You can learn pretty much anything from the internet these days. Or at least compile enough knowledge to do some damage. But sifting through pages of Google searches to try and make heads or tails of beef-lingo? No one’s got time for that! That’s where we step in. Consider this your ultimate guide to beef terminology. Fact checked and all. Because #fakenews is not cool.
Beef Label Claims and What They Mean
These are the phrases you will find on beef packages at the grocery store. Everyone has different preferences for their beef, so there are many options to choose from.
Natural Beef: This is defined by the USDA as minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients added.
Never-Ever Natural Beef: This claim requires the cattle never receive antibiotics or added hormones. These cattle went au naturale their entire life.
Withdrawal Natural Programs: Removes the use of antibiotics or hormones within a stated amount of time prior to harvest. Common withdrawal periods are 90, 100, 120, or 300 days prior to harvest.
Hormone Free: All beef cattle have naturally occurring hormones, just like us, but you can trust that these cattle never received any extra ones.
Vegetarian Fed: Requires the cattle to never receive animal by-products in their diet. We hope they all received gold stars for finishing their vegetables!
USDA Certified Organic: Requires the cattle never received antibiotics or added hormones. The cattle are to be only fed a USDA Certified Organic diet, which excludes any GMO feeds. These cattle went above and beyond to receive all of the accolades, like Beverly in accounting.
Grass Finished or 100% Grass Fed: The cattle receive a forage-based diet their entire life. That is a long life of grazing on Mother Nature’s finest.
Grass Fed: Requires the cattle receive a forage diet at some point during their life. Did you know cattle spend 11 hours of their day grazing? If only we could all do the same.
Humanely Raised/Humanely Handled: Many meat products sold with these claims are from producers that have enrolled in a private certification program administered by a nongovernmental third-party, which may also be listed on the label.
Kosher: The Kosher Beef label means it has been processed following the Jewish customs and laws. Fun fact: only the front, or forequarters, of the cattle is considered Kosher.
Halal: This certification means the beef has been processed following Muslim dietary laws. Halal translates to “lawful,” while the opposite, haram, means “forbidden”.
USDA Beef Grades Explained
The USDA Beef Grading program serves as a way for producers to sort beef into like categories to measure eating experience, marbling, and taste. Marbling, also known as intramuscular fat, is the small flecks of white fat within beef muscle. The degree of marbling is the primary determinant of quality grade, as carcasses with a greater amount of marbling have an increased likelihood of being more tender, juicy, and flavorful.
Each grade has a place in your kitchen based on the type of dish you wish to prepare. No need to throw in your star homerun hitter when all you need is to get a man on first (that was a baseball analogy for all you non-sportsball folks).
USDA Prime: The most marbled of the three grades, USDA Prime cuts only account for 3% of all the beef available. Mainly found in restaurants and select butcher shops, this high-end cut is packed with flavor and tenderness. Just a bit of salt, pepper, and a searing hot skillet is all you need to create that melt in your mouth flavor. Don’t you dare tarnish its reputation with steak sauce. Blasphemy!
USDA Choice: With moderate marbling, USDA Choice graded beef is more commonly found in grocery stores, with a large variety of cuts to choose from. Juicy, tender, and flavorful, Choice beef adapts well to any cooking technique. Season well and baste it in the pan, and you’re on the fast track to a beautiful meal.
USDA Select: USDA Select graded beef is extremely lean, making it perfect for low and slow cooking techniques. Think stews, roasts, and recipes with long marinades. Season liberally with salt to tenderize the meat, promote juiciness, and elevate that umami taste.
And there you have it. Hopefully you’ve increased your beef IQ and are ready to tackle the meat case like a pro. If you want to learn more about different cuts of beef, check out our beef cut library.