Today is the last article in the #ShopLikeAChef series, and we are ending with learning how to shop for meat with Matt Hamilton, owner of Local Yocal.
Compared to the last three Shop Like A Chef articles: with Chef Robert Lyford of Patina Green, with Andy Doyle at McKinney Wine Merchant, and with Coryanne Ettiene at Ettiene Market, this has been the most eye-opening. Although the daughter of a cattleman and former meat-packer, I didn’t really understand the parts of a cow, what a BMS scale was or grain fed versus grass fed. Well, I do now, and people, we are fortunate to have someone in McKinney like Matt Hamilton to enlighten us when purchasing meat.
To understand how to purchase meat, consumers need to understand the USDA grading system, how cattle are fed, and basic cow anatomy.
Cattle are graded by the US government and classified as Select, Choice or Prime. This is based on marbling (amount of fat) of the ribeye at the 12th rib, and the amount of fat that covers the outside of the animal. The meat is graded by government graders with Prime beef making up around 5% of all beef harvested in the US , Choice beef is about 60-65% of beef on the market, Select Beef accounts for around 15% with the remainder following into the lower grades of Standard, Commercial, Cutter & Utility . These lower grades end up in the ground beef section not the steak section.
What is Wagyu/Kobe beef?
We hear so much these about Wagyu/Kobe beef, but does anyone actually know what that means? Matt Hamilton enlightened me. Wagyu is a register breed of cattle and Kobe is a regional production of that breed. Wagyu translated means “Japanes Cow” or “Japanese Beef Cow”. Wagyu are not graded on the traditional American scale of Prime, Choice, Select. Traditionally they have been graded on a BMS Scale of 1-12, for comparison our USDA Prime is a 4.5. So what is the difference between Wagyu and Kobe? To be classified as true Kobe beef, Wagyu cattle must be raised in Hyogo, Japan and then slaughtered in Kobe, Japan. There are only about 3300 head each year that obtain this classification. Wagyu beef is graded between a 10-12 on the BMS scale. American raised Wagyu are just Wagyu, despite what they grade, think Champagne vs Sparkling wine.
*sidenote: Local Yocal’s version of Wagyu beef measures at a 7 on the BMS scale
How cattle are fed:
The flavor of meat is indicative of a cow’s diet prior to slaughter. Grass-fed vs. grain-fed is a constant debate among carnivores these days. Is one better than the other? While fat adds moisture and palatability of beef there is a lot more to the discussion than just fat.
Corn fed beef tends to be milder in flavor and usually contains more fat, Grass Fed beef tends to have a broader flavor profile and can be leaner. From a heart healthy fat standpoint grass fed cattle tend to be in a heart healthy balanced ratio of 1:1 or close to it. Corn fed cattle tend to shift to a ratio ranging from 15:1 to 20:1 after 180 to 220 days on feed. A diverse diet usually leads to a diverse flavor profile and a simple diet tends to lead to a simple flavor. Consumers have the choice of the milder flavor corn fed beef or the bolder more nutrient dense grass fed beef. Wagyu are the outlier in that they have high levels of heart healthy fats even on a grain based diet, winner.
Judging by the picture below, you can see a grass fed animal has much less marbling.
Cuts of meat:
The anatomy of a cow is another factor one should have a basic knowledge of when shopping for beef. The most popular cuts of beef in America are the ribeye, the strip and the filet because that is what most grocery stores stock. The problem with buying meat from a grocery store is the lack of options. Retailers don’t want to carry 30-40 skus so they only offer the most popular, and what they can get the most of. A large percent of a cow’s body goes toward those particular cuts making it easier for grocery stores to feed the masses. Smaller, unusual cuts like the Bavette steak seen below isn’t typically stocked in grocery stores, but truth be told, a Chef wants a Bavette. A cook wants an Inside Skirt Steak.
Below is the best cow anatomy chart I could find. It was created by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. You will see even here, some of the more rare cuts of meat aren’t even listed. There is no Hanger Steak (typically located beneath the Rib and the Loin), no Cap Culotte (the upper right hand corner of the Sirloin) and there is no Bavette (found on the lower right hand corner of the Sirloin.)
I’m sorry I couldn’t find a better image of this chart, but this will give you a great idea of cow anatomy and which cuts of beef come from where.When shopping for beef, keep in mind grading, diet and anatomy. Matt’s Steak 101 Classes are excellent places to learn more about each of these topics. Or even try out one of Matt’s Steak Dinners which we will be attending on November 11. Hope to see you there!
Local Yocal is a great place to shop, not only for meat, but also for spices, baking mixes, cutting boards, granola, honey, farm fresh eggs, and so much more. Stop in next time you are on the square and see for yourself.