Phone

Foods

Beef
Why Eat It
Varieties
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

The United States was once a nation of confirmed beef eaters, but that is no longer true. In part, concern about fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and the role these substances play in cancer, obesity, and heart disease, has steadily decreased per-person beef consumption.

Today's beef is not as fatty as that of years past. Noting the preference for low-fat protein, ranchers are crossbreeding traditional breeds with leaner, larger cattle. In addition, cattle are being fed more grass and less corn, and are being sent to market younger so they develop less fat. And meatpackers and retailers are trimming more external fat, leaving about 1/10" down from 3/4" just five years ago.

Beef can be a part of a low-fat diet if you follow three simple steps: Choose lean cuts, eat small portions (3 1/2 to 4 ounces, cooked), and trim all visible fat before cooking. Beef is an excellent source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B12--nutrients that can be difficult to obtain elsewhere, especially if you are on a vegetarian diet. You do not need to eat slabs of steak or roast to get the nutritional benefits beef has to offer. Furthermore, trimming the fat has no effect on the vitamin and mineral quality of the meat. Whether the meat is lean or fatty, the levels of these nutrients are approximately the same.

Fat content in beef is widely variable depending on the cut. However, only the leanest pieces are as low in fat as broiled fish or skinless chicken. There are two factors to consider when choosing a low-fat cut of beef: grade and cut. Grading is a voluntary service established by the USDA and offered to slaughterhouses. Government inspectors evaluate beef carcasses in terms of their marbling, the white streaks or specks of fat within the flesh itself, that help give meat its juiciness and distinct flavor. Ironically, the system rewards the production of fatty beef; the cuts with the most marbling are given the highest grade--Prime--followed by Choice and Select. In 1987, to make lean beef more appealing to consumers, the USDA coined the term Select, thus replacing the category Good.

On average, a cut of beef graded Select has 5% to 20% less fat than Choice beef of the same cut, and 40% less fat than Prime beef. Since grading is not compulsory and an added expense to the meat packer, much of the beef in the supermarkets is ungraded--about 44% in 1989, according to the American Meat Institute. This ungraded beef is usually of Choice or Select quality and may be sold under the store's brand. Of the beef that is graded, Choice is the most common designation.

Perhaps more important than grade when determining fat content is cut, which refers to the part of the animal from which a piece of meat comes. Select beef of one cut may have more fat than Choice beef of another cut. For example, 3 1/2 ounces of Select trimmed blade roast (chuck) has 14 grams of fat, as compared with 6 grams of fat in Choice trimmed top round.

Varieties

Primal cuts, listed below, are wholesale terms that refer to the sections of the animal. Within the primal cuts are many retail cuts, which are the names given to the steaks and roasts available in the market. According to the National Livestock and Meat Board, there are some 300 different retail cuts, and a typical meat counter may display more than 50 cuts at one time. Meat labels always give both the primal and retail cut names. The list of primal cuts below also identifies common retail cuts.

Brisket: The front part of the breast is a boneless cut of beef with considerable fat--218 calories and 10 grams of fat per 3 1/2-ounce serving, trimmed and cooked. Brisket cuts--flat half brisket, corned brisket, point half brisket, and whole brisket--are best braised or cooked in liquid.

Chuck: This cut is the meat from the shoulder, arm, and neck of the animal. One of the hardest-working areas of the animal's body, the chuck contains a lot of connective tissue, and, therefore, is not very tender. Chuck cuts include: chuck eye roast, boneless top blade steak, arm pot roast, boneless shoulder pot roast, cross rib pot roast, blade roast, short ribs, flanken style ribs, and stew beef. (Ground beef is also produced from chuck cuts, among others.) All of these should be cooked in liquid for long periods of time at moderate temperatures; that is the best way to break down the connective tissue and tenderize the meat. The exception is chuck eye roast, which may be roasted. Chuck cuts are relatively fatty, even when trimmed: A 3 1/2-ounce portion of trimmed, braised Select blade roast contains 356 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Flank: From this section, which is just behind the belly, comes flank steak, also called London broil. It is a flavorful, relatively tender, and lean cut, which is suitable for broiling--although if cooked beyond the medium rare stage, it gets very tough. It can also be braised, pan-broiled, or stir-fried. The meat should be cut very thin on a sharp angle across the grain to make it easier to chew.

Foreshank: The meat from the front legs of the steer is quite tough, and is used primarily for stew and ground beef. You may also find small steaks labeled shank cross cuts, which are well suited for braising or cooking in liquid.

Rib: Cuts from the rib are quite tender; however, those from the section nearest the chuck are less tender than the ones from the area nearest the loin. Rib cuts are packaged as roasts--rib roast, large end (near the chuck), rib roast, small end (near the loin), rib eye roast, rib steaks and rib eye steaks (also known as Delmonico steaks). In general, rib cuts should be roasted, but the steaks can be broiled, grilled, or sautéed. Back ribs, another cut from this section, come with the bone intact and should be either roasted or braised.

