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Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, especially domestic cattle (cows).  Beef is one of the principal meats used in the cuisine of Australia, Europe and the Americas, and is also important in Africa, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.  In the Middle East, lamb is usually preferred over beef.  Beef is not normally eaten by the Hindu population in India as it is not allowed for religious reasons.  It is also discouraged among some Buddhists.

Beef muscle meat can be cut into steaks, pot roasts or short ribs, or it can be ground/minced. The blood is used in some varieties of blood sausage. Other parts which are eaten include the meaty tail, tongue, tripe from the stomach, various glands - particularly the pancreas and thymus - referred to as sweetbreads, the heart, the brain (although forbidden where there is a danger of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE), the liver, the kidneys, the tender testicles of the bull (known in the US as "calf fries", "prairie oysters", or "Rocky Mountain oysters"), intestines, and the udder. Beef bones are used for making soup stock.

The better cuts are usually obtained from the steer; the heifer tends 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 usually tougher, so it is frequently used for mince (UK)/ground beef (US). 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, where they are usually fed grain.

The United States, Brazil, Japan and the People's Republic of China are the world's four largest consumers of beef. The world's largest exporters of beef are Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Canada. Beef production is also important to the economies of Uruguay, Nicaragua, Russia and Mexico.

Cuts of beef

Beef is first divided into primal cuts. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. Since the animal's legs and neck muscles do the most work, they are the toughest; the meat becomes more tender as distance from "hoof and horn" increases. Different countries have different cuts and names.

American primal cuts

The following is a list of the American primal cuts, ordered front to back, then top to bottom. The short loin and the sirloin are sometimes considered as one section.

Upper half

Lower half

  • Brisket - often associated with barbecue beef brisket.

  • Shank - used primarily for stews and soups, but is not usually served another way, due to it being the toughest of the cuts.

  • Plate - produces types of steak such as the skirt steak [fajitas] and hanger steak. It is typically a cheap, tough, and fatty meat.

  • Flank - Long and flat, the flank steak's best known application is London broil. One of the most affordable steaks on the market, it is substantially tougher than the loin and rib steaks, therefore many flank recipes use marinades or moist cooking methods such as braising.

USDA Beef Grades

In the United States, the USDA operates a voluntary beef grading program. The meat processor pays for a trained USDA meat grader to grade whole carcasses at the abattoir. Users are required to comply with Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) grade labeling procedures. The official USDA grade designation can appear in one or any combination of the following ways: container markings, individual bags, legible roller brand appearing on the meat itself, or by a USDA shield stamp that incorporates the quality and/or yield grade.

There are eight beef quality grades. The grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef, 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.

  • U.S. Prime - Highest in quality and intramuscular fat, limited supply. Currently, only two percent of cuts sold are USDA certified Prime.

  • U.S. Choice - High quality, widely available in foodservice industry and retail markets.

  • U.S. Select (formerly "Good") - Leanest grade commonly sold, acceptable quality but less juicy and tender.

  • U.S. Standard - Lower quality yet economical, lacking marbling.

  • U.S. Commercial - Low quality, lacking tenderness, produced from older animals.

  • U.S. Utility

  • U.S. Cutter

  • U.S. Canner

Utility, Cutter, and Canner grade are rarely used in foodservice operations and primarily obtained by processors and canners.

Traditionally, beef sold in steakhouses and supermarkets has been advertised by its USDA grading; however, many restaurants and retailers have recently begun advertising beef on the strength of brand names and the reputation of a specific breed of cattle, such as black angus.

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