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“Prime”, “Choice”, and What Po’ People Eat, “Select.” Do You Know What Grade of Meat You Are Eating?

Want to know where to find the best quality of cuts of meat if you don’t have a specialized butcher in the neighborhood?

4th of July is coming up, and this is the time of the year that everybody starts to grill.

It is also that time of the year that I dread because I’m the person wishing I had brought my own food (yea what a d*ck). I say that because I know somebody will decide to buy the frozen beef pucks or the family pack of the leanest, toughest, cheapest, and the lowest USDA grade possible which is Select.

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Black Angus Prime beef

Knowing Your Grades of Meat

SELECT is the grade that is most commonly available at most grocery stores, and it’s also the one that demands that you have an ounce of know-how on cooking/grilling. Unfortunately, most can’t grill, and if you cook as though you’re sautéing by constantly flipping the meat, you’re entering the controversial meat flipping argument.

So to avoid all that, I suggest moving on up the socioeconomic ladder like George Jefferson (old school reference) to Whole Foods and Sprouts which typically carry CHOICE, and the latter is where I buy my basic cuts like chuck or steaks from rib-eyes to sirloin.

Although if you really want to eat good, you’ve got to rely on the Japanese markets which carry the highest quality USDA rating, PRIME! Prime is the grade only sold or used by high-end restaurants (I should note, some major markets will have Prime available during the holidays), but most Japanese markets from Mitsuwa, Marukai, to Tokyo Central all carry Prime.

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Aside from beef, you can also find quality cuts of pork, chicken, and seafood.

Seafood to Chicken

Most Japanese markets will also sell Shelton’s free-range chicken and other equivalent quality meats and seafood from a range of quality suppliers. This is very common amongst Japanese markets because they’re all hell bent on quality. It’s also why I have to live within range of a Japanese market (and you probably thought it was an ethnocentric thing).

The biggest differences between a Japanese market and other mainstream markets are:

  • Quality over quantity: yes, you can find lower grade meats and cuts at Japanese markets, but there will be a number of options for higher quality cuts, higher grades for marbling, to a concern on how the animals were raised (antibiotics, diet, etc.).
  • Types of cuts: this is one of the things I have to appreciate about Asian markets in general because in most American markets it’s just “meat.” So if it’s not ass meat (round/ground beef), it is most likely only chuck, sirloin, or ribeye. In Asia markets you can get cuts such as beef tongue, to pork jowl, and chicken gizzards, or beef intestines.
  • Portion size: there will be some products that you can buy in bulk, but a majority of the meats will come in smaller sizes such as under a half-pound to a pound.
  • Preparation: if I want a ginamourse hunk of meat to roast such as a pork shoulder, I’ll still rely on Sprouts for that although if I’m looking for pork belly or thin slices of meat, the Japanese markets is where I’ll be at.

Here is a listing of all the Japanese markets in SoCal

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