Monday, August 22, 2005

A little about beef...

Beef is meat obtained from a bovine.

Beef is one of the principal meats used in European cuisine and cuisine of the Americas, and is important in Africa, East Asia, and Southeast Asia as well. In the Middle East, it is very rare to have lunch without beef.

Beef can be cut into steak, pot roasts, short ribs, or ground into hamburger. Several Asian and European nationalities include the blood in their cuisine as well -- it is used in some varieties of blood sausage, and Filipinos use it to make a stew called dinuguan. Other beef variety meats include the tongue, which is usually sliced for sandwiches in Western cooking; tripe from the stomach; various glands�particularly the pancreas and thyroid�referred to as sweetbreads; the heart, the brain, the liver, the kidneys; and the tender testicles of the bull commonly known as "beef balls", "calf fries", or "Rocky Mountain oysters."

In the United States, the USDA operates a voluntary beef grading program. The meat processor pays for the presence of a highly trained USDA meat grader who grades the whole carcass prior to fabrication. The carcass grade is stamped on each primal cut (six stamps) and applied with roller stamp to each side as well. You can often see traces of the USDA grading stamp on boxed primal cuts.

The grades are based on two main criteria, the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef rib eye and the age of the animal prior to slaughter. Some meat scientists object to the current scheme of USDA grading since it does not take tenderness into account. Most other countries beef grading systems mirror the US model. Most beef offered for sale in supermarkets is graded choice or select. Prime beef is sold to hotels and upscale restaurants. Beef that would rate as Standard or leaner is almost never offered for grading.
The better cuts are usually obtained from steers, as heifers tend to be kept for breeding. Older animals are used for beef when they are past their reproductive prime. The meat from older cows and bulls is generally tougher, so it is frequently used for ground beef. Cattle raised for beef may be allowed to roam free on grasslands, or may be confined at some stage in pens as part of a large feeding operation called a feedlot.

The United States, Brazil, the EU, China, and India, are the world's five largest producers of beef. Beef production is also important to the economy of Argentina, the Russian Federation, Australia, Mexico, and Canada.