In this issue of Salt Lake magazine, "Utah Table" is all about steak. (Well, and ice cream.) For the story, I talked to a number of local meat cutters and meat buyers for grocery storesâ€”about marbling, grass-feeding, corn finishing and the USDA grading of meat.
Nevertheless, at the crucial moment I evidently had a brain cramp and wrote that Harmons sells only USDA Select grade beef and higher.
Harmons sells only USDA Choice grade beef and higher.
A fact which their marketing director was prompt to point out. Hereâ€™s why itâ€™s so important.
Technically there are 8 grades of beef, all sorted by the maturity of the animalâ€”how hard the bones are (softer in a younger animal) and how dark the meat is (darker in an older animal.)
But the most important factor in determining beef grade is the percentage of marbling, or intramuscular fatâ€”not the fat around the muscle, but the fat thatâ€™s streaked inside it. Intramuscular fat and/or how often the steer used that particular muscle are what determine how tender a piece of meat. Beef is graded according to the amount of fat in the ribeye muscle between the 12th and 13th ribs.
There are three grades of Prime beefâ€”the top grade has more than 11% marbling, or intramuscular fat.
There are three grades of Choiceâ€”the top grade has 7% to 8% marbling.
Then there is Select, the USDA grade formerly known as Good. It has 4% marbling..
The lowest grade, Standard, has no more than 3% marbling.
Americans have been carefully taught to avoid buying meat with visible fat. We also like to think weâ€™re buying high quality. I suppose thatâ€™s why the USDA changed the name of Good grade to Select.
At any rate, the percentage numbers donâ€™t sound all that far apart, but fine grocers donâ€™t usually sell grades lower than Choice, because when it comes to flavor, the numbers make a huge difference.