Why is some beef graded and others are not? And what do the grades mean?
Certain cuts of meat are classified from where it comes from on the animal, while the grade of the meat speaks to the overall quality. Simple enough, right?
For perspective, the top USDA grade, Prime, makes up about 2-3% of all beef processed in the United States. Inspectors look mainly at the meat’s marbling, or the fat content that intertwines with the meat itself. As you would imagine, USDA Prime beef will give you rich, juicy, tender flavour and texture. This is Hall of Fame-level meat.
Just below that is Choice, which makes up around 45% of all graded beef. With such a big piece of the pie, you can imagine that there is a huge range in quality within that grade. At Belmont, we only carry top-tier or “high” Choice, which is the best you can get without being classified as USDA Prime. Most grocery stores carry “low” Choice. Worry not, beefeaters. We’ve got you covered.
Is 100% of your meat local?
We have a mantra at Belmont Butchery: quality above all else. And while we work with a lot of fantastic local farms, all of our meat is not local.
- First, we love working with local farmers, but not all local farmers are created equal. We only want the BEST local farmers for you. Quality is always first.
- Second, price. Locally produced products tend to be more labor intensive, and as a result, more expensive. So, by sourcing the best-quality not local meats as well, we can offer great meat at a great price – depending on what works best for your budget.
- Third, when you are working with local meat – you are working with the whole animal and there are finite amounts of certain cuts. For example – there are only 6 or so pounds of tenderloin on a 1200 lb steer! But you want tenderloin, and we are out of local tenderloin…so, we can talk about alternate cuts OR we cut you not-local filets. It just depends on what is more important, to you! Local farm raised meat or the cut of meat.
We love our local farmers, and are always working to expand our local repertoire. BUT we are not willing to sacrifice quality just to be trendy.
What's the difference between grass-fed and grain-feed beef?
The simple answer: a lot! By design, cattle should be eating mostly grass. But in the last few decades, some farmers realized that a combination of grain and grass could produce beef with a slightly different nuance in the texture and flavour.
Grain-fed cattle produces a sweeter flavor, a softer texture and more marbling (the desirable specks of fat throughout the meat). Grass-only beef tastes richer, with a more robust flavour and denser texture.
Here’s the thing: taken to an extreme, steers can’t properly digest grain in their diet, and if their diet is mostly grain, odds are they need to be given antibiotics (to keep them from getting sick). Not ideal. To make it worse, they are then given growth hormones to help them grow larger faster!
Belmont Butchery offers grain-fed beef with no added hormones or antibiotics, which means you can be sure these steers enjoyed a blend of grass, grain, and silage in order to give them a balanced diet and a healthier upbringing!
When I come into Belmont Butchery, you talk about Pasture-raised Beef. Isn't that the same as Grass-fed?
Yes and no. There is one small difference between the two. Grass-fed is just that – grass only. No grain or silage as supplements. Just grass or hay. Grass-fed beef has a hint of that grassiness for a robust flavor and needs a little TLC when cooking. Pasture-raised steers live and graze on grass but are fed additional grains and silage as “dessert”. Think of it as a nutritional supplement. You still get higher levels of Omega 3s, and a bit more marbling which translates into easy cooking and a delicious flavor!
What about the “conventional” available beef at Belmont?
When we say “conventional”, we mean conventionally grain-fed beef. Ours is USDA Prime Certified Angus. We don’t carry a lot, but sometimes a USDA Prime bone-in Ribeye or Rib Roast is an amazing thing.
Which cuts of beef work for which types of cooking?
We’ve found that finding the right cut of meat is often overlooked by our customers, but it’s very important – second only to quality in the ingredient selection process. Put simply, each cut of meat is different for different types of meals and recipes. Helpful, huh?
Belmont Butchery is stocked with all kinds of cuts of meat, along with a very knowledgeable team of butchers to walk you through the entire process. We’ll ask you about your recipe, how many you are feeding and your budget – then we will make suggestions as to what cut we think will work best for you!
Which cuts of pork work for which types of cooking?
We stock a wide variety of pork cuts, and with a phone call or quick chat with one of our butchers, can generally find the cut you desire and offer tips for the best way to cook it.
Different muscles and cuts have different flavors, textures, and levels of fattiness. Therefore: a wide variety of uses!
The shoulder is great for smoking, braising, or any slow-cook method. The shoulder has great marbling, which is what lends it such a great flavor, but needs that time to render out the fat.
A ham, by contrast, is naturally leaner and a tougher cut. This can make it harder to cook. It needs low & slow, as overcooking it can make it dry. It’s a good idea to brine a ham before cooking it. We can explain how to do that.
The “middle meats” – loins, chops, and the tenderloin – are naturally more tender because these are muscle groups that the pig uses less. They’re great for quick and high-heat recipes like grilling, searing, or roasting. They’re naturally leaner, though, so take care to avoid over-cooking! And contrary to what your grandmother told you, pork does not have to be cooked “well-done”.
What if I want local pork?
We’re very proud of the pork we sell. Remember – quality first! Even a great local commercial farm can’t hold a candle to the heritage breed pork we work with. You can’t beat it.
We’ve built relationships with one of the best heritage pork farmers in the country. We generally get half hogs from the farm weekly. But that means that we have a limit number of cuts available each week. We generally have ample cuts in-stock, but if you have specific needs, call, or stop in to talk to one of our butchers and we’ll arrange a special order.