The BBQ Dragon Guide to Great Steak Cuts – A Tasty Two-Minute Read!

Do you know what grade the beef steaks you’re planning on buying are? In case you’ve been wondering – there are EIGHT beef quality grades! Yikes – that’s a ton more than most people seem to know about. The good news is that several of the “grades” towards the bottom of the list are cuts you probably will never see as a consumer looking for a tasty steak to throw on the grill. Well, that’s just if you reframe from buying steaks from that friendly guy driving through your neighborhood. You know the one, the guy in the primer gray truck with a freezer strapped down in the back! Probably has a hand-painted sign declaring his great steak sale! Avoid that “opportunity” and head to the grocery store or meat market and pick up a proper steak for your next grilling session.

The Big Three Grades of Beef Cuts

Graphic: Iowa Farm Bureau

According to the USDA, there are eight beef quality grades. The grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef, and the maturity (estimated age of the animal at slaughter). The good news is that when it comes to grilling some t-bones, rib eyes, or New York strips or slow roasting a beef roast or tenderloin, then the list generally narrows to three of the eight grades. Here’s how those three break down according to the Cattleman’s Association.

  • PRIME
    Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed cattle. It has abundant marbling, is produced in smaller quantities than other grades, and is often sold in hotels and restaurants. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for roasting, grilling or broiling.
  • CHOICE
    Choice beef is high quality and produced in highest quantity, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks, especially from the rib and loin, will be very tender, juicy and flavorful. They are suited for roasting, grilling, and broiling. Less tender cuts are perfect for slow-cooking.
  • SELECT
    Select beef is slightly leaner than Prime and Choice because it has less marbling. It can lack some tenderness, flavor, and juiciness as compared to the higher grades. Select grade beef often benefits from slow-cooking or from marination prior to grilling or broiling.
    Source: CATTLEMEN’S BEEF BOARD AND NATIONAL CATTLEMEN’S BEEF ASSOCIATION

Here Are the Remaining Grades

  • U.S. Standard – Lower quality, yet economical, lacking marbling.
  • U.S. Commercial – Low quality, lacking tenderness, produced from older animals.
  • U.S. Utility
  • U.S. Cutter
  • U.S. Canner

The bottom line is actually in the form of an old grilling quote that should be memorized by all grill masters! “A tender steak starts with selecting a tender cut!” And don’t forget to cook your next steak to the proper temperature using your BBQ Dragon meat temp charts – aka the Cooking and Smoking Temperature Magnets – 2 Piece Set – which is available in the shop!

Author Bio: Kent Whitaker, also known as “The Deck Chef,” is an award-winning culinary writer and cookbook author. He’s also penned Young Reader, NASCAR and History titles. The former winner of the Emeril Live Food Network Barbecue Contest also covers football, motorsports, and bass fishing. Kent currently lives in East Tennessee with his wife, son, and a couple of dogs that love when he fires up the smoker or grill. You can reach out to Kent at www.thedeckchef.com, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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