Our Guide to Beef
Fat content: The USDA defines “lean beef” as having less than 10 grams (g) of total fat, 4.5g or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3½-ounce serving (100g) of cooked beef. Half of the fat is saturated and half is heart-healthy monounsaturated. There are 29 naturally lean cuts of beef, including many familiar to Cooking Light readers, such as tenderloin, flank steak, and sirloin, as well as these five lesser-known cuts. Others, such as ribeye or chuck roast, naturally contain more fat, although it is similarly divided between saturated and monounsaturated. Because lean beef contains less fat, it’s best cooked to medium-rare (145°) or medium (160°) to optimize tenderness. If using fattier cuts, slice away the outer rim of fat and cut or pull out any pockets of fat before cooking. For larger cuts, allow the fat to baste the meat while cooking, then trim away before eating, or skim it from the surface of braised dishes or stews.
Other nutrients: A 3½-ounce serving provides 27g to 30g of protein―more than half of the 50g recommended daily in a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. All beef is an excellent source of iron, zinc, and phosphorus. In general, the redder the meat, the more iron it contains (beef liver has the most). Beef also contains thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin and is a rich source of B12, found naturally only in animal foods.
AT THE MARKET
Inspection and grading: USDA inspectors examine all live animals and beef shipped out of state, which encompasses most of today’s supermarket beef. Grading is voluntary and done by the same inspectors. The more marbling―the small white flecks of fat within the muscles―the higher the grade. Three grades of beef are sold to consumers. Only three percent is highly marbled Prime, sought after by top steak houses and butcher shops. About 57 percent is moderately marbled Choice, the most common supermarket grade. The remaining 40 percent is lean Select.
Private labels: Supermarket chains and large food distributors also have developed private brands with their own specifications. The first such program began in 1978 with Certified Angus Beef, which must come from Angus cattle. Niman Ranch Natural Beef and Certified Hereford Beef are two others.
Natural and organic: Beef labeled “natural” must not contain any artificial ingredients and cannot be more than minimally processed, such as ground beef. “Organic” beef must come from cattle raised and certified according to the USDA’s National Organic Program. Organic cattle must be fed 100-percent organically and without antibiotics or hormones. Both natural and organic beef can be either grass- or grain-finished.