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How Can You Tell Good Quality Beef?

Going to the grocery store’s meat department can be overwhelming. There are so many choices in the beef section alone with lots of different products and best-by dates. So, how can you tell good quality beef?

Identify good quality beef by looking for a bright red color, little to no pooling of blood in the package, no gray spots on the meat, and ensuring the sell-by date is at least 1-2 days away. Then look for a USDA label of either Choice or Prime, avoiding Select, which is lower quality.

Read on because we will check out most of these factors and related themes around how to select good quality beef.

In this article, we’ll explore the characteristics of quality meat. We’ll check out the best quality grade of meat. We’ll consider whether Angus trumps Prime.

And we’ll find out if Angus is better than Wagyu. We’ll wrap things up by considering whether the quality of meat matters.

Let’s get into it.

good quality beef lg

What are the characteristics of quality meat?

The characteristics of good quality meat include a bright red color, little to no smell, smooth, clean cuts on steaks with no jagged edges, a high level of marbling, a glistening on the surface of the meat with no discolored spots. 

Let’s check out a couple of these factors. Shall we?

1. The color of the meat

We should be looking at the color first. After all, that’s the first thing you’ll notice. Quality beef can be red or maybe a little purple, but not brown.

It becomes brownish when it’s been exposed to oxygen. So, while not necessarily spoiled, brown meat is definitely not as fresh.

Of course, it also depends on the kind of meat we’re talking about, right?

Game meat should be brown, while pork should be greyish pink. Fresh meat from a lamb is usually a vibrant red. Poultry can be grey-white or blue-white to dull red.

2. The smell of the meat

This is something we can all easily relate to.

Most things that smell funny repel us, right? It’s a good guide when choosing meat. We often do this instinctively. We smell some things before we buy or consume them.

Quality meat doesn’t have the most pleasing smell in the world, but it never smells funny (read: pungent or sour).

Interestingly, how it’s perceived varies from person to person.

To some people, the smell seems acidic. To others, it’s simply neutral. But fresh meat never smells like something rotten.

3. The quantity of its marbling

Marbling is a fancy word for fat that’s interspersed throughout the meat.

We’ll dwell on it a bit because it’s arguably the most vital factor in determining the quality of meat. It’s the main factor that makes meat juicy, tender, and flavorful. It’s one of the things pros look out for.

You should, too.

Marbling is reflected in the white flecks and streaks of fat in and all over the meat. It’s intramuscular fat and is more common in red meat. It’s a function of the diet and the breed of the cattle.

Grain-fed animals have more marbling than those fed on corn.

If the meat you’re considering has little to no marbling, it’s going to end up tough and chewy unless you know some special ways to prepare it. This is often time-consuming.

So, it’s not a route I advise taking. If you want it leaner, just trim a little of the excess fat off at home before cooking. 

But remember that much of that fat will render (i.e., melt) when cooking. And if you cook it on the grill, much of that fat will just drip through the grates.

It’s best to pick meat that’s highly marbled from the get-go. But exterior fat doesn’t count when marbling is being considered.

By the way, it’s called marbling because the pattern does look like marble.

4. The texture of the meat

Quality meat is dry, dense, and firm. It’s tightly packed.

Even though the animal is dead, the meat has a high level of cohesion. It’s “still together.” If the meat you’re checking out seems as if it’s going to fall apart at any moment, you might want to be cautious about buying it. The quality is poor, or it’s been handled poorly while in transit.

Sam’s Club or Costco, which one has better meat? 

Get the lowdown in a recent article of mine. I compared both stores’ meat quality. I spoke about whether Sam’s Club’s meat is truly from China. I even revealed which one has the better brisket.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is the best quality grade of beef?

Prime is the best quality grade of beef. It’s the highest-ranking selection out of 8 grades devised by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Grass-fed beef is generally preferred over grain-fed, and grass-fed can also be Prime.

Some of the criteria used by the USDA in its evaluation are the degree of marbling the meat has and the age of the animal from which it has been cut.

On its website, it states that it grades beef in two ways.

One, quality grades. Second, yield grades. The former refers to how tasty, juicy, and flavorful the meat would be, while the latter is an estimate of the amount of usable meat that would be left on the steer after it’s been butchered.

Prime is the best quality because it’s cut from young, well-fed cattle and is highly marbled. So, the taste is awesome. It’s also great for dry aging.

So, you can broil, grill, or roast it, and if you know how, it’ll come out tender and flavorful.

If you’d like to take a deep dive into beef grading, then check out a recent article where I got into whether Prime is worth it. I shared some strange truths about Angus and Prime (a must-read). And I even shared the result of a taste challenge that I conducted.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

The below shows a list of all 8 grades of beef based on evaluation by the USDA.

  1. U.S. Prime
  2. U.S. Choice
  3. U.S. Select
  4. U.S. Standard
  5. U.S. Commercial
  6. U.S. Utility
  7. U.S. Cutter
  8. U.S. Canner

Is Angus better than Prime?

It’s not appropriate to compare Prime and Angus. Prime is a grade of beef from the USDA based on certain characteristics, while Angus is a breed of cattle. Angus can be Prime, but it could also be Choice or Select too.

The reality is that Angus can be great or simply okay.

After all, a Prime steak that isn’t Angus is likely going to be better than a Select steak that is Angus. The feeding, whether an animal was fed hormones or antibiotics, are all factors that impact its quality.

Angus is a marketing tool, it’s not necessarily indicative of a better quality of meat.

Angus is a breed that was native to Scotland.  But they are being raised in America now. Angus is a breed that’s strong and has a high yield relative to other breeds. They can withstand harsh winters and intense summers.

This sturdy characteristic is reflected in the quality of their meat.

The female can grow up to 550 pounds, the male, 850 pounds. The meat is well-marbled and delicious. Restaurants often charge a higher price because of their superior quality.

Naturally, the beef from Angus is usually labeled Prime.

In a nutshell, Angus is the name of a breed of cattle, while Prime is a designation for the highest cut of beef.

Which is better, Angus or Wagyu?

Wagyu is better than Angus. “Angus” and “Wagyu” are the names of 2 breeds of cow. Wagyu is regarded as the highest quality beef. It’s highly marbled and more tender than most other breeds.

Angus is originally from Scotland, while Wagyu is originally from Japan. But both are raised in many places now, including the US.

Just as in other species, different breeds show variations. Wagyu is more tender and flavorful, and healthier to boot.

Wagyu cows are raised (prior to slaughter) for a longer time than Angus. This helps in increasing the degree of marbling present in the meat. Some are fed up to 600 days. Compare that to the 250 days on average for Angus and other breeds.

This begs the question: Why not just feed Angus longer, too? 

It’s been tested. It doesn’t increase the marbling, it increases the yield, but the marbling is not positively impacted. It’s simply a question of genetics.

Remember that earlier we saw that Angus is one of the best breeds. Wagyu is the creme de la creme of cattle breeds, and it shows in its quality and price.

Great. But you can’t necessarily find Wagyu everywhere. So, which grocery stores have the best steak?

That’s what I looked at in a recent article. In it, I shared an interesting graphic showing all the different cuts of meat from cows and exactly where they come from.

But I explained what makes one type of steak better than another. And I revealed the stores where you can get the best steak.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Does the quality of meat matter?

The quality of meat matters because our enjoyment and health are impacted by the quality of everything we ingest. Low-quality meat will not taste as good and will likely have a less appealing texture as well. Feeling dissatisfied with food can also lead to overeating.


The health of the general public is the key reason why the quality of meat matters. So, how animals are raised is a vital issue in the quest to ensure that no harmful meat is sold.

But the reality is that there’s a balance between what we as consumers want and what producers want.

We would like high-quality meat produced under the most hygienic conditions sold at relatively low prices. The reality is that the more producers put in place measures to ensure high-quality meat, the higher their cost structure.

And the average consumer doesn’t always know enough to gauge quality meat vs. mediocre quality meat.

But thankfully, the USDA is a vital factor in ensuring that there are regulations in place to ensure that quality (delicious and healthy) meat is being produced.

But what about meat from China? After all, Chinese products have had safety concerns for quite a while.

Is it true that Aldi’s meat comes from China? In a recent article, I answered the question. I also spoke about the kind of meat it has on offer and the quality of the meat it sells. And I showed why its meat is so cheap.

Just click the link to read it on my site.


In this article, we explored the characteristics of quality meat. We checked out the best quality grade of beef.  We also considered whether Angus trumps Prime. And we found out if Angus is better than Wagyu.

We wrapped things up by considering whether the quality of meat matters.

Image by Székely Tamás from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell