Free range? Grass-fed? Organic? Meat grading?
What does it all mean?
Every day we are bombarded with buzz terms and technical labels when it comes to buying and eating meat. If you want to step up your meat game, you have to know the lingo.
But don’t worry - D’Arcy’s Meat Market has you covered!
Not only do we provide a wide variety of fresh meats and meat packs, but we also have a lot of know-how too.
From organic to humane, and from cuts to quality, we know our stuff.
If you’re curious about meat and butcher terms, allow us to explain a few:
What Does “Organic” Mean in Meat?
When it comes to organic meat, you’ve seen the term “Certified Organic” thrown around. But what does that really mean?
In Canada, the Canadian Organic Standard covers several aspects of food production, including meat. They oversee the conditions of the product as well as:
- The elimination of toxic and synthetic pesticides.
- The avoidance of growth hormones and unnecessary antibiotics.
- The improvement of human treatment of animals, including outdoor access.
- The de-incentivizing of shortcuts such as nitrogen and sewage-based fertilization, as well as GMO usage and irradiated products.
- The prevention of chemical additive use as well as artificial or harmful preservatives, colors, or flavors (such as MSG, aspartame, etc.).
Organic certification is not a perfect process but is updated and scrutinized to keep up with modern discoveries.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates organic certification and sets the standard for organic producers to ensure that certified organic food products are transparently grown, marketed, and sold.
What is Certified Humane Meat?
Another term you’ve probably heard recently is “Certified Humane” when it comes to meat and eggs.
While the Canadian government has yet to impose any official legislation about certified humane meat, regulations cover general animal welfare and hygienic conditions.
Anything labeled as certified humane needs to be examined. To get an idea of whether meat is certified humane, you can always compare it to the U.S. certification that exists.
This certification includes standards, such as:
- Meat and egg producers must observe food safety and environmental regulations.
- Those who process meat and eggs must comply with the standards created by animal welfare specialist Temple Grandin.
- No animal by-products, antibiotics, or growth hormones can be present in the animal’s diet.
- The animals are free to roam up to a specific standard.
If you want to support the humane treatment of animals, look carefully at the company processing the food products and ask questions.
What Does Hormone-Free Mean?
It seems that nowadays, words like “hormones” and “antibiotics” have become taboo when it comes to meat.
But the use of hormones when it comes to meat production is not inherently bad, and there’s no reason to fear its use as long as you understand the regulation surrounding the use of hormones and antibiotics.
Customized hormone treatment on animals releases regular doses of hormones. This increases the muscle growth in the animal, which then improves the quality of the meat.
New research has shown that the benefits of using controlled hormones outweigh the risks. Health risks only exist when producers abuse or ignore regulations - but these are handled with a zero-tolerance policy.
Likewise, antibiotics are not all bad!
The CFIA has regulations ensuring that 99% of domestic and imported beef contains no antibiotic residue.
There are several Canadian agencies that also track drug resistance in the population, and human illness due to drug-resistant food poisoning (i.e., too many antibiotics in the meat) is extremely rare.
The Difference Between Grass & Grain-Fed
The way in which cows are fed can affect the nutrient composition of the beef. While cattle are often fed grains, many farmers and producers are switching to feeding them grass.
Grass-fed cows mostly eat grass, while grain-fed cows eat mostly an unnatural diet based on soy and corn later in their lives.
Overall, grass-fed beef contains less fat and calories than grain-fed beef. It has proven to be more nutritious with higher levels of vitamin B12, B3, and B6 and iron, selenium, and zinc.
It also contains more high-quality protein than grain-fed beef and also tends to be higher in antioxidants.
Keep in mind that grain-fed beef is still very nutritious, and as long as you don’t overcook the beef, it can be part of a healthy diet.
So if you’re concerned about the higher cost of grass-fed beef, don’t break the bank. Grain-fed beef is a healthy and affordable option!
The Difference Between Free-Range & Free-Run Chickens
Now it’s time to give our feathered friends the spotlight! You probably hear a lot of meat terms such as “free range” and “free run.”
Free-run chickens are those that have access to an open concept barn with a variety of nests and perches. They are not housed in cages at all.
Free-range chickens have the same privileges, except they can go outside the barn.
No legal definitions or regulations define whether a chicken is free-range or free-run, but all chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free-run.
Does this make a difference when it comes to their meat and eggs?
Because free-range chickens are raised in optimal conditions, their meat tends to contain more protein and taste better. This is because they have access to exercise, clean air, and sunshine.
The meat is also lower in fat and richer in iron and zinc. They also produce healthier eggs.
Even though free-run chickens are given an open space in a barn, they do not enjoy the same benefits as free-range birds (fresh air, sun, etc.), so the meat may not reach the same level of quality.
But, just like beef, it’s still nutritious and delicious!
What Are the Different Grades of Meat?
