Prime Time for a Steak


They say that every cloud has a silver lining.

A byproduct of the dismal state of the economy is the glut of prime beef on the market. The high-end steakhouses that normally snap up the best grades of beef have been especially hard hit as corporate expense accounts and special occasion diners grow ever more tight-fisted. Prime beef has been showing up in warehouse clubs and local supermarkets, often at prices comparable to those for the lower-graded choice beef.

A Prime Primer

You might be surprised to learn that beef grading is a voluntary program. The USDA currently certifies eight grades of beef, with just the top three grades (Prime, Choice, Select) commonly sold to retail consumers. Less than 3% of U.S. beef is certified prime. Grading relies on two primary criteria: fat marbling and age of the animal. While these can be indicative of tenderness they are not direct measurements.

High quality beef from specialty producers often defies classification. Grass-fed beef is naturally lean so it rarely earns the prime grade. At the other end of the marbling spectrum, American Wagyu (from the breed of cattle used for Japaneses Kobe beef) literally scores off the charts: the top USDA grade of prime rates a middling score of 5 or 6 out of 12 on the Japanese beef grading scale; the highly abundant marbling of Wagyu earns it a score of 10.

The aging process is another factor to consider in selecting prime beef.

Beef is aged between slaughter and cooking to make the meat more tender and allow the flavor of the beef to mature. About 90% is wet aged: vacuum packed in plastic and refrigerated for about a week. Dry aged beef spends a minimum of two weeks, unsealed, under refrigeration. As moisture escapes, the meat’s flavors are concentrated producing a more complex and assertive taste. It is a demanding, time-consuming process that leads to the loss of about one-fifth of the beef’s weight from drying and trimming.

Here are some online resources to help you shop for and prepare prime beef at home:

Listen as New York Times food writer Melissa Clark discusses bargain-hunting for prime beef with Costco’s meat buyer on The Takeaway radio.

For humanely raised and slaughtered prime beef from rare and heritage breeds, you can do no better than 100 year old Lindauer Farms.

Bring home the signature Porterhouse for two: legendary New York Steakhouse Peter Luger has started selling their dry aged prime beef online.

Allen Brothers, source of  prime and pricey beef for many of the top steakhouses, has an online retail shop.

Most Costco stores carry a variety of cuts of prime and American Wagyu beef, and you don’t have to buy half a cow to get their bargain prices. Don’t believe me? Check out the chain stores discussion board at where the topic is exhaustively tackled.

Bring home the signature Porterhouse for two: legendary New York Steakhouse Peter Luger has started selling their dry aged prime beef online.

Not quite the same as the steakhouses with their 1,000+ degree broilers, but here are five tips to grilling the perfect steak at home.

Learn more about your beef. Read  Beef… from Farm to Table Factsheet from the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA.

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2 Responses to Prime Time for a Steak

  1. Thanks very much ,very good content.

  2. yummmy:) thx for your share i’d love to follow u.anyway happy new year ~~~~

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