Where's the Beef? An American Staple
Beef has always been a staple in the American diet. Because of increasing health concerns regarding heart disease, cholesterol, and obesity, however, leaner breeds of cattle have been introduced into the U.S. market in recent years. Despite the often negative image given to beef, there are benefits to eating it as well. Beef is extremely high in protein, iron, and B12 vitamins. These nutrients are more efficiently absorbed when eaten in meat than when taken as supplements.
Choosing the Best Beef Cuts
When purchasing beef, there are certain guidelines that will help to identify the best quality cuts. Beef should always be light red to slightly brownish-red in color. If it is dark or splotchy, it is probably old. It should be moist to the touch but should not be sitting in pool of liquid and should never feel slimy, sticky, or wet. Beef should have a distinct smell, but should never smell sour or unpleasant. It should appear well marbled; meaning the fat that runs throughout the meat should be ample and evenly distributed. The fat on the exterior should be white in color and never yellow or browning. As with all meats, certain cuts of beef are higher in fat and certain cuts are leaner. Some are tender and some are tougher. All these factors determine how a cut of beef should be cooked.
Beef's tenderness is determined by which muscle of the animal it comes from. The meat from the back of the steer is a lot less worked than the meat from the legs, neck, and underside. Cuts such as tenderloin and top loin (New York Strip) come from a steer's back and have a fine grained texture and low amount of connective tissue. These cuts can be cooked over high, direct heat and yield a tender, flavorful piece of steak. Cuts such as the chuck (shoulder) and brisket come from the side of the cow and have a coarse grain and a fair amount of connective tissue. These cuts are best prepared with slow, moist cooking that allows the connective tissue to break down and become gelatinous and fork tender.