Round: This rear section of the steer is so named because it contains the round bone, or femur. Although the muscles in the round are as hardworking as those in the chuck, meat from the round is more tender because the muscles all run in one direction. The round offers three of the leanest cuts of beef available: eye of round, top round, and round tip. The Select grade of these cuts has 4 to 5 grams of fat and less than 200 calories per 3 1/2-ounce serving, cooked and trimmed. As roasts, these cuts can be roasted or braised; as steaks, they can be broiled or pan-broiled. Other cuts from this section include: boneless rump roast and bottom round roast, which should be roasted or braised, and round steak, which should be braised.

Short Loin: The most tender cuts come from the loin, the muscle that does the least work. Two of the leanest cuts of beef--top loin and tenderloin--are from this section; each cut furnishes about 200 calories and 7 to 9 grams of fat per 3 1/2 ounces, cooked and trimmed. The tenderloin muscle yields the most tender meat: from it comes tenderloin roast and a number of steaks. Filets mignons are small steaks cut from the tenderloin. T-bone steaks come from the middle or the loin and include some tenderloin. Porterhouse steaks have the most tenderloin. Shell steaks or strip loin steaks are porterhouse or T-bone steaks without the tenderloin. (These are sometimes called New York or Kansas City steaks.) Roasts from this section can be roasted or broiled; the steaks can be broiled, sautéed, or grilled.

Plate: The rear of the breast, this section contains skirt steak, which is the preferred meat for fajitas. Skirt steak can be braised, broiled, sautéed, or grilled.

Sirloin: Lying between the round and short loin, this section also contains lean, tender meat. The cuts are primarily steaks--sirloin flat bone, sirloin round bone, sirloin pinbone, and top sirloin steak--although you may also find top sirloin butt roast; some sirloin is ground. Pinbone is closest to the loin and is the most tender, but it has a lot of bone. Flat bone--the center cut--has less waste than the pinbone, but is tougher. Round bone is nearest to the round and is the toughest sirloin cut. Sirloin steaks, which are sold with or without the bone, can be broiled, sautéed, or grilled; top sirloin butt roast can be roasted. Sirloin cuts contain 211 calories and 9 grams of fat per 3 1/2-ounce serving, trimmed and cooked.

Ground Beef: Most ground beef comes from the chuck, sirloin, or round. Packages are labeled by cut of beef, by fat content, or both. Evaluating the fat content of packaged hamburger meat can be even more difficult than judging full cuts. While a steak or other cut of beef labeled "lean" must have no more than 10% fat by weight, and "extra lean," no more than 5% by weight, these standards do not apply to meat that is ground. Ground beef labeled 75% lean is 25% fat by weight, which is a lot of fat. Lean ground beef is, on average, 21% fat by weight when raw. Extra lean ground beef is, on average, 17% fat by weight when raw. To get the leanest ground meat, buy a lean cut of sirloin or round and have the butcher trim it of all external fat and grind it for you, or you can do it yourself, using a meat grinder or food processor.

Before beef reaches consumers, it is always aged for a certain period to improve its flavor and texture. The initial aging occurs after an animal has been slaughtered, which causes its muscles to stiffen (the condition known as rigor mortis). Meat cooked in this state would be very tough; aging allows the muscles to become tender again. The biochemistry behind aging isn't fully understood, but apparently enzymes normally present in the muscles actually digest the protein in the meat, altering both flavor and texture in the process.

Traditional aging--where a carcass of beef is hung for up to three weeks--makes beef even more tender and flavorful. This process is conducted under specific conditions of temperature and humidity, and ultraviolet light is often used to control the growth of microorganisms that could cause spoilage. (The covering of fat on beef carcasses also helps protect them from spoilage.) Because the process is expensive, traditionally aged meat is produced in limited quantities. Most of it is shipped to restaurants. Sometimes local butchers age their own meat so expect to pay a premium price.

Shopping

While cut and grade are good indicators of fat content, you still need to use your eyes when selecting beef. Look for cuts that have little marbling and external fat. If the store has a butcher, you can ask that the external fat be trimmed away.

Fresh beef is easy to spot. Many stores use freshness dates on their labels, so choose the meat with the furthest "sell-by" date. In addition, fresh beef has creamy white fat, not yellow, and feels springy to the touch.

Another means of judging freshness is color. When beef is first exposed to oxygen, it develops a cherry red color, called bloom. The inside of the beef, and any surfaces that are not exposed to oxygen (such as a cut of beef covered by another cut), are dark purple. (If the meat is vacuum packed, all of it will be dark purple, not cherry red, because the packing seals off any oxygen.) As time goes by, exposure to oxygen will cause the meat to turn brown. This color change does not mean that the meat is spoiled, only that it isn't as fresh as it could be. It should then be used immediately.

