First let’s talk about the different grades of beef. There are many beef grading systems around, but we will be focusing on Australia’s Meat Standard system (adopted by Swiss Butchery).
Meat Standards Australia (MSA) is a grading system designed to identify quality beef, based on the various factors to determine the quality of beef. The system is tuned to the taste and preferences of consumers through a stringent consumer study with over 100,000 participants and rating 700,000 beef samples. This study give farmers the information they need to produce the best quality meat in line with what consumers are looking.
What are some factors which affects the quality of beef? There are many different factors that farmers look for to produce the best quality beef, ranging from breeding to acid levels. We will be focusing on the main factors, diet, marbling, maturity and colour.
The diet of a cattle will affect the quality of beef, whether it is classified as fatty or lean. The two main diet which a cattle will have is either grass-fed or grain-fed.
Before a cattle starts their diet, they will firstly grow up feeding on their mother’s milk before roaming on grassland feeding from grass, shrubs, etc. After a period of time, these cattle will then start on their diet. Grain-fed cattle will be transported to feedlots, where their diets are controlled to only soy or corn based. While grass-fed cattle will continue staying on the grassland.
Fat and Nutrition
So how does diet affect the quality of beef? It affects the composition of fat in the beef. For a grass-fed cattle, it has similar or slightly less saturated and monounsaturated fat. Both grass and grain-fed cattle has similar levels of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. Grass-fed contains up to 5 times more Omega-3, and 2 times as much Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) as grain-fed.
In summary, grass-fed cattle contain lesser total fat but a lot more Omega-3 and CLA, which both are highly beneficial to the health.
Aside from fat composition, nutrition level also differs. Grass-fed cattle are generally more nutritious compared to grain-fed cows. They have a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamins A and E and cancer-fighting antioxidants than grain-fed beef. However, grain-fed is also nutritious. It contains more carotenoid, vitamin e and minerals.
In the world of beef, marbling refers to the lines or streaks of fat within the meat. Some farmers goes to great length in order to influence the cattle’s marbling. Matsusaka beef, famous for its top notch marbling, are given massages and beer regularly.
So why is marbling so important? It is responsible for keeping the meat tender and moist, and also infuses the meat with flavour.
Maturity of the meat is basically the age which the cattle is being slaughtered. The younger the cattle, the finer the texture, the more tender and brighter in colour it would be. As it gets older, these attributes will gradually fade. Thus, farmers will harvest their cattle at a younger age.
Cuts of Beef
Next, a beef carcass is first divided into primal cuts and sub divided into smaller cuts. There are many different ways to divide a carcass and primal cuts differ based on cuisines. In Swiss Butchery, we adopt the UK variation of primal cuts.
Why is knowing each cut or the cut which you have bought important? Each cut has its own characteristics, for example a round cut of a beef is lean and tough in nature. Thus, cooking the meat under a moist-heat is needed to prevent it from drying out to quickly.
Here is a list of cuts which
- Chuck & Blade
- This cut is often sold as Braising Steak. A little more tender than stewing steak. Use in casseroles, stews and to braise.
- Fore Rib
- It has good marbling and fat cover on the outside, making it superb for roasting. Can also be cut into steaks “Ribeyes” for grilling, frying or BBQ.
- Sirloins are suitable for grilling, frying, stir-fries and barbecuing.
- Beef Fillet, loins, also comes from this section. Probably the most prized cut of beef, the fillet is very tender and very lean, as a steak it is suitable for quick cooking under the grill or frying.
- It has superior flavour but less tender, and is suitable for quick cooking such as frying, stir-fry, grilling or barbeque
- Silverside & Topside
- Silverside is a very lean piece of. We recommend regular basting whilst cooking.
- Topside is also a very lean joint and, often has a layer of fat tied around it to help baste and keep it moist. Silverside is also suitable to cut into steaks for frying or grilling and in stir-fries.
- One of the most, flavoursome and inexpensive cuts of beef. Long and slow braising will release their excellent rich flavour.
- Thick Flank
- This joint is also known as Top Rump good for slow roasting as a joint or braised in pieces. Also sold as “stir fry” strips or flash fry steak.
- Thin Flank
- Meat from this area is often known as “Skirt”,” Hanger steak” (or “Onglet” in France). It has plenty of fat marbling which makes it moist and flavoursome. Good for grilling, frying or the BBQ
- Leg & Shin
- Generally sold as Stewing Steak. Best suited for long, slow cooking to breakdown the high proportion of connective tissues and denser fibres and make thick sauces and gravy
- This joint is suitable for slow cooking or pot roasting.
- Thick Rib
- Typically sold as Braising Steak. This cut is somewhat tenderer than stewing steak. Ideal for use in casseroles, stews and for braising.