A no-bull guide to cows, cuts, grades

Friday, August 30, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 35

Not long ago my husband and I were driving through the country and started wondering why there were so many terms for cattle. You know, one of “those” questions. Actually, this is a very important issue to cattle producers, and I found out just how ignorant I was.

There are four different types of cattle from which cattle producers supply beef:

  • Cows – Females that have had at least one calf
  • Steers – Young castrated males
  • Heifers – Females that have never had a calf
  • Bulls – Un-castrated males.

Most of the meat supplied from a bull is less than two years old. Baby beef (veal) is the lean and tender, very flavorful meat of a seven to 10-month-old calf.

Meat packers can request and pay for their meat to be graded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The grading is based on three factors:

  • Conformity, or the proportion of meat to bone
  • Finish, or proportion of fat to lean
  • Overall quality

Beginning with the best quality, the eight USDA grades for beef are prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter and canner. Prime is usually reserved for restaurants and butcher shops; the lower-quality grades are generally used for sausages and in cured and canned meats.

Italian style pepper steak

2 medium green or red peppers, cut into strips
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 lb. beef tenderloin or top sirloin steak, sliced 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
salt and pepper to taste
1 10oz. can beef broth
1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil
2 medium tomatoes, chopped

In large skillet, cook first three vegetables in oil till tender. Remove from skillet and set aside. Place beef in skillet, adding more oil if necessary, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook turning once until desired doneness. Remove from skillet, keep warm. Add broth and herbs to skillet. Cook, uncovered for two to three minutes, then add vegetables. Cook until warm, spoon over meat. Serve with hot rice and hot, crusty bread.

Storage: If cooked within six to eight hours, fresh beef may be left in its plastic-wrapped package. Otherwise, remove the packaging and store barely covered in the refrigerator’s meat compartment for up to two to three days. Allowing the air to circulate and keep the meat’s surface somewhat dry inhibits bacterial growth. Ground beef can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to three months, other cuts up to six months.

Tenderloin: The short loin lies in the middle of the back between the sirloin and rib. The two main muscles in the short loin are the tenderloin and top loin.

The elongated tenderloin muscle is usually sold as tenderloin roasts or cut into filet mignon steaks. The top loin muscle with the bone attached is called a club steak. When removed from the bone, the same muscle is marketed as a New York, Kansas City strip steak or Delmonico steak.

With the bone left in and parts of the tenderloin and top loin muscles included, the short loin is sold as Porterhouse and T-bone steaks.

Now that you have learned a little about beef, here’s a recipe that you will love for more reasons other than its delicious. It only takes about 30 minutes to prepare, and it’s low fat! Serve with hot cooked rice, salad and hot, crusty bread. This is one great meal!