Beef can be cut into steak, pot roasts, short ribs, or ground into hamburger. Several Asian and European nationalities include the blood in their cuisine as well -- it is used in some varieties of blood sausage, and Filipinos use it to make a stew called dinuguan. Other beef variety meats include the tongue, which is usually sliced for sandwiches in Western cooking; tripe from the stomach; various glands—particularly the pancreas and thyroid—referred to as sweetbreads; the heart, the brain, the liver, the kidneys; and the tender testicles of the bull commonly known as "beef balls", "calf fries", or "Rocky Mountain oysters."
The better cuts are usually obtained from steers, as heifers tend to be kept for breeding. Older animals are used for beef when they are past their reproductive prime. The meat from older cows and bulls is generally tougher, so it is frequently used for ground beef. Cattle raised for beef may be allowed to roam free on grasslands, or may be confined at some stage in pens as part of a large feeding operation called a feedlot.
The United States, Brazil, the EU, China, and India, are the world's five largest producers of beef. Beef production is also important to the economy of Argentina, the Russian Federation, Australia, Mexico, and Canada.
USDA Beef grades
In the United States, the USDA operates a voluntary beef grading program. The meat processor pays for the presence of a highly trained USDA meat grader who grades the whole carcass prior to fabrication. The carcass grade is stamped on each primal cut (six stamps) and applied with roller stamp to each side as well. You can often see traces of the USDA grading stamp on boxed primal cuts.
The grades are based on two main criteria, the degree of marbling, or fat, in the beef and the age of the carcass. Some meat scientists object to the current scheme of USDA grading since it does not take tenderness into account. Younger beef receive better letter grades; grades other than A are seldom seen. High-fat beef receives better-sounding adjectives, an obvious sign that the grading system was designed prior to the rise of low-fat diets. Letter grades and adjective grades can interact with each other, but only for grades seldom sold to consumers.
Most beef offered for sale in supermarkets is graded choice or select. Prime beef is sold to hotels and upscale restaurants. Beef that would rate as Standard or leaner is almost never offered for grading; sometimes years may pass without any beef receiving these grades. (the situation might be different if "standard" was called "extra lean", which sounds far more appealing)
- Prime — most tender and highest in fat
- Select — the leanest grade commonly sold
Cuts of beef
(This section denotes the American system of beef cutting. Other cultures have similar systems, but the exact cuts and terminology differ).
Beef is first divided into primal cuts. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. The following is a list of the primal cuts, ordered front to back, then top to bottom. The short loin and the sirloin are sometimes considered as one section.
- Chuck - one of the most common sources for hamburger.
- Short Loin - the most tender, and the most expensive; from which porterhouse steaks, and filet mignon are cut.
- Sirloin - less tender than short loin, but more flavorful.
- Brisket and Shank
Also see the #External links section below for links to more beef cut charts and diagrams.
Special beef designations
- Buccleuch Scotch Beef originates in a designated area on and around the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch in Scotland.
- Certified Angus Beef ™ is beef certified by the USDA to have come from Angus cattle.
- Dry aged beef has been aged using a special process.
- Grass fed beef has been raised primarily on forage rather than in a feedlot.
- Kosher beef has been certified to have been processed in a prescribed manner in accordance with Jewish dietary laws.
- Organic beef is produced without hormones, pesticides, or other chemicals though requirements for labeling something "organic" vary widely.
In fact, according to research carried out by the Museum of London amongst Roman rubbish dumps in London, it seems that the English acquired their first taste of roast beef from the Roman military as the city expanded under their occupation. Despite this, it seems not to have become popular amongst the population in general until the Middle Ages or later, and only became a 'national caricature' in the 18th century. (Observer Aug 6, 2000). Despite this image, England today has more vegetarians and semi-vegetarians per capita than any other Western country.
"Mad cow disease"
The over-intensive farming of beef resulted in the world's first recognised outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or, colloquially, "mad cow disease") in the United Kingdom in 1986. Eating beef from cattle with BSE is thought to have caused the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD) in about 131 cases (2003 June data) in the United Kingdom and some few in France. The perception of beef as potentially lethal caused significant damage to the UK beef industry. The attempts to wipe out BSE in the UK by a kill-and-burn campaign, although ultimately successful, did further damage from which the beef industry is only recently recovering. Since then, a number of other countries have had outbreaks of BSE. BSE is an illness that cattle can get by feeding them other animals (especially their brains and spines), including their own species, in order to consume more protein for growth.
- American Meat Institute
- Information on Grass Fed Beef
- National Cattlemen's Beef Association Site
- Food TV diagram of various cuts of beef
- Many different meat cut charts (Internet Archive version)
- Montana Beef Network
- USDA beef grading standards (PDF) *Internet Archive version)