Before you actually start cooking your BBQ beef or grilled steaks, it’s important to make sure you start with a great cut of beef. Knowing how to select beef is just as much one of the critical BBQ techniques as cooking the meat is.
Whether you are grilling or smoking, making sure you have the proper cut and type of meat can make the difference in “ok” BBQ beef and competition-worthy beef. In this article, we’ll break down more BBQ secrets and explain exactly what to look for when buying beef and which cuts are often the best options.
Source: Butcher Box
When it comes to shopping for good quality BBQ beef, one of the most important factors is the grade of beef. This is true for any type of cut and should always be considered. There are several different grades of beef available for purchase in the US.
As many Champion pitmasters and grillmasters, including Mark Lambert, recommend, an ideal grade of beef you want to get is USDA Prime. Prime beef cuts will be more expensive but will be significantly more tender and create more flavorful meat.
If you are planning on cooking BBQ or grilling a lot and don’t want to spend the money on Prime beef all the time, your next best bet is upper two-thirds USDA Choice beef.
One of the biggest reasons either Prime or higher Choice beef is recommended is because of the level of marbling throughout the meat.
Source:Clover Meadows Beef
Along with the age of the animal, the amount of fat mixed in with the muscle is what the USDA judges to determine grades of beef. Marbling is the white spider web-like intramuscular fat that runs throughout the interior of the meat. It was initially, in 1926 when the USDA first started grading beef, named “Marbling” because of the weblike striations that look similar to the filigrees that run throughout a slab of marble. The marbling is different than the exterior muscle fat that runs along the outside edges of the beef.
This marbling that runs throughout the interior of the meat is what will make the meat juicier and hold more flavor during and after cooking. This is crucial to cooking great BBQ beef. The USDA Prime grade beef will have a high amount of marbling (around 13%) thus making it one of the first choices for many of the top grillmasters and pitmasters. Higher-level USDA Choice will still have a good amount of marbling throughout (around 9-10%), more than the Standard grade you’ll most often see in a normal grocery store.
If you want to spend money on what many consider the “best” or are looking to do really knock it out of the park on a special occasion, American Wagyu beef is a great choice. This is one of the highest grades of beef available and will have the most amount of marbling. Higher than USDA Prime.
Wagyu beef cattle have Japanese bloodlines and often have around 30% fat. Creating some of the juiciest and flavorful meat you will ever taste. As with any beef cut, your best bet for the most tender Wagyu cuts are a ribeye, strip loin, or brisket.
To cook great BBQ beef, certain cuts are better than others. Overall, no matter what kind of cut it is, it is important to look for a good even cut. If you have a piece of meat that has one end significantly thinner than the other, it will not cook evenly and you’ll end up with parts of the meat either undercooked or overcooked.
For a great steak, a favored cut is often a Ribeye. A Ribeye cut steak will be a thicker cut, allowing for a much more tender, juicier, and flavorful steak compared to thinner cuts. Ideally, you want to go for a Ribeye that is cut 1 ⅛” to 1 ¼” thick. This will allow the steak to hold moisture better and give you a much juicier final result.
Another thing to look for in a good Ribeye steak is what is called the Spinalis muscle. This is the crescent-shaped wraparound muscle towards one end of the Ribeye that goes around the “eye” of Ribeye. Grillmaster Allen Newton refers to this is the “money muscle” and is often the most tender part. A good Spinalis will give you a great-tasting and juicy steak.
Source: Snake River Farms
When it comes to larger cuts of beef often used for smoking, an overall favorite is a Brisket. A good quality Brisket cut is going to be around 17 lbs. When buying a Brisket cut, make sure the cut is pretty even from one end to another. It should taper slightly towards one end but you don’t want it to drastically taper down to a very thin end.
Many Champion pitmasters, like Corey Mikes, opt for a high-quality American Wagyu Brisket to create their award-winning BBQ beef.
Now that you have a better idea of what kind of beef to buy, going to the local grocery stores should not be your first place to buy beef. Most supermarkets or grocery stores will not have USDA Prime cuts. You may get lucky and find upper USDA Choice cuts but not very often.
Your best bet when buying good quality beef is to go to your local butcher shop. A good butcher will provide more personalized service and expertise on exactly what types of beef they have, the age of the cattle, etc. Plus, if you don’t see exactly what you're looking for when you walk in, don’t be afraid to ask the butcher. More than likely he or she can provide exactly what you want. Also, ask if the meat has been aged. Quality meat can be stored, or aged, at a low temperature for several weeks. This helps break down the tissues and creates even more tender meat.
Another great option, if you have some time, is high-quality American meat suppliers that only deal with the best options of beef. This will guarantee that you can get some of the best quality beef shipped straight to your door from farm to table. One example, also used by many World Champion pitmasters and grillmasters, is Snake River Farms. Along with their partner Double R Ranch, they provide some of the highest quality Wagyu, Prime, and Choice beef available.
Whether you buy from a local butcher or an American meat supplier, you can be confident knowing you are getting fresh, quality beef. Always buy fresh and never frozen beef.
Hopefully, now you have a clearer understanding of how to select good quality beef, why it is important, and which cuts make for great BBQ beef. You’ll be able to confidently say “that’s a beautiful piece