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Prime Steaks

John Mariani
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 5)

The grading of beef is a voluntary program that the USDA provides to meat packers who pay a fee for the service. The USDA standards include two separate designations--Quality Grades and Yield Grades--designated by a stamp on the exterior fat of the carcass. For this reason, the filet mignon, which is a cut that comes from the narrow end of the whole beef tenderloin, is not separately graded or stamped.

Quality Grades refer to a piece of beef's "expected eating characteristics" like tenderness, juiciness and flavor, and range from the lowest grade, "Canner," up to "Select," "Choice" and the highest, "Prime." Quality grades evaluate the age of the meat, color, and marbling--intramuscular fat--within the rib eye. The higher the percentage of marbling, the more likely the meat will be juicy, tender and flavorful.

Yield Grades estimate beef carcass "curability," defined as the "combined yield of closely trimmed, boneless retail cuts from the round, loin, rib and chuck." Evaluation is made on the basis of exterior fat thickness, rib-eye area and carcass weight, and kidney, pelvic and heart fat percentage. Yield grading is obviously of more interest to the meat packer than the consumer, who has probably never heard of it.

Making the Cut

What are the differences in nomenclature between cuts of beef? Back in 1973, the National Live Stock and Meat Board recommended about 300 standard names be used for cuts of meat--garnered from thousands of regional names that, to this day, confuse customers as to what they're getting. Here are the descriptions most widely used across the nation:

Beef: General term for the meat of a full-grown steer, ox, cow or bull.

Prime Rib: The meat between the primal chuck and short loin containing seven ribs. Prime rib, often encountered on menus and considered the most desirable part of the animal, is from this section, but does not always mean the meat is graded U.S. Prime.

Delmonico Steak: A boned rib roast, named after Delmonico's restaurant in New York, where it was a popular 19th-century cut. It is sometimes called a club steak.

London Broil: Usually refers to flank steak, cut from the belly section below the loin, though sometimes it may come from the hind leg of the animal.

Porterhouse: Contains the top loin, the tenderloin and the tail, retaining the "T-bone."

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