From post-workout meals to food prep, meat plays a vast 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 crucial for muscle repair and overall wellbeing.
Although it’s widely known that consuming clean meat is important, the quality of the protein-packed food has drastically changed over the years; and not for the better. With added hormones, steroids, and antibiotic-laden meat on the rise, 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 come by when selecting cuts. From prices to different “grades” of meat, and all the lingo in between, grocery shopping for meat lovers has become confusing. Here’s where Jake Gross, fifth-generation rancher and Co-founder of E3 Meat Co., an all-natural beef ranch that produces high-quality meats, provides priceless tips on how you can be sure you’re getting the best meat available to you while helping you understand labels, pricing, and more.
The Story Behind E3 Meat Co.
Thirty years ago, Gross’ dad challenged him to create a feed recipe for their cattle that would produce some of the best-tasting, healthiest beef out there. Successfully, Gross came up with the diet “Never Ever,” meaning they’d never give the animals antibiotics, steroids, or hormones — producing grass-fed, grain-finished beef. Gross’s business partner, Adam Laroche, who played 13 years in the Major Leagues, started eating the “Never Ever” meat, sharing it with some of his teammates and other ballplayers; who quickly began to rave about the taste and quality of the beef. It wasn’t soon after, the pair decided that they were onto something, and that’s how E3 Meat Co. was started.
The Different Flavor Profiles of Meat
What might be surprising to the average consumer is that there is a variety of different beef in the USA, and they are all fed differently, creating individual unique flavor profiles. Some examples are grass-fed grain finished; natural cattle, never-ever beef, conventional beef, wagyu, and others.
“In nearly every part of the country where cattle are raised, they use a different base feed which changes the flavor of the beef,” says Gross. In Florida they use sugar cane, in Idaho they consume potatoes, and in Kansas, they have Kansas prairie and corn.
Beyond feed, “some might inject hormones, antibiotics, or steroids to get the cattle bigger — all of this changes what’s in the beef and what you are subjecting yourself to,” explains Gross. 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, flavorful meat is to know where your meat comes from by getting to know your local rancher, Gross advises. This will take the guesswork out of meat shopping and ensure you’re giving your body the best meat source available.
Understanding Grades of Meat
Selecting different grades of meat can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know.
To start, there are three different grades of beef: Select, Choice, and Prime.
“Select is graded as inadequate,” says Gross, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. What is means is, Gross adds, is that the marbling isn’t adequate when they look at it at the packer — and the marbling is really what gives that beef its flavor.
The next grade is Choice, which you’ll see in many grocery stores. “It means that it is adequate marbling, so the flavor will be enhanced and definitely a step up from select,” Gross says.
The best out of the three is Prime — hence the name — which is said to have excess marbling, meaning tastewise, you’ll get a much deeper flavor when you bite into it.
But most importantly, while you might have great marbling, what the animal was fed will ultimately dictate the flavor and the health value of the meat.
When Meat Prices Drop, Here’s How to Tell Quality
It’s not always a bad thing when your favorite cut of meat comes in at a lower price, and that’s a good thing to know as prices continue to rise these days. “One of the first things to do is look at the grade of the beef,” says Gross. That’s really going to help you assess whether or not this is a good piece of beef. “If the price for a choice-grade cut of beef is lower than what you normally pay throughout the year, it probably means that the store has a surplus of inventory and they are trying to sell through it,” says Gross. That’s a great deal and time stock up on it.
Consider the time of year. “In November and December, a lot of people are buying prime rib or venturing out to nice restaurants and buying ribeye’s. So, during that time, you might be able to get a really good deal on strip steaks,” Gross explains.
The best way to be prepared is to look at beef/meat prices from week to week. (year-round). You’ll see that they fluctuate depending on the time of year. That will help you understand what the price typically is and when you should purchase it.
If need be, jot prices down throughout the year and take advantage of times when meat prices are low.
Are Higher Prices Always the Best Indicator of a Good Piece of Meat?
The short answer: No. The reason is it depends on what cut of beef you’re looking for. “When most people think about beef, they think about steak, however, there are some great cuts of meat that people don’t often think or know about,” says Gross.
Some of Gross’ favorite cuts of beef are from what’s considered a “butcher’s cut,” which are the flank steaks, the bavette steaks, or even the baseball sirloins.
Interestingly, they’re called the butcher’s cut because, historically, those are the cuts the butcher would take home. After all, they’re packed with flavor. “Traditionally they cost less per pound than a strip steak or ribeye, but they are a great piece of meat,” explains Gross.
“Chuck roast is a great cut as well, and people are coming up with some really fun ways to prepare it outside of cooking it in the crockpot,” He adds. Paying attention to pricing throughout the year, as well as learning about the different cuts, can enhance your meat buying and consuming experience completely!
Understanding Labels, Frozen Meat, and Where the Safest Places are to Buy
It can be difficult to understand meat labels. The good news is, right now, we are in the middle of a farm-to-table movement and more people want to know where their food comes from making it easier to track. Consumers are wanting transparency in labeling, and along with high demand comes clearer labeling and more transparency.
When examining a label, “look at grading first if you want to consider the quality of beef,” says Gross. “Next, check out the expiration date which is going to determine the shelf life of the meat,” he says.
As far as frozen meat, don’t skip out — if a steak is flash frozen, it really doesn’t lose much moisture and it locks in the freshness.
And of course, buy American. “America is the safest place to eat beef,” says Gross. Within the plants where beef is processed, there are inspectors on site that ensure that the meat is being cared for and handled properly.
Selecting American beef is a must, as the USA has the highest standard for beef processing.
Specialty Stores Will Give You the Best Quality
Knowing what’s in your meat (what the animal is fed and how it’s treated) is key to enjoying the highest quality meat. “Extra additives like steroids and hormones aren’t something that I want to feed my family and I don’t want to subject my customers to that as well,” says Gross.
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. This will allow you to know what you’re putting into your body while supporting small businesses — a win-win!