Beefitarians are a rare kind of people (though some prefer medium rare). We love all things beef, but we are also rather particular about it. Some may say obsessive. We prefer to call it well informed. We like to know our beef’s background to properly prepare it and bring out all the best of its flavors. So when you find us spending 75% of our time in the grocery store perusing the meat department, you really shouldn’t be surprised.
We are looking at the labels, seeing what grade our meat is, what attributes are assigned to it, and deciding which type of beef we are fancying that day. The choices are endless. Some common ones you probably have seen at your local grocer are “natural” or “grass fed”. Use this guide as a means of deciphering these and other commonly used terms, knowing that each tell a different story.
Angus: Let’s start with the basics. Angus beef simply refers to meat that comes from the Aberdeen Angus cow. This breed of cattle produces a high level of marbling, which as we know, marbling means juiciness, and juciness means flavor! Did you know this breed of cattle originally came from Scotland? If you request your beef to be served while you are serenaded by a chorus of bagpipes, you wouldn’t be totally out of line. Want to learn more about Angus beef? Click here!
Wagyu: Wagyu beef is actually just another breed of cattle, but specifically a Japanese breed. ‘Wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means cow. We could talk about its 35,000-year history, but here is the gist: Wagyu is highly regulated in Japan, and all cattle require a genetic test to prove the beef is 100% Wagyu. It is a coveted tradition and a national treasure in Japan.
How did it arrive here in America? Japan rarely allowed any exporting of their cattle, but did start to release a limited number of cattle beginning in 1975. There have been a few select beef producers that raise 100% Japanese Wagyu cattle here in the states. So what is American Wagyu then? Other ranchers cross-breed the Wagyu cattle with US cattle, many of which are Angus cattle. This cross-breeding enhances the robust beef flavor that Angus is best known for and the unique marbling of Wagyu, producing American Wagyu beef that is truly the best of both worlds.
Since the beginning days of Wagyu beef in America, many chefs and true Beefitarians have sought it out specifically after learning of its superior texture and taste. Wagyu beef in America still has a rigorous list of qualifications to be considered Wagyu. If you’ll remember, marbling = fat. And the marbling present in a cut of Wagyu is so tender and juicy. Give it a try and report back! Want to learn more about Wagyu beef? Click here!
Grass Fed: This designation requires the cattle receive a forage diet at some point during their life. Professor Beef defines “forage” as any herbaceous plant material that be grazed or harvested for feeding. So think grass, forbs, legumes, brassicas, browse, and stored forages. Or, as the cattle like to call it: yummmm!
100% Grass Fed: There are some cattle out there that can don the ultra-high status of 100% Grass Fed, or grass finished. 100% truly means 100%. They received a forage-based diet their entire lives entirely free of grain. Want to learn more about Grass Fed beef? Click here!
Natural: Natural beef is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, as minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients added. That means the beef you chose is beef. Some producers have their own additional set of parameters for what qualifies as natural that go above and beyond the base requirement, like raising cattle in alignment with Certified Humane® guidelines. Take a close look at the packaging, since if there are additional perameters are commonly defined on the packaging. Want to learn more about natural beef? Click here!
USDA Organic: If the beef you chose is USDA Certified Organic, this requires the cattle are to be fed only a USDA Certified Organic diet, which excludes any GMO feeds, and never received antiobiotics or added hormones. Cattle are raised with some access to grazing pasture, as well. These cattle went above and beyond to receive all of the accolades. They even got a special badge! Look for the green circle icon that says “USDA ORGANIC”, as certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Want to learn more about organic beef? Click here!
Each of our stories of becoming Beefitarians are different. Some of us fell in love with the flavor, while others appreciate the health benefits of pure beef. A select few wish we could just live the rest of our lives as ranchers in places with zero cell service because robo-calls are starting to get to us. No matter what the story is, they are all great, because all of us love beef.
Each piece of beef you prepare also has a story, a set of characteristics that make it unique. Some Beefitarians prefer grass fed beef, others want Wagyu everything. There is no wrong way to pick out your beef, nor is there a wrong way to enjoy beef. But our favorite? It’s like choosing a favorite child! So, obviously, we have one, but it’s a secret. Shhhh.