Sunday, December 20, 2009

meat grades and quality at various stores

While contemplating my Christmas dinner menu and looking at ad sheets I began wondering about quality differences between the beef sold under various store brands.

There's a thread at Chowhound in which someone states that Safeway as a corporation sells USDA Select, not Choice, and that the Rancher's Reserve label is ungraded but falls between Select and Choice. According to the Safeway site, "With Rancher's Reserve, you can feel confident you're serving the most premium, tender beef available anywhere". Here's an article in BEEF Magazine about the patented tenderness measurement and intervention processes used. It's quite interesting and makes a pretty convincing case for why you can indeed rely on this brand for tenderness. However, I'm not at all sure that the focus group results indicating tenderness to be the most important aspect of beef-eating satisfaction are representative of my views. If that electro-stimulated and mechanically-stretched strip steak is tender but lacks enough intramuscular fat to be juicy and flavorful, I'm not going to be satisfied. The USDA quality grading system may be unreliable with respect to tenderness but I suspect it's better for assuring flavor.

TOP Food & Drug carries the Five Star brand. The TOP web site says "Our USDA Choice Natural beef is tender, flavorful, and mouth-wateringly juicy. It is natural with no additives and skillfully crafted by our meat experts". I can't find anything else about it online. I haven't purchased much beef there.

QFC sells the Certified Angus Beef brand. It does not appear to be USDA graded but here's an explanation of where the brand fits in to the USDA scheme and the additional quality specifications they use. It looks like they use their own Prime label. I very rarely shop at QFC and don't think I've ever purchased it.

Costco carries USDA Choice at a minimum, and some Prime. I've generally been pleased with the Choice grade New York strips and ribeyes. Filet mignon and sirloin have been kind of hit-or-miss for me.

Whatever Fred Meyer sells is generally pretty crummy. I discover this anew every time I stupidly buy a steak there. I see that the "tender, juicy and oh, so savory" rib eye roast they are advertising is USDA Select. Mmm.

Central Market has a real butcher shop in the store. I haven't purchased much meat there. It looks like one of their brands is Country Natural Beef. This is an Oregon cooperative that, from the web site, appears to not suffer from some of the "natural" and "organic" nonsense described in The Omnivore's Dilemma.

I should undertake a more deliberate study of the options. I'm pretty pleased with Costco but shopping there is generally far too inconvenient for me to just run out and pick something up for dinner.


Troy said...

Love it. I just saw your post on Facebook about dry aging your roast, and I thought.. hmm, wonder what quality of meat Steve used. I should have known that there would be a full blown dissertation on variances in meat qualities on your blog! That's what I love about you. Tara just bought a rib roast from Freddy's for 3.49 a pound. I'm all for saving money (on appropriate items, but prime rib isn't a piece to cheap out on. Oh well, I guess I'll need to beat her to the store for the next round.

Steve Poole said...

That's funny! I ended up going to Costco and getting the USDA Choice at $6.79. They had Prime at closer to $10 but I passed. Let me know how yours turns out. I haven't done enough rib roasts to have developed much of a comparative sense but I've never had one turn out terribly.

In the years since Kroger acquired both QFC and Fred Meyer it seems like there has been a deliberate downscaling of the quality of meat and fish at FM. I could be wrong.