We’ve discussed some of the terms related to meat production. So now let’s talk about quality!
In Canada, a very specific system classifies beef ranging from A to Prime in order to deliver consistent and high-quality beef to consumers.
While this system is voluntary, the Canadian government oversees the system based on industry recommendations and is administered by the Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA).
The classification system works by grading beef carcasses into groups of similar quality, and the actual grade measures several characteristics that reflect the overall quality of the meat based on grade criteria:
- Maturity: Based on bone ossification, carcasses are rated either “mature” or “youthful.”
- Marbling: Marbling is the fat within the muscle that contributes to the juiciness and flavor of the beef.
- Muscling: Muscling refers to the thickness and shape of the carcass, minus the fat. This determines how much meat the carcass will yield.
- External Fat Cover: This is the soft part of the meat that covers the muscle and also determines yield.
Once these characteristics are examined, the beef is then given a grade - primarily, an “A” or “Prime” grade:
- Prime-Grade Beef: Prime-grade beef has lots of marbling, meaning that the meat is laced evenly with fat. These are more juicy and tender cuts of beef.
- AAA-Grade Beef: AAA-grade beef only has a small amount of visible marbling but is a high-quality cut that is resilient to various cooking methods.
- AA-Grade Beef: AA-grade beef only has a slight amount of marbling but will still provide an excellent cooking and dining experience!
- A-Grade Beef: The lowest of the grades, A-grade beef has less evenly distributed fat but still makes for some tasty meat.
Don’t buy into the idea that you need a top-grade cut of beef to make a delicious meal!
Although the higher quality meats (Prime and A) are more forgiving when you cook them, AA will still retain lots of flavor and A-grade beef can easily be used for thin steaks and flank steaks.
But What About Chicken, Pork, and Lamb?
Yes, we know, beef isn’t the only meat out there! And, yes, there are grading systems for chicken, pork, and lamb as well.
Regarding pork, carcasses are classified based on attributes such as lean yield and graded based on carcass quality. The grades themselves are determined by the weight and age of the pig.
These grades don’t necessarily provide the same quality assurance as they do with beef. If you’re looking for a good cut of pork, look for light pink meat and an even layer of fat.
If you want to know the quality of the chicken you are buying, check out the maple leaf on the packaging.
Red is graded A, blue is graded Canada Utility, and brown is graded C. The grade name may be in black letters for chicken with no maple leaf.
While red is the sort of “prime” grade of the chicken world, blue indicates the bird has insufficient fat, only a few missing parts, no damaged bones, and no prominent discoloring.
Brown is used to grade mature chicken that requires moist heat cooking.
Lamb is graded by the Canadian Sheep Federation from A1 to A4 for high-quality meat and C1, C2, D1, and D4 for meat that is of lower quality.
Meat Cuts: Where Do They Come From?
Where the meat is taken from the animal will determine its flavor and tenderness.
When it comes to beef, this meat is divided into large sections called primal cuts that are then broken down into subprimal cuts that are sliced into individual roasts, steaks, and other cuts.
Here are the major beef cuts:
- Beef Chuck: Beef chuck consists of the cow’s neck, shoulder blade, and upper arm. This tough and flavorful meat is perfect for dishes such as stew and pot roast and is often used to make ground beef.
- Beef Rib: This cut of beef is primarily used for rib roasts (also known as prime rib) as well as ribeye steaks and is perfect for dry-heat cooking.
- Beef Plate: The beef plate includes the short ribs and is the part of the cow used to make skirt steak.
- Beef Brisket: This is the most flavorful cut of beef that comes from the breastbone area. This tough and thick meat can be used for pot roast and corned beef and has a succulent taste and texture.
- Beef Shank: The beef shank comes from the cow’s thigh. It is tough but has lots of connective tissue.
- Beef Short Loin: The short loin near the back of the cow is used for strip loin and strip steaks.
- Beef Sirloin: The sirloin runs from the back of the cow’s ribs along the top of its body. This meat works well for roasting and barbecuing and is used to make sirloin steak.
- Beef Tenderloin: This is the most tender cut of beef located under the sirloin and is used for steaks and roasts.
- Beef Flank: Around the cow’s underbelly comes the beef flank cut, which can be used for flank steak and ground beef.
- Beef Round: Beef round comes from around the cow’s rear and back leg and can be further cut into top round, bottom round, and the knuckle to make a rump roast.
That’s a lot of meat! But we can’t forget about chicken, lamb, and pork, right?
- Back and neck
- Loin chop
- Picnic shoulder
- Spare rib
Know Your Meat and Butcher Terms!
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to knowing your meat, but we hope this guide has helped you better understand some terms you didn’t know before.
Armed with this knowledge, you can now go forth and make some excellent meat choices!
Or, if you have any questions at all, contact us today! You can rely on D’Arcy’s for the best advice when it comes to all things meat.