Prime and CAB (Certified Angus Brand):
The different grades and quality of steak terms has sadly almost become a commodity. On top of that restaurants, servers and guests (they are wrong many times) often misquote and use buzzwords to garner more interest or command a higher price. We understand the industry is competitive and one of the most dynamic on the planet. Guests are going out less, but spending more, adding a new wrinkle to the game.
After all it is a game of who can get above the curve first and draw attention before the rest catch up. That is the nature of this beast. However, it does not benefit a restaurant to misquote or misrepresent a good piece of meat or any food for that matter. There are quite a few souls in the public at large that do not understand the meat grades or really what Certified Angus Beef is. It is understandable. Spending time combing through the USDA blog on beef isn’t how I spend my free time. Luckily for the restaurant world I did spend some time looking into this and want to share some information on how the grading does work, educating employees and diners alike!
There is a good reason any steak that is labeled prime costs $$$. Only about 2-3% of beef graded by the USDA is given the prime rating a year! That is a tiny amount considering the billions of pounds of beef that is graded by the USDA. Keep in mind this is meat that gets graded. Not all beef produced gets graded, it costs extra money and many producers have an idea on the quality meat produced by the animals.
What is it that makes a prime steak so good?
Marbling is white stripes or fat in a steak. A prime steak has a large amount of marbling relative to the cut. Example, filet is a lean cut and does not have a lot of fat on it. Ribeye’s are one of the fattiest cuts, a USDA Prime ribeye will have a large amount of fat. Take a picture of a steak at the grocery store and then compare to a raw prime steak. The difference will blow your mind. This excess fat (flavor) comes from a diet of grains and corn that the cattle are fed to produce a prime grading when harvested. These animals are fed very little to no grass, which provides a different flavor than the grain and corn diet fed to these cows.
The taste of a prime steak is going to be richer and slightly nutty, more nutty as the steaks age. Did we mention velvety? In the steak world, no matter what anyone says, these steaks are about a close to velvet as one can get from the great bovines. Bone-in cuts see more separation from the bone, this makes it a little easier to cook each steak while retaining juiciness. There is a reason only 2% of the beef graded gets that prime stamp!
CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF (CAB)
CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF or CAB as we will refer to it is beef that is fits a strict set of standards set by the CAB association. Certified Angus is a title that about 7-8% of beef graded receives; there are more stringent standards to be called Certified Angus Beef.
What makes CAB Special?
Mentioned above only 7-8% of graded beef get this tag. To be considered an animal has to be a 100% Angus breed. There are a few different species that fall into this category. On top of that there are 10 standards used to judge Angus beef. Their site is far easier to read than the USDA’s. CAB is also considered if an Angus rancher is breeding and grazing the cattle.
Taste of CAB
Taste is a funny question with CAB. In some aspects, it will taste similar to prime. However on other notes it will taste very similar to any store bought steak. This is where CAB and prime differ.
CAB while representing a high quality steak, may not have the taste difference a prime steak does. In many cases they will lack that velvety texture and ribbons of fat that prime has.
Well what is that commands a higher price point for CAB?
CAB is a brand that is built around the traditions of breeding and raising cattle to display certain characteristics. Is it worth it to carry a few CAB cuts on the menu, YES! It is a recognizable brand and a great option to lean cuts such as sirloin and filet. I wholly admit that to prefer CAB sirloin over prime, the steaks tend to have more depth and taste than prime. There is not difference between the fat and marbling on a prime filet or sirloin. In this instance the quality of CAB shines while saving precious food cost dollars.
Both prime and CAB represent the top of the beef pyramid. Not every prime is CAB nor is every CAB prime. Many restaurants and employees of restaurants use the terms interchangeably. Please do not make this mistake as they are two different grades given to a steak. Remember that to be CAB a steak must also be from a specific breed, the Angus breed, while prime steaks can be from any breed and is more dependent on diet and bloodlines.
But overall these two different grades make up some of the most flavorful and exclusive beef in the country, if not the world. Feel free to educate co-workers, friends, family and most importantly guests on this grading and share with them the joys of both prime and CAB beef.
Until next time…go harvest a few heads of cattle and have it graded by the USDA!Spread the word with the whole staff!