The meat counter is a confusing place for many consumers.
Friends are constantly asking me for advice on what meat cuts to buy, what brands to choose, and how to cook their meat purchases. Though each shopper is different, many have the same concerns and misconceptions when it comes to selecting their meat entree.
In this post, I briefly address five of the most common questions I am asked about meat.
1. “I’m worried about e. coli. How do I keep my family safe?”
When it comes to e. coli 0157:H7,the key is proper cooking.
For ground beef (this means any ground beef product: chuck, round, etc…), should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
The best way to measure this is by using a meat thermometer (especially for thick burgers) but if one is not available cook ground beef until the interior is no longer pink and the juices run clear.
When at a restaurant, NEVER order a rare hamburger!
Since whole muscle meats (steaks and roasts) are ground up to make ground beef there is more surface area that could have come in contact with e. coli 0157:H7. The only way to ensure a safe hamburger is to eat it well done.
Don’t worry steak lovers, you can still enjoy your favorite medium or rare steak.
When you grill a steak, the surface of that meat is the only part that has to be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees. To make your grilling easier, I recommend this chart as a reference.
2. “I want to support family farmers. What brand is the best to buy?”
First of all, I love getting this question. I look at it as a pat on the back to all the family farmers across the country and a reminder that consumers really do care about us!
As to an answer, it may surprise you. Family farmers sell to many different meat processing companies. Buying your meat from Tyson, Cargill, JBS Swift, or many other major labels means you are buying from corporations who buy livestock from family farms.
I usually add with a laugh, “I don’t care what brand you buy, just buy more of it!”
3. “Is it better to buy meat from a custom meat market or a major grocery store?”
This one all comes down to personal preference.
Some people love the personal touch that comes along with shopping at a local meat market. Local processors are also a great resource for help in cut selection and cooking tips.
In many states, local markets also give you the chance to support local farmers through special marketing programs like our “Kentucky Proud” program.
With a major grocery store it often comes down to convenience. Many families don’t have time to make an extra stop at the meat market and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The important thing to remember is that meat purchased from a grocery store is just as safe as meat purchased from a local meat market because they have all been USDA inspected. USDA meat inspectors monitor the safety of our meat supply very closely. These hard working folks are the reason that I love to boast that we have the safest meat supply in the world.
4. “A lot of celebrities are becoming vegetarians because they say its healthier. Is that true?”
Eliminating meat from your diet does not automatically make you a healthy person. While some vegetarians are healthy, there are many more people living healthy lifestyles with meat as a valuable part of that diet.
Meat is the tastiest multivitamin you’ll ever eat! It is packed full of vitamins and minerals and the best tasting source of protein around. If you are interested in the nutrition facts, check out the individual facts for beef, pork, lamb and chicken.
Before making a drastic change like becoming a vegetarian, try a lean meat diet.
Leaner meats offer the same satisfying meat flavor but with less fat. The best news is that there are lean cuts of beef, pork, and chicken so you can continue enjoying your favorite meat.
Another great way to keep meat in your healthy diet is to cut down on portion size.
One serving of meat is 3.5 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards. Instead of skipping on meat at a restaurant, simply cut it into serving sizes and take the excess home to eat later. Its both economical and healthier.
There are plenty of beautiful, healthy celebrities who eat meat. One of my favorites is Giada de Laurentiis, chef on the Food Network as well as a correspondent on the Today Show. Not only is she a beautiful, healthy woman who eats meat but she can teach you how to cook it!
5. “I keep seeing organic, grassfed, grainfed and all-natural labels on beef. What does it all mean?”
To many consumers it seems like you need a special dictionary to decipher today’s meat aisle.
Each of these labels refers to the way that the cattle were raised prior to harvesting.
Grain-fed beef is the most widely produced kind of beef and tends to be less expensive than other beef choices. Grain-fed cattle spend most of their lives eating grass in pasture before moving to a feedlot where they are fed a high-energy, grain diet for four to six months. Research shows consumers generally prefer the taste of grain-fed beef because of its tenderness and flavor-enhancing marbling.
All cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass in pastures. However, grass-finished beef (sometimes marketed as grass-fed beef) comes from cattle that have been raised on pasture their entire lives. Producing grass-finished beef in large volumes is difficult in North America where few regions have the growing season to make it possible. Grass-finished beef is often described as having a distinctly different taste and may require different preparation methods.
Certified organic beef
Certified organic beef must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program standards set by the Organic Foods Production Act. Organically raised cattle must be fed 100-percent organic feed and must be certified through USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. In addition, the organic standards say these cattle cannot be given hormones to promote growth or antibiotics. The animal cannot be denied antibiotics if they are sick, but then treated cattle must be removed from the program. Organic beef tends to be more expensive than grain-fed beef.
By definition, most beef is natural. According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, “natural” may be used on a beef label if the beef does not contain artificial flavor/flavoring, coloring, chemical preservatives or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the beef is not more than minimally processed. The government’s definition of natural does not relate to the way animals are raised or what they are fed. Producers raising cattle for beef marketed with a “natural” label may follow different production practices in order to brand their beef. Common branded beef claims include: “Raised Without Hormones,” “Raised Without Antibiotics,” “Corn-Fed,” “Always Vegetarian Fed,” or “”Free Range.” Natural/branded beef tends to be more expensive than grain-fed beef.
Let me emphasize that each of these meat types are just as safe as the other because all are USDA inspected. Your choice as a consumer is what type of beef best into your lifestyle.
Still have questions? Want to know more about a certain topic?
Feel free to leave your questions as a comment. If I don’t know the answer I’ll find someone who does.