In Nebraska, cattle outnumber people 4:1. My children think that this statistic is hilarious and they pass it along to anyone who will listen. Their other favorite statistic is that on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football “Game Day”, Memorial Stadium (with its approximately 80,000 seat capacity) is the third largest city in Nebraska!
As you may guess by the above statistics, Nebraska is the Beef State! In fact, one out of every five steaks and hamburgers is produced in Nebraska…Calf #718 is one of 5.1 million cattle that are finished in Nebraska every year.
I mentioned last week that I harvest my Age and Source Verified cattle (like Calf #718) through U.S. Premium Beef. What I get paid for the animal depends on the quality and amount of beef that he produces. What you pay at the grocery store or in a restaurant for my beef is also dependent on the quality and amount of the beef.
So what defines quality?
Traditionally, the quality of beef is determined by the amount of marbling that is present in the muscle. This is measured at the packing plant by looking at the rib eye muscle of the animal.
While there are many things that go into making beef juicy, palatable, and tender, marbling is a huge factor. The different levels of quality grade are as follows:
Prime has the most marbling and is incredibly flavorful and tender—if you eat at a high end steak house (like Morton’s), you will most likely be served beef that is Prime grade. Somewhere between 5-10% of the cattle that I ship to harvest grade Prime.
Choice has the next level of marbling and is still very high quality beef. Most grocery store chains carry Choice grade beef as do many moderate to high end restaurants. Most of the cattle that I ship to harvest (about 80%) fall under the Choice grade. Choice grade beef is my personal favorite…
Select has the next level of marbling and, if cooked correctly, can still make a great eating experience. When I cook a select grade steak, I am careful that I cook it no more than medium rare which helps it to still be juicy and flavorful. Most grass fed beef will fall under the Select quality grade. As those of you know that have eaten grass fed beef, the taste and consistency of the beef is different than grain fed beef. It is still great beef, it is just different.
Standard beef has very little marbling. It needs to be tenderized and cooked very carefully.
So what was the quality grade of #718?
Calf 718 Graded Choice
What other measurements are taken at the packing plant to determine the worth of the animal?
- Red meat yield: Red meat yield is how much red meat is on the carcass relative to the live weight of the animal. An animal that has a high red meat yield is an efficient animal and produces more useful/edible components relative to the total weight of the animal. Fed cattle red meat yields run anywhere from 62% to 67% as a general rule.
Calf #718’s red meat yield was 66.64%
2. Yield Grade: The yield grade is the amount of fat on the animal relative to the size of the rib eye area and the weight of the carcass. Yield grades on cattle are 1-5 (1 being the leanest).
Calf #718’s yield grade was a 4 which means that I should have shipped him to harvest a week or two earlier than I did!
3. Rib Eye Area: The rib eye area tells you how big the rib eye steak is. In other words, if a rib eye steak was placed on your plate, how much of the plate would it take up! Rib eye areas in cattle run anywhere from 8-17 inches.
Calf #718’s rib eye area was 12.63
What all this means is that Calf #718 would make a great steak to eat! His roasts would also be wonderful. If I could go back and change anything about the way that I prepared #718 for harvest, I would have shipped him to U.S. Premium beef a week or two before to allow him to be a leaner carcass with less fat trim to be taken off.
So, what is my favorite cut of meat to cook? I love a great chuck roast (with fresh carrots and tomatoes) in the Crock Pot…it not only tastes great but it also makes my house smell wonderfully all day long while it cooks!
In the near future, I will be adding a category to the blog entitled “Foodie Fun”. The posts in this category will cover nutritional and cooking information about beef (including some great recipes).
Stayed tuned and EAT BEEF!