Not all beef is created equal: how to decide on the very best meat in the marketplace

From post-workout meals to meal prep, meat plays a huge part in the lives of fitness enthusiasts. Meat is an essential part of a healthy diet and is an important source of protein, vitamins and nutrients vital to muscle repair and overall well-being.

While it's well known that eating clean meat is important, the quality of protein-rich foods has changed drastically over the years. and not for the better. With the rise of added hormones, steroids, and antibiotic-laden meats, consumers began looking for labels that supported a farm-to-table approach.

But just like with meat, not all labels are created equal and transparency can be difficult to achieve when selecting cuts. From prices to different “grades” of meat and all the jargon in between, grocery shopping has become confusing for meat lovers. Here Jake Gross, fifth-generation rancher and co-founder of E3 Meat Co., an all-natural cattle ranch that produces high-quality meat, shares invaluable tips on how to be sure you're getting the best meat available and understand more.

The story behind E3 Meat Co.

30 years ago, Gross' father challenged him to develop a feed recipe for their cattle that would produce some of the best tasting and healthiest beef on the market. Gross successfully developed the "Never" diet, meaning they would never give the animals antibiotics, steroids or hormones - producing grass-fed, grain-finished beef. Gross' business partner Adam Laroche, who played in the major leagues for 13 years, began eating the "Never Ever" meat and shared it with some of his teammates and other ballplayers; who quickly began to rave about the taste and quality of the beef. It didn't take long for the two to decide they were up to something, and so E3 Meat Co. was formed.

The different flavor profiles of meat

What may surprise the average consumer is that there are a variety of different types of beef in the US, all fed differently, creating individual, unique flavor profiles. Some examples are grass-fed crops ready; natural beef, never-ever beef, conventional beef, wagyu and others.

"In almost every part of the country where cattle are raised, a different forage is used that changes the flavor of the beef," says Gross. In Florida they use sugar cane, in Idaho they consume potatoes, and in Kansas they have Kansas prairie and corn.

Beyond the feed, "some might inject hormones, antibiotics or steroids to make the cattle bigger - all of which change what's in the beef and what you're exposing yourself to," explains Gross. t only does this change the taste of the meat, but it can also pose unwanted health risks.

The most important thing you can do to ensure you're getting clean, high-quality, and flavorful meat is to know where your meat comes from by getting to know your local rancher, advises Gross. This will take the guesswork out of meat shopping and ensure you are giving your body the best meat source available.

Photo by Kyle Mackie on Unsplash

understand types of meat

Choosing different meats can be confusing. Here's what you need to know.

First of all, there are three different types of beef: Select, Choice and Prime.

"Select gets a bad rating," says Gross, but that doesn't mean it's bad. What that means, Gross adds, is that the marbling isn't appropriate when you look at it at the packer — and the marbling really gives the beef its flavor.

The next class is Choice, which you'll see in many grocery stores. "It means there's appropriate marbling, so the flavor is enhanced and definitely a step up from the selection," says Gross.

The best of the three is Prime - hence the name - which is said to have excessive marbling, which means flavor-wise you get a much deeper flavor when you bite into it.

But most importantly, although you may have great marbling, the animal's feeding ultimately determines the flavor and health value of the meat.

When meat prices drop, here's how to recognize quality

It's not always a bad thing when your favorite meat is available at a lower price, and that's good to know as prices continue to rise these days. "One of the first things to do is look at the quality of the beef," says Gross. That will really help you judge whether or not this is a good cut of beef. "If the price for a prime cut of beef is lower than what you'd typically pay year-round, it probably means the store has excess inventory and is trying to sell it," says Gross. That's a great deal and time to stock up.

Consider the season. “In vember and December, a lot of people buy prime ribs or venture out into nice restaurants and buy Ribeye's. So maybe in that time you can get a really good deal on strip steaks,” Gross explains.

The best way to prepare is to look at beef/meat prices week-by-week. (all the year long). You will see that they vary depending on the season. That will help you understand what the price usually is and when you should buy it.

If necessary, make a note of the prices throughout the year and take advantage of the times when meat prices are low.

Price tags and markings in various types of meat and meatPhoto by Michael Waddell on Unsplash

Are higher prices always the best indicator of a good cut of meat?

The short answer: no. The reason for this is that it depends on what cut of beef you are looking for. "When most people think of beef, they think of steak, but there are some great cuts of meat that people don't often think of or know about," says Gross.

Some of Gross' favorite cuts of beef come from so-called "butcher cuts," which include flank steaks, bavette steaks, and even baseball roast beefs.

Interestingly they are called butcher cut because historically these are the cuts that the butcher would take home. After all, they are full of flavor. "Traditionally, they cost less per pound than a strip steak or ribeye, but they're a great cut of meat," explains Gross.

"Chuck roast beef is a great cut too, and people have some really fun ways to cook it outside of cooking it in the crockpot," he adds. By paying attention to pricing year-round and learning about the different cuts, you can completely improve your meat buying and eating experience!

Understanding labels, frozen meat and where are the safest places to buy

Meat labels can be difficult to understand. The good news is that we're in the midst of a farm-to-table movement right now, and more and more people want to know where their food is coming from so they can be tracked more easily. Consumers want transparency in labeling and with the high demand comes clearer labeling and more transparency.

When examining a label, "if you want to consider the quality of the beef, look at the grade first," says Gross. "Next, check the expiration date, which determines the shelf life of the meat," he says.

As for frozen meat, don't skip it - when a steak is snap frozen it really doesn't lose much of its moisture and it retains its freshness.

And of course buy American. "America is the safest place to eat beef," says Gross. Facilities that process beef have inspectors on site to ensure the meat is properly cared for and treated.

Choosing American beef is a must as the US has the highest standard of beef processing.

Butcher in a shop in a meat marketPhoto by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Specialty stores give you the best quality

Knowing what's in your meat (what the animal is fed and how it's treated) is the key to enjoying the highest quality meat. "I don't want to subject my family to additional additives such as steroids and hormones, and I don't want to subject my customers to the same," says Gross.

If you're looking for clean meat with a high flavor profile, there are dozens of meat delivery companies or farm-to-table ranches that are transparent with their processes and approaches to raising cattle. That way, you know what you're putting into your body while supporting small businesses - a win-win!

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