How to Buy Meat

Knowing how to purchase fresh meat is a skill everyone can use in today's world. Food prices are rising and pay checks are not. Knowing how to get the most for your money is important.

Beef Evaluation

Factors to consider when buying beef include:  maturity, marbling, texture of lean,firmness of lean, and color of the lean and fat.

  • Maturity. In younger animals, the meat is a bright cherry red color. A mature meat is a deep dark red color. The cartilage is also softer in younger animals.
  • Marbling. Marbling is tiny specks of fat found within the lean of the rib-eye. This fat makes the meat more juicy and flavorful. Some slight marbling is desired over coarse marbling.
  • Texture. Texture refers to the prominence of muscle fibers observed in the cut. The finer  the texture, the more tender the meat. More mature beef usually has more texture.
  • Firmness. A firm textured lean and fat is desired. Weepy fat is not attractive to customers.
  • Color. The lean should be a bright, cherry red color. The color deepens as the animal ages. The fat should be a creamy white color. Yellow is not desired, but doesn't cause a problem.

Deformities in Beef

Beef animals with the following deformities will be condemned and will not be used for human consumption:

  • Non-ambulatory-If an animal cannot move without some assistance, he will be condemned.
  • Temperatures above 105 degrees-These animals are suffering from a probable bacterial infection.
  • Cancer Eye- If the eye has been damaged or destroyed, the carcass is destroyed, not knowing how far gone the cancer is.
  • Infectious or Parasitic Diseases- Animals with rabies, tetanus, equine encephalomyelitis will be condemned.

Swine Evaluation Tips

Factors that influence the quality of pork include color of lean and fat, texture of meat and fat, and marbling.

  • Color of Lean. The ideal color of lean is greyish-pink. It is preferred that the meat be uniform in color.
  • Texture of Meat. The lean should be of a firm, fine texture. It should not be soft and watery.
  • Texture and Color of Fat. The fat should be firm, white and dry. It should not be soft or oily.
  • Marbling. Marbling or feathering (streaks of fat) in the carcass is desired. Excessive amounts of marbling or no marbling is objectionable.

Pork Deformities

Some swine carcass deformities that you would want to avoid are:

  • Hernias- Rupture during the slaughter process could contaminate the carcass.
  • Temperatures above 106 degrees- This indicates a bacterial infection.
  • Hog cholera-This is highly contagious and can spread to other pigs.
  • Mange--Excessive mange will cause the carcass to be condemned.

Poultry Evaluation Tips

When selecting poultry to purchase, be sure to look for these traits:

  • Color: The chicken should be pink. Steer away from grayish meat or transparent skin.
  • Smell: Fresh chicken should have no smell. Rotting chicken will smell. Don't buy it.
  • Skin: Bloody skin, bruised skin, or skin with lots of cuts indicate rough handling. Damaged chicken tends to deteriorate faster.
  • Packaging: Make sure the packaging on the chicken is not damaged. This could indicate age or the presence of bacteria.

Grading Livestock

Poultry Grades

There are three grades of birds which can be sold as retail. They are A, B, and C. Most of the poultry you will find in the stores are Grade A. Grades B and C are usually processed into cut-up, chopped or ground poultry products. For example, a Grade B bird may be cut up for parts. Some of the parts will be Grade A parts.

There are three main factors used in grading poultry. These factors are exposed flesh, disjointed or broken bones, and missing parts. The table summarizes the factors for each grade.

Beef Yield Grades

Yield Grade — Yield grade is an estimate of the percent retail yield of the four primal cuts of beef (chuck, rib, loin and round). It is also known as cutability.

Yield grade identifies the difference in the yield of lean red meat to waste fat based on the following scale:

USDA 1 – Most desirable, trim
USDA 3 – Industry average

USDA 5 – Least desirable, excessively fat

Beef Quality Grades

A quality grade is a composite evaluation of factors that affect palatability of meat (tenderness, juiciness, and flavor). These factors include carcass maturity, firmness, texture, and color of lean, and the amount and distribution of marbling within the lean.

In order of descending quality they are:

  • Prime--This is the grade of beef that contains the greatest degree of marbling. It is generally sold to finer restaurants and to some selected meat markets. It is significantly higher in price because less than 3% of the beef graded is Prime. Prime grade beef is the ultimate in tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Prime Rib is a USDA Prime rib roast for example, and many top steak houses serve only Prime cuts.
  • Choice-Choice grade beef has less marbling than Prime, but is still of very high quality. This is the most popular grade of beef because it contains sufficient marbling for taste and tenderness, while costing less than Prime. Just over half of the beef graded each year earns a grade of Choice. Choice cuts are still tender and juicy.
  • Select-This is generally a lower priced grade of beef with less marbling than Choice. Select cuts of beef may vary in tenderness and juiciness. Select has the least amount of marbling, making it leaner than, but often not as tender, juicy and flavorful as, the other two top grades. About a third of beef graded falls into this category.
  • Standard- the lowest grade you’ll ever hear mentioned by name in the supermarket.
  • Commercial -Unlabeled cuts of meat are either commercial or utility grade, or more likely were never graded in the first place.
  • Utility
  • Cutter-The lowest grades, cutter and canner, are used in disgusting things like potted meat and those meat sticks you find in the gas station.
  • Canner

Swine Quality Grades

There are five official USDA grades for slaughter barrows and gilts:

  • US No. 1--
  • US No. 2
  • US No. 3
  • US No. 4--
  • US Utility--These swine have unacceptable carcasses .

(Descriptions are in photo below.)

The estimated back fat thickness over the last rib and the muscling score are used to determine the official grade for slaughter swine.

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