
Veal / Calf
There are five grades for Veal/Calf: prime, choice, good, standard, and utility. Prime and choice grades are juicier and more flavorful than the lower grades. Because of the young age of the animals, the meat will be a light grayish-pink to light pink, fairly firm, and velvety. The bones are small, soft, and quite red. Cuts such as chops can be cooked by the dry-heat methods of roasting, grilling or broiling.
There are five grades for lamb. Normally only two grades are found at the retail levelprime and choice. Lower grades of lamb and mutton (meat from older sheep)good, utility, and cullare seldom marked with the grade. Lamb is produced from animals less than a year old. Since the quality of lamb varies according to the age of the animal, it is advisable to buy lamb that has been USDA graded.
Prime grade is very high in tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Its marbling enhances both flavor and juiciness.
Choice grade has slightly less marbling than prime, but still is of very high quality. Most cuts of prime and choice grade lamb (chops, roasts, shoulder cuts, and leg) are tender and can be cooked by the dry-heat methods (broiling, roasting, or grilling). The less tender cuts breast, riblets, neck, and shank can be braised to make them more tender.
Pork is not graded with USDA quality grades as it is generally produced from young animals that have been bred and fed to produce more uniformly tender meat. Appearance is an important guide in buying fresh pork. Look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat over the outside and with meat that is firm and grayish-pink in color. For best flavor and tenderness, meat should have a small amount of marbling.
Pork's consistency makes it suitable for a variety of cooking styles. Chops can be prepared by pan broiling, grilling, baking, braising, or sautéing. Ribs can be braised, roasted, or grilled. Slow cooking yields the most tender and flavorful results. Tenderloins are considered to be the most tender and tasty cut of pork.
The USDA grades for poultry are A, B, and C.
Grade A is the highest quality and the only grade that is likely to be seen at the retail level. This grade indicates that the poultry products are virtually free from defects such as bruises, discolorations, and feathers. Bone-in products have no broken bones. For whole birds and parts with the skin on, there are no tears in the skin or exposed flesh that could dry out during cooking, and a good covering of fat under the skin. Also, whole birds and parts will be fully fleshed and meaty.
The U.S. grade shield for poultry may be found on the following chilled or frozen ready-to-cook poultry products: whole carcasses and parts, as well as roasts, tenderloins, and other boneless and/or skinless poultry products that are being marketed. There are no grade standards for necks, wing tips, tails, giblets, or ground poultry.
Grades B and C poultry are usually used in further-processed products where the poultry meat is cut up, chopped, or ground. If sold at retail, they are usually not grade identified