Beef Facts You Don’t Want to Miss Before You Shop

February 05, 2016

Your shopping guide for saving money, buying the best quality, and choosing the healthiest cuts of beef.

Americans have reduced their intake of red meat since the ‘70s, but we still consume on average 64 pounds of beef annually. In fact, American men on average eat 6.9 oz. of meat per day and women eat 4.4 oz. Choosing lean cuts for your family may save money at the register and provide healthier meal options as well. 

Keep in mind, a 3-oz. serving of lean meat provides about 160-200 calories plus significant amounts of protein. Meat is also a great source of iron, magnesium, zinc, niacin, selenium, riboflavin and B-vitamins.

Did you know there are (at least!) 29 cuts of beef. Popular choices include: Top Sirloin/Sirloin Steak, Strip (Top Loin) Steak, Top Round Steak, and T-Bone Steak. According to government guidelines, a serving qualifies as "extra lean" if it has less than 5 grams total fat, 2 grams or less saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per 3.5-ounce serving. A serving qualifies as "lean" if it has less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams or less saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per 3.5-ounce serving.

Buying: When buying fresh meat, always look at the package carefully. Make sure there is no leakage, that the package is cool to the touch, and the meat is firm to the touch. It should also not feel slimy in the package when you remove it to cook. Beef that has more "marbling" (fat throughout the meat) is juicier and more flavorful, but tends to be more expensive.

There are three grades of beef:

  • Prime is the highest grade with the most marbling.
  • Choice is the middle grade.
  • Select has the lowest amount of fat.

Tip: Buy the select grade and marinate the meat. The acid in the marinade actually breaks down the proteins and makes the meat more tender – read the marinade labels carefully and look for the primary ingredients to be ‘acid’ based like vinegar; sugars won’t break down the toughness in the meat, but just add flavor.

Pasture raised beef comes from cattle that roam freely in open pastures and eat grasses. The meat is also free from growth hormones and antibiotics. This type of beef has a different nutritional profile than conventional beef because of the difference in diet: 

  • Half as much fat
  • Twice as much omega-3 fatty acids
  • Higher levels of vitamin E

You should always buy the freshest (or frozen) ground beef that you can. You can also buy ground beef in a “chub” package. These packages, which resemble a small salami or sausage package, are light-safe and vacuum-packaged, so that light and oxygen do not discolor the meat.

Beef on a Budget: Knowing what to look for on the label when buying beef helps you stretch your food dollar. You should always evaluate purchases based on the cost per serving – not just the price per pound. The amount of beef to buy varies with the cut selected. Cooked yields per pound are related to the amount of bone, fat trim and cooking method. For instance, less-tender steak cuts from the chuck, round, plate and flank (eye round steak, top round steak, skirt steak, flank steak) are more affordable, but all require a tenderizing marinade before cooking.  Plan ahead, pack the meat in double freezer bags and you can freeze cut beef for 6 to 12 months.