Steak: Making the Grade

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Ever wonder how the quality of beef is graded? What about the health benefits of steak? TCW has the answer.

Anyone who’s savored a quality piece of steak has tasted a distinct tenderness and juiciness unmatched by any other piece of meat. And from a nutritional standpoint, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) andAmerican Heart Association (AHA) agree that daily consumption of 6oz of meat provides us with recommended doses of magnesium (strong bones), iron (oxygen), zinc (healthy immune system) and B Vitamins (healthy blood/protein).

And for women, the benefits of eating steak are interesting. A 2012 study conducted by Australia’s Deakin University, published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, found that women who cut red meat out of their diet are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Over 1,000 women who participated in the study showed that switching entirely to chicken, fish or plant-based proteins (19 vegetarians were included in the study) aren’t as healthy as many believe.

Associate Professor Felice Jacka concluded that women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount, regardless of socio-economic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age.

But the professor does advise women to not exceed the recommended amount of red meat either, which is also linked to depression and anxiety. Conclusion? Eating a moderate amount of red meat (like the USDA/AHA’s daily recommended 6oz serving), in addition to maintain a healthy diet and regular physical activity, is important to mental health. And according to a fair number of dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons, eating red meat also benefits the skin. But taste and nutrition alone don’t determine the best ‘grade’ of meat on the market.

According to the USDA, grading for quality is voluntary, requested and paid for by producers/processors, after a mandatory federal inspection ensures the meat is wholesome and correctly labeled/packaged.

The USDA certifies less than 2 percent of U.S. beef as Prime (the best grade), and this designation comes from qualifications like age of cattle, aging of meat and marbling of fat. And while there are eight levels of USDA-graded beef, only three – Prime, Choice and Select – are generally available in grocery stores, butcher shops and restaurants. Here’s the breakdown from highest to lowest.

Prime grade meat comes from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling and is best when cooked with a dry heat (broiling, roasting, or grilling). You won’t often find it in grocery stores, because upscale restaurants are quick to purchase the limited supply from purveyors.

Choice grade is the second highest quality meat, with less marbling than Prime. Choice steaks from the loin and rib are tender, juicy and flavorful, suited to dry-heat cooking. But any of the less tender cuts (rump, round and blade chuck) benefit from being ‘braised’ (roasted or simmered) with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan to avoid over-cooking.

Select grade meat is normally leaner than higher grades. It’s fairly tender, but may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades because it has less marbling. Only the tender cuts (loin, rib, sirloin) should be cooked with dry heat, while other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.

Some lesser grades of meat (Standard and Commercial) are frequently sold as ‘store brand’ meat, while others (UtilityCutter and Canner) are typically found in frozen dinners, hamburgers and other processed food products.

When ordering a USDA Prime or Choice steak in a restaurant or shopping for quality steaks to cook at home, always do your homework. While dining out, ask your server about the USDA grade; while shopping, look for the official USDA Shield label. It pays to be inquisitive, because only meat stamped with the official USDA Shield can be labeled ‘Prime’ or ‘Choice.’ So beware of marketing deceptions where some supermarkets may place their own stickers on the packaging. Without the official USDA Shield, you won’t be buying the real thing — plus, it’s illegal for sellers to mislead or misrepresent the shield/wording.

And although it’s been over 40 years since the close of the Union Stock Yards, who provided some of the best, high-quality graded steaks in the country, Chicago’s still a cut above the rest.

Cooking Steak At Home?
Thankfully, there’s Allen Brothers.

With an impressive catalog of high-quality steaks for sale, Allen Brothers ensures customers receive top quality products, acquiring the highest possible grade of grain-fed, pasture-raised, superior breeds labeled USDA Choice or higher.

Led by Todd Hatoff, president and the fourth generation of the company’s founding family, Allen Brother’s goes above and beyond for their customers. The website offers a free guide with must-know details about ordering, storing, preparing, cooking and enjoying your steaks in the comfort of your own home.

From oven-roasted, bacon-wrapped filet mignon to a stove-top-seared petite ribeye, the Allen Brothers website provides step-by-step cooking instructions for a myriad of meals and even has special sections – beyond steak – for gourmet sides, sauces and more. Known for their ‘recipes with a twist,’ the steak purveyor gives you a high-quality cut with which to prepare five-star dishes, rather than the so-so supper you may have cooked using a lesser quality cut of meat.

So when you’re planning your next dinner party, make no mis-steak and let Allen Brother’s help you give your guests a memorable dining experience.

Carrie_Williams

About Carrie Williams

Carrie Williams is TCW's managing/digital editor. She manages day-to-day editorial operations of the monthly print publication, website and social media outlets, contributes to a variety of feature articles and directs a team of interns, freelance writers and bloggers. In early 2013, she led the redesign of TCWmag.com/restructure of TCW's brand strategy. Her blog, "Carrie On," is a blog of reflection and discovery, discussing how to push through life when you’re handed one too many curveballs. And finally, Ms. Williams is also executive director of the TCW Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit supporting underfunded women's and children's organizations.