Beef comes from the species Bos Taurus. It is the most consumed meat in the U.S. There are many different breeds of cow in the U.S and the world, but the two most widely consumed breeds are Angus and Hereford.
Beef has gotten a pretty bad rap in recent years. Studies have shown that eating red meats like beef can lead to increased risks of heart disease and cancer. However, it’s important to note that these studies did not take into account the quality of the meat but only focused on the quantity.
Organic grass-fed beef is the best quality of beef out there and it’s a very good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Beef is a great source of vitamins B12 and B6, which are important vitamins for energy and metabolism. It is also a great source of zinc, which is a mineral that’s very important for keeping testosterone levels up in men, as well as reducing the risk of hormone driven cancers like prostate and breast cancer. It is also a very good source of iron, which is a mineral that’s necessary for making blood, and especially important for menstruating women. Beef is also a great source of Conjugated Linoleic acid (CLA), which helps the body burn off fat and it can help reduce your risk of getting cancer. Grass-fed cows contain much more CLA than grain-fed cows, another reason to avoid grain-fed cow beef. Although grass-fed beef is more expensive than grain-fed beef, the health benefits outweigh the price difference. Plus, you don’t have to eat much to reap the benefits.
One serving of beef is 3.5 ounces of meat, which is about the same size of a deck of playing cards. Limit the amount you eat to 2-3 servings of organic grass-fed beef per week. Preferably, lean or extra lean cuts of beef.
The USDA defines lean beef as a 3.5 ounce cut of beef containing less than:
• 10 grams of total fat of which 4.5 grams or less is saturated fat
• 95 milligrams of cholesterol
This is an even leaner cut of beef than lean beef. The USDA defines extra-lean beef as a 3.5 ounce serving containing less than:
• 5 grams of total fat of which 2 grams or less is saturated fat
• 95 milligrams of cholesterol
These are the cuts beef that are considered lean or extra lean by the USDA:
- Top Round roast and steak
- Bottom Round roast and steak
- Sirloin tip side steak
- Eye of Round roast or steak
How to Choose Beef
Check the date on the front of the package. Healthy beef should have a healthy red color. Even meat that has a purplish color is ok to eat. Meat that’s brown has started oxidizing, reacting with the oxygen in the air (Apples do the same thing a few minutes after they are cut open). The fat on the meat should be white. If it’s yellow, then it’s beginning to spoil.
The USDA does not require meat manufacturers to have their beef graded. It is a program that manufacturers can volunteer to take part in order to have their meat judged and graded by the USDA. Click here for a chart on USDA grades.
Beef is divided into certain cuts and within those cuts there can be a wide range of tastes, textures and characteristics depending on the breed of cow and their diets. Each cut can be prepared in a few ways such as cut in chunks, ground up for burgers or rolled and tied for roasts depending on the cut of meat.
Cuts of Beef
There is no worldwide standard concerning cuts of beef. There are various types of cuts depending on where you are in the world. This section will focus on the standard American cuts of beef.
This is the shoulder, neck and upper arm areas of the cow. The cuts of meat from this part have the term Chuck or Shoulder in it. It’s one of the most muscular parts of the cow and one of the leanest cuts. It can be cut into steaks or cut into chunks and used in stews. You can also have it rolled and tied to make pot roasts. The meat can also be ground up and used to make burgers. This is one of the healthier cuts of beef because doesn’t have much fat.
This area of the cow is where the Rib meat, Ribeye roast and steaks come from. Most of the fat and muscle is cut away from the meat. These cut are great for slow roasting or grilling.
Brisket and Fore-shank
This area is also muscular and does not have much fat. The cuts from this area are various types of brisket. This part is great for stews once it’s cut into chunks. Beef brisket makes a great pot roast.
The fore shank is sometimes grouped in the brisket area of the cow. It’s the area just above the thin part of the arms. From here you can get a cross cut of the shank, which can be slow roasted since it’s muscular and tough.
This is the arm and upper arm areas of the cow. The leg meat is also part of the shank. These areas would (roughly) equate to the forearms and calves in humans. The meat from here is very tough because it contains a lot of muscle. Roasting or stewing these meats will help soften them and make them easier to eat.
This is the underbelly area of the cow where much of the fat is located. Cuts of meat from this area like shirt steak (used to make carne asada) and flank steak, may have higher amounts of fat on them. The fat can be trimmed off or cut away from the meat. These cuts can also be ground up for burgers. Plate cuts have a lot of cartilage so the meat is good for braising.
This is also the underbelly area of the cow that contains plenty of fat. However, it’s also one of the tastier cuts of meat. Cuts from this area include flank steak. The flank cuts can be tough and chewy so it may need to be marinated or pounded to tenderize it.
Short Loin and Tenderloin
This is the area where we get some of the more popular and tasty cuts of meat. From here you get the tenderloin and top loin cuts, as well as the T-bone and porterhouse steaks. Strip steaks can be cut from this area too. The tenderloin is where we get filet mignon. It comes from the end of the tenderloin. These meats are best grilled or cooked in a pan or skillet.
This area of the cow covers the lower back down to the underbelly. These areas provide the most tender cuts of meat. The most tender is the tenderloin, which is where we get filet mignon from. It’s one of the more expensive cuts of meat because of its texture and quality. Sirloin cuts are great for roasting. The tri-tip roasts and tri-tip steaks come from this part of the cow as well. These meats can be grilled, roasted or stir-fried.
This is the thigh of the cow. It’s the largest area of meat and has the largest variety of cuts. The meat from here is lean and tough. This area contains all the Round cuts of beef, such as, top and bottom round roast and steaks, and eye round roast and steaks. Round tips and sirloin tip roasts or steaks come from here too. Round area meat can be cut up into chunks as well and used in stews. These meats are fairly tough and muscular so they can be marinated, grilled, braised, roasted or cooked in a pan.