Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Where's the Beef? and What Is It?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Where's the Beef? and What Is It?

Article excerpt

Spencer Tracy famously appraised Katharine Hepburn like this: "Not much meat on her, but what there is is cherce."

That's probably the most famous line from the 1952 comedy "Pat and Mike." But I don't want to talk about the movie (though it is a classic and you should see it again if you haven't seen it lately), I want to talk about the meat being cherce or choice, as you and I would pronounce it.

A recent caller was complaining about the quality of meat found in grocery stores these days. She almost never sees Prime meat anymore, she said, and it is even hard to find Choice. All she finds these days is Select and below.

The grading of beef can tell you a great deal about its quality. Prime is the best, but the grade is given to less than 2 percent of all beef cattle. Prime beef has the most marbling the most bits of fat rippled throughout the meat, as opposed to the usual fatty areas and fat is where the flavor is.

But there is more to it than just the marbling. The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors also look at the animal's maturity (younger is better), which is determined not by its actual age which would be hard to tell but by other signs such as how rigid the bones have become and how narrow or wide the ribs are (narrower is better).

Other factors are considered, too, such as the amount of fat just under the skin, the weight of the animal just after it was killed, the amount of fat found in the kidney, pelvis and heart, and the size of the ribeye.

There is a lot more to it than that, involving a surprising amount of math. What is important to us as consumers is that most prime beef goes to restaurants, and the restaurants that serve it in St. Louis can be hard to find. Very little makes it to grocery stores, and that which does tends to be extremely expensive.

So as beef-loving cooks, the best we can usually do is to find meat that is graded Choice. If it's good enough for Spencer Tracy, it's good enough for me.

Choice beef is a lot more available than Prime and considerably more affordable, but, as the caller noted, it still can be hard to find in some major grocery stores. And with beef prices being what they are these days, affordability is relative. …

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