<mod note: this is taylor94's blog post on beef from his site http://chefdarrentaylor.wordpress.com/>
Beef is a very widely used meat in the world that is very versatile but also complicated when looking for quality. Depending on where you are in the world your beef will differ. The best to go for where ever you are is native breeds. Breeds of cattle or in Britain cows, that are local produce. For me living in Aberdeen, Scotland my local produce is Aberdeen Angus beef.
You want meat that has come from a cow with an extensive life. A cow that has been able to graze freely and live of grass, and good nutrition. Spending little time indoors and having caring of a good farmer. Cattle that aren’t bred in big barns with artificial light and tight living spaces. This can cause the cow to stress and release adrenaline which can spoil the meat. Cows that live a happy life are much more likely to produce better quality meat. Not just living happy but being slaughtered in a less stressful way. The cows will have a good 25 - 30 months happy living and be slaughtered in a local but small abattoir where they will be less likely to stress and spoil the meat. When buying meat that has come from a cow with a good life and an extensive life you can be sure that cow has had a happy life and will go down a treat on the palate. When looking to get meat look for cows that have had the care of a good farmer.
When buying beef you also want to look at how long it is aged and in what method. The longer meat matures the is more potential for wastage. Thus by buying older meats the price can be considerably higher. A steak has to be matured for a minimum of 12 days which to be honest is not brilliant. When places advertise meat being matured for 15 days it isn’t great. I personally like to go from 22 days min. I find that 26 – 28 days is a good balance for price and quality. The longer meat is hung and matured for the more tender it becomes and the more natural flavour and texture will be developed. If you cooked a 12 day sirloin and a 28 day sirloin in the same way with no other changed than the maturity you will see the difference in quality. You should be able to put a finger into the meat and make an impression without it springing back. This is a good sign of a mature steak.
Method of aging is also important. Dry aging process consists of leaving the meat in a set temperature room and left to mature for however many days. Since it is out in the open within the room and ages without much control much wastage can happen in the meat, giving the butcher less meat to sell. Thus the price increases. Dry aging is more expensive but more quality as the meat ages naturally on its own.
Wet aging consists of vacuum packing the meat and controlling the wastage. This is not natural so can cause the stakes quality to decrease however is more convenient for the buture for transport and cross contamination issues. It also saves money on chillers. Wet again is lest wastage and less quality so is cheaper. When I go to my butcher or any butcher, I ask for Aberdeen angus, dry aged to 26+ days. I am never let down by quality or flavour. Value for money.
The most expensive cuts of meat typically are the Fillets and Sirloin. These parts come from almost the middle of the cows back which is a muscle that is not used as much as others. Being a "lazy" muscle these meats are more tender as there is less connective tissue that will make the meat tough. These steaks are perfect for pan-frying or stir frying. These parts are packed with flavour and not only have great flavour but also a nice shape. A sirloin will usually have a nice coating of fat (depending on breed and how lean) and when buying look for a nice marbling of the meat and a nice dark red colour. Sirloin and fillet are very tender cuts of meat and come at a value for money price.
Rump steak is a prime cut of meat however is cheaper due to it not being as tender as a sirloin. Rump comes from the back that is just off the buttocks of the cow which is not as lazy a muscle as the sirloin. Rump is an all time favourite and chefs like myself love to cook with rump. Not only is it cheaper produce and quality but if cooked right can have great value. Rump is full of flavour however not as tender.
Rib Eye steaks are higher up than sirloin. Up the back they are closer to the neck and are considerably cheaper. These steaks are usually braised to keep them nice and tender as possible. For a good price, if cooked properly can go down a treat.
These are only a few of the different kind of cuts but there are more. The best way to get to know the meat and how to cook it is to know which part of the cow it comes from. The less work the muscle does the more tender it will be. The more the muscle is used the more tough it will be requiring better technique when cooking but also a little bit of ground knowledge.
This is a brief on beef and what to look for and what to ask. Your butcher should be able to tell you all these details and trace the meat right back to the fields it was grazing in. Always ask your butcher these questions so you know exactly what you are paying for.
I owe credit to Nick Nairn for educating me on beef and what to look for.