Storage

Fresh beef is highly perishable and should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator immediately after purchase. Keep the meat in its original wrapping to minimize handling, which reduces the chance of contamination. The smaller the cut of beef, the more surface area is exposed to air, and the faster it will spoil. Large cuts of beef, such as roasts, keep longer than smaller cuts, such as stew chunks. Roasts will keep for four to five days; steaks, three to four days; stew cuts, two or three days; and ground beef, one to two days, but taste best when used immediately.

To keep beef longer, you must freeze it. Although freezing will result in some loss of quality once the meat is thawed, you can minimize the deterioration by taking these steps: Make sure your freezer is set at 0°F or lower; setting it even at 10°F will cut storage life in half. The faster the meat freezes, the better it will hold its quality when thawed, so cut the beef into small portions before freezing. To create an airtight seal, wrap the beef in vapor-proof, plastic-lined freezer paper or aluminum foil. Use a generous sheet of paper to tuck in all loose ends, and seal each package tightly with freezer tape. Label all packages with dates and cuts. Then place each wrapped package in a plastic freezer bag. Roasts and steaks will keep for six to 12 months in the freezer; stew cuts, for three to four months; and ground beef, for two to three months. To help prevent food poisoning, thaw meats in the refrigerator.

Preparation

Trim the fat before cooking. External fat and seam fat--the fat between individual muscles in a cut of beef--are the biggest sources of fat in beef. Trim external fat before cooking; however, you cannot remove the seam fat until the meat is cooked. Trimming external fat completely before cooking results in a 19% reduction in fat content. And pretrimming has a negligible effect on flavor, tenderness, or juiciness (except in the case of beef brisket).

A marinade containing acidic ingredients, such as wine or vinegar, can add flavor to beef and help tenderize tough cuts. Make enough marinade to completely cover the meat, and place in a covered non-metal container in the refrigerator. (Alternately, you can place the marinade and the meat in a tightly sealed plastic bag, turning it occasionally to cover all sides.) The meat can marinate for at least six hours, but not more than 24 hours; otherwise, the meat can turn mushy. Marinating for 15 minutes to two hours can add flavor, but does not tenderize the beef.

If you want to use the marinade as a sauce, cook it at a rolling boil for several minutes before serving. Uncooked marinade becomes contaminated from raw meat sitting in it and is therefore not safe to consume.

Rubs are blends of seasonings that are applied all over the surface of meat before cooking to provide flavor. For a more pronounced flavor, coat the meat several hours before cooking and refrigerate.

An easy way to tenderize meat is to pound it with a mallet. This technique, which involves breaking up the connective tissue, is useful for moderately thin cuts, such as eye of round, top round, and round tip.

Roasting and broiling: The amount of time it takes to cook beef depends on a number of factors: cut, size, thickness, temperature, whether the meat is bone-in or boneless, and whether it is lean or fatty. The best way to ensure that beef is properly cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Beef is cooked to the rare stage when it has reached an internal temperature of 140°F; medium is reached at 160°F; and well done is reached at 170°F. The longer the meat cooks, the more fat is released.

Sautéing: Many cuts of steak can be sautéed. Spray a nonstick pan with nonstick cooking spray or brush with olive oil and get the pan good and hot. Cook the steak on both sides to the desired degree of doneness.

Grilling: Beef on the barbecue, be it hamburger or steak, is a quick summer meal. Cook steak on both sides to desired degree of doneness. Cook burgers until cooked through.

Stir-frying: The key to stir-frying is to cut the meat into very thin slices so that they cook quickly. Thinly sliced meat also goes further. Semi-freezing the meat firms it and makes it easier to slice into thin strips: Cut flank or round steak into 2"-wide strips, wrap the sections in foil or plastic, and place them in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes, or just until the meat is slightly firm to the touch. Slice the meat in 1/4" widths across the grain and marinate. Just before cooking, add a small amount of oil to the marinade mixture and stir. The light coating of oil on the beef will help to prevent sticking, a common complaint of less-experienced cooks. Cooking time: three to five minutes

Nutrition Chart

Sirloin/3 ounces broiled

194
Total fat (g)
10
Saturated fat (g)
4
Monounsaturated fat (g)
4.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.6
Dietary fiber (g)
0
24
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
66
Sodium (mg)
57
Niacin (mg)
4.4
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.4
Vitamin B12 (mcg)
1.7
Phosphorus (mg)
180
Zinc (mg)
4.3

Flank Steak/3 ounces broiled

181
Total fat (g)
8.8
Saturated fat (g)
3.8
Monounsaturated fat (g)
3.6
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Dietary fiber (g)
0
24
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
59
Sodium (mg)
73
Niacin (mg)
4.4
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.3
Vitamin B12 (mcg)
2.8
Phosphorus (mg)
206
Zinc (mg)
4.2

Beef Round/3 ounces roasted

149
Total fat (g)
4.9
Saturated fat (g)
1.8
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
25
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
59
Sodium (mg)
53
Niacin (mg)
3.2
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.3
Vitamin B12 (mcg)
1.9
Phosphorus (mg)
192
Zinc (mg)
4

 


Date Published: 04/19/2005
Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top