From post-workout meals to food preparation, meat plays an important role in the lives of fitness enthusiasts. An essential part of a healthy diet, meat is a vital source of protein, vitamins and nutrients, which are essential for muscle repair and overall well-being.
Although it is widely known that eating clean meat is important, the quality of high protein foods has changed dramatically over the years; and not for the better. With the rise of hormones, steroids and antibiotic-laden meat, consumers began to seek labels that supported a farm-to-table approach.
But just like meat, not all labels are created equal, and transparency can be hard to find when selecting cuts. From prices to different “grades” of meat, and all the jargon in between, grocery shopping for meat lovers has become confusing. This is where Jake Gross, fifth generation breeder and co-founder of E3 Meat Co.an all-natural beef ranch that produces high-quality meats, provides invaluable advice on how you can be sure you’re getting the best meat available while helping you understand labels, pricing, and more.
The story behind E3 Meat Co.
Thirty years ago, Gross’ father challenged him to create a recipe for their cattle feed that would produce some of the tastiest, healthiest beef around. With success, Gross came up with the “Never Ever” diet, meaning they would never give animals antibiotics, steroids or hormones – producing grass-fed, grain-finished beef. Gross’ business partner Adam Laroche, who played 13 years in the major leagues, began eating the “Never Ever” meat, sharing it with some of his teammates and other ball players; who quickly began to rave about the taste and quality of the beef. It wasn’t soon after that the couple decided they were onto something, and so E3 Meat Co. was launched.
The different flavor profiles of meat
What might surprise the average consumer is that there are a variety of different beefs in the United States, and they are all fed differently, creating unique flavor profiles. Some examples are grass-fed finished grains; natural cattle, never beef, conventional beef, wagyu and others.
“In almost every part of the country where cattle are raised, they use a different staple that changes the flavor of the beef,” Gross says. In Florida they use sugarcane, in Idaho they eat potatoes, and in Kansas they have Kansas prairie and corn.
Beyond feed, “some may inject hormones, antibiotics or steroids to fatten the cattle – it all changes what’s in the beef and what you’re subjecting yourself to,” Gross says. This not only alters the flavor of the meat, but can also pose unwanted health risks.
The most important thing you can do to ensure you get clean, high-quality, great-tasting meat is know where your meat comes from by getting to know your local breeder, advises Gross. This will take the guesswork out of buying meat and ensure that you are giving your body the best source of meat available.
Understanding Meat Categories
Selecting different grades of meat can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know.
For starters, there are three different grades of beef: Select, Choice and Prime.
“Select is rated as inadequate,” Gross says, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. What that means, adds Gross, is that the marbling isn’t adequate when they look at it at the packer — and the marbling is really what gives this beef its flavor.
The next grade is Choice, which you’ll see in many grocery stores. “That means it’s proper marbling, so the flavor will be enhanced and definitely a step up from the selection,” Gross says.
The best of the three is Prime – hence the name – which is said to have excess marbling, meaning you’ll get a much deeper flavor when you bite into it.
But most importantly, while you may have good marbling, what the animal was fed will ultimately dictate the flavor and health value of the meat.
When meat prices drop, here’s how to determine quality
It’s not always a bad thing when your favorite cut of meat comes in at a lower price, and it’s a good thing to know because prices keep going up these days. “One of the first things to do is look at the quality of the beef,” says Gross. This will really help you gauge whether or not it’s a good cut of beef. “If the price for a premium cut of beef is lower than what you normally pay throughout the year, it probably means the store has excess inventory and is trying to sell it,” explains Gross. It’s a lot and time accumulates in it.
Consider the time of year. “In November and December, a lot of people buy prime rib or venture into good restaurants and buy rib eye. So during that time you might be able to get a really good deal on striploin steaks,” says Gross.
The best way to prepare is to watch beef/meat prices from week to week. (all year). You will see that they fluctuate depending on the time of year. This will help you understand what the typical price is and when you should buy it.
If necessary, note prices throughout the year and take advantage of periods when meat prices are low.
Are higher prices always the best indicator of a good cut of meat?
The short answer: No. The reason is that it depends on the cut of beef you are looking for. “When most people think of beef, they think of steak, however, there are good cuts of meat that people don’t often think of or are unfamiliar with,” Gross says.
Some of Gross’ favorite cuts of beef come from what is considered a “butcher’s cut,” namely flank steaks, flank steaks, or even baseball sirloins.
Interestingly, these are called the butcher’s cut because historically these are the cuts the butcher would bring home. After all, they are packed with flavor. “Traditionally, they cost less per pound than a steak or ribeye, but it’s a great cut of meat,” says Gross.
“Chuck roast is also a great cut, and people are coming up with some really fun ways to make it aside from cooking in the slow cooker,” he adds. Paying attention to prices throughout the year, as well as learning about different cuts, can completely improve your meat buying and eating experience!
Understanding Labels, Frozen Meat, and the Safest Places to Buy
Meat labels can be difficult to understand. The good news is that right now we’re in the midst of a farm-to-table movement and more and more people want to know where their food comes from, which makes it easier to track. Consumers want transparency in labeling, and with strong demand comes clearer labeling and greater transparency.
When looking at a label, “look at the grading first if you want to consider the quality of the beef,” says Gross. “Then check the best before date which will determine the shelf life of the meat,” he says.
As for frozen meat, don’t skip it – if a steak is frozen it really doesn’t lose much moisture and it retains its freshness.
And of course, buy American. “America is the safest place to eat beef,” Gross says. In factories where beef is processed, on-site inspectors ensure that the meat is cared for and handled properly.
Selecting American beef is a must, as the United States has the highest standard in beef processing.
Specialty stores will offer you the best quality
Knowing what’s in your meat (what the animal is fed and how it is treated) is key to enjoying the highest quality meat. “Additional additives like steroids and hormones aren’t something I want to feed my family, nor do I want to subject my clients to that,” Gross says.
If you’re looking for clean meat with high flavor profiles, there are dozens of meat delivery companies or farm-to-table ranches that are transparent with their processes and approaches to raising cattle. It’ll let you know what you’re putting in your body while supporting small businesses — a win-win!