tenderness on prime, choice, select, steak

I have an expectation on the answer.
I am used to the phrases, ‘select’, ‘choice’ and ‘prime’ for lets say NY strip steaks in most available stores.
Prime is available in better meat stores and fine restaurants.
Now to select and choice. Looking at the meat, can you tell the difference between the 2? If it didn’t have a sticker, would you know what it is? Can we trust stores?
Too close to guess. Which leads to cooking times. I know the difference between 3/4 inch and 1 1/2 inch thickness with the times. I have read times to cook a strip steak from 1 hour to several hours. They don’t state what the steaks are on the original store quality. Cook a select steak for 1 hour to temp and you will have a chewy piece of meat.
Not only should the recipe givers state the thickness of meat but also the grade that the meat is.
I would think a select steak would have to be cooked much longer to get to the choice type
steak in tenderness and so on. Correct?
Seems that is the first variance to figure in the calculations. But none of the recipes do that.
What is the answer from the very experienced cooks on this board?
Don’t burn me as most people have this question but don’t know it.
Many thanks…

My understanding on the American grading system is that it has nothing at all to do with the expected tenderness of the meat and everything to do with the marbled fat content.

The intramuscular fat content doesn’t really impact on the tenderness of a piece of steak so much as on the flavour profile. Age of the beast and how long it has been left to hang before being cut down will impact the tenderness. As will it’s feed, to some degree.

Most beef in the US is grainfed or at least grain finished. Grain is a high value feed, so the animal puts on condition, muscle mass, easily. And because the grain is delivered to the steer there is little need for him to do anything more than eat. This produces more tender meat. The subcutaneous fat is usually white or light cream in colour.

You may also see beef listed as grass fed. Grass is a low value food. A steer needs to eat more of it to put on condition. However, grass isn’t all in the one place. The steer must wander around while munching away to keep his belly full. This results in higher work load on his muscles which results in more flavour in the meat than with grain fed, but less tenderness. Interestingly, grass fed beef will have a darker colour often with a slight red or orange tint in the subcutaneous fat layer and often darker muscle.

Darker fat may also indicate an older animal. The majority of beef is harvested at between 14 and 20 months. As the animal gets older the accumulative work that the muscles have done increases, again resulting in more flavour, but lower natural tenderness. This can be countered to a degree by hanging the carcass longer before processing.

Correct, JB.
Most folks don’t much care either.
I don’t understand, “burn me”, but it sounds offensive and potentially painful.

Many of the recipes here and at other sites leave much to be desired when it comes to useful details. I don’t trust or use most of them. I prefer to think in terms of technique rather than recipe. It might be better to develop your own formulae if you plan to eat meat for a while longer.

The best advice i can give you is to look and handle the meat you select. Get well acquainted. Really look at it, think, and judge it’s feel. Smell it, that will inform you of the age on it. After a while you will develop your judgement when considering each meal’s results. Keep a detailed record of all your cooks. If you do that you will soon develop your ability to differentiate between grades. They are really obvious. The difficulty comes when you are looking at “Low Prime” or “High Choice”. That can be subtle.

And yes, you can trust stores, at least the majors. They couldn’t risk tampering with grades and its too obvious if they did.

The grading is done by certified inspectors just off the kill floor in the meat processing facilities. All are graduate veterinarians. They first check for overall health of the animal. Then they make a cut into the meat to judge grade. They then apply a continuous ribbon of ink from front shank to rear shank that covers most of the sub-primal pieces with the grade.

Beef is pretty forgiving. Try a longer time, up to 4 hrs. Select meat is less marbled, less unctuous, and, IMHO, sometimes less tender. Consider serving with an herb butter to recoup some of the unctuousness.

Jbee, i think my response missed at least part of your important question regarding recipe writers/givers.

With your more discerning approach to meat purchasing, of course grade is important, as is its age and aging. It’s an acquired understanding and appreciation resulting from the thoughtful enjoyment of your meals. Think of it as being a lot like wine appreciation, and how often they go together. Or, of learning to appreciate and enjoy different varieties of olives. My bad news for you is that understanding and appreciating food quality is a life long journey. There’s really no end, but it can be a very satisfying trip just the same.

Think of it, recipe writers are not writing recipes just for you. Don’t take it personally, but they are aiming at the average diner who cares little for most subtleties of flavour and texture.

So my answer is this: - learn to recognize the differences in meat grades and their flavours and textures through experience and conscious appreciation. A continuing education meat cutting course at your local community college might be beneficial.

Have fun and enjoy your trip.

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