From lean grass-fed meat to ultrarich wagyu, beef has become a food obsession. Here, eight top chefs share their best recipes for their favorite cuts, and F&W gives a lesson on how to decipher the lingo.
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Many supermarkets don’t have butchers; the beef they sell is cut at meatpacking plants. These new shops, however, are reviving the nearly lost craft of butchering.
Burgundy BoucherieAt their shop in Grandview, Texas, Jon and Wendy Taggart sell grass-fed beef from their ranch as well as other local foods (800 McDuff Ave.; burgundypasturebeef.com).
Fleisher’sThis shop in Kingston, New York, sells meat from local ranches to both home cooks and restaurants like Brooklyn’s Sparky’s (307 Wall St.; grassfedmeat.net).
Ted’s ButcherblockAt this quirky Charleston, South Carolina, shop and café, customers can choose expertly cut beef after enjoying a bacon-of-the-month BLT (334 East Bay St.; tedsbutcherblock.com).
How to Read a Steak House Menu
AngusRed and Black Angus produce consistently well-marbled beef. The best Black Angus meat can be labeled "Certified Angus Beef."
ChianinaOriginally from Tuscany, these lean, muscular steers are now raised at a small number of U.S. ranches.
HerefordLike the Angus breed, Hereford cattle are hardy, but they produce leaner steaks.
WagyuWagyu literally means "Japanese cattle." There are several breeds. Prized for its melt-in-the mouth marbling, it’s so rich it’s often sold by the ounce. True Japanese 100 percent wagyu beef is now coming to the United States after a ban was lifted last year.
KobeTrue Kobe beef, famed for its incredible marbling, is from Japan’s Hyogo prefecture (Kobe is the capital). A very limited amount of Kobe is exported to the United States. The "American Kobe" that appears on some menus is usually a cross between wagyu and Angus.
PiedmonteseA boutique breed from Italy that is also raised by U.S. farmers (often grass-fed). Lean but still tender and flavorful.
USDA PrimeThe USDA’s top level, awarded to beef with the most marbling. About 2 percent of beef is graded prime; most goes to restaurants. Choice is the next best level.
Japanese Grade 12Japan grades its beef on a scale of 1 to 12; the most densely marbled meat receives a 12. Most USDA prime cuts would rate between 4 and 6 in this system.
NaturalAlso referred to as "all-natural," the beef must contain no artificial ingredients, like added colors, flavors or preservatives.
Certified OrganicFeed must be vegetarian and grown without pesticides. Cattle have access to the outdoors and cannot be given hormones or antibiotics.
Certified HumaneCattle have access to clean food and water, sufficient protection from harsh elements and enough space to move around naturally. They receive antibiotics only when sick, and no hormones.
Wet- vs. Dry-Aging
Wet-aged beef is vacuum-sealed and aged for up to several weeks, which helps tenderize it. Dry-aged beef is hung in a cold, moderately humid space to tenderize it and concentrate its flavor; the beef loses weight through evaporation as it hangs, so it’s more expensive. At steak houses, 21 days of dry-aging is standard.
Taste Test: Grass-Fed Steak
All beef cattle are raised on grass; most are fattened with grain or corn for several months before slaughter. But a growing number of ranchers are raising cattle exclusively on grass. They say it’s better for the environment, the animal and the person who eats the beef. Grass-fed steaks (sometimes called "grass-finished") are leaner; they’re also higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In an F&W taste test of grass-fed rib eyes, we found the flavor can vary, from pleasantly herbal to unappealingly gamey. Our favorites:
U.S. Wellness Meats$19 plus shipping for a thick 15 oz rib eye (877-383-0051 or grasslandbeef.com).
American Grass Fed Beef$69 with shipping for four 8 oz rib eyes (866-255-5002 or americangrassfedbeef.com).
Lasater Grasslands Beef$56 plus shipping for four 12 oz rib eyes (866-454-2333 or lgbeef.com).