Purchasing meat

Meat plays a starring role in most menus. It is a valuable source of protein and minerals such as iron. Usually meat is the most expensive item in the food budget, so it is important to shop wisely, considering both quality and quantity, and to properly store and prepare all types and cuts of meat.

Prime, Choice, and Select grades contain the same nutrients, but Prime cuts of meat usually have more marbling and are more tender; they cost more, too. Marbling refers to the flecks and steaks of fat distributed through the lean portion of meat. It contributes to the meat's juiciness, flavor, and tenderness

What's the cost?
The best way to figure the value of purchased meat is on the basis of cost per serving, not cost per pound. This is because the number of servings that can be obtained from one pound depends on the amount of bone and fat waste.

Leftover meat can be incorporated in sandwich spreads, salads, soups, casseroles, stir-fry combinations, and other dishes where complementary ingredients act as extenders.

Use the downloadable beef and pork charts below to help select the appropriate cooking methods for the cut of meat purchased. If you have a slow cooker, microwave oven, or other special cooking equipment, learn to use them by following the manufactuere's instructions carefully.

For a printer-friendly version of the Retail Cuts of Beef chart, click on the icon to download.
Note: Must have Acrobat Reader.

For a printer-friendly version of the Retail Cuts of Pork chart, click on the icon to download.
Note: Must have Acrobat Reader.

Meat buying guide
Purchasing fresh meats

Beef should be red with fat content creamy white in color. Texture should be fine-grained and firm.

  • Vacuum-packed beef will have a darker, bluish-red color until packaging is removed.
  • The red color of ground beef decreases as the amount of fat increases.
  • Increased fat content usually means a lower price; however, expect shrinkage to occur during cooking.

Veal should be virtually fat free with lean, fine-textured and firm pink meat.

  • Any fat covering on larger cuts should be firm and white.
  • Red meat indicates age and may mean lower quality, flavor, and tenderness.
Pork Pork should be light pink to rose in color with firm, fine-grained texture. Fat should be firm and white in color, and bone should be pink.

Lamb should be pink to light red in color with a fat covering or trim that is firm and white.

  • Dark red flesh usually indicates older meat.
  • Usually a parchment-like covering (called the "fell") is found on a leg of lamb; it was left there to help retain juice. It should be trimmed from steaks and chops before cooking for best appearance and even cooking.
Purchasing frozen meats

Apply guidelines for selection fresh meat. Frozen meats should be in well-sealed packages and fell solid to the touch. Avoild packages with tears, freezer burn, or evidence of frost crystals.

Purchasing canned meats

Avoid cans that are bulging or leaking. Although canned meats are cooked before packing, heating usually brings out the flavor.

For a printer-friendly version of this chart, click on the icon to download.
Note: Must have Acrobat Reader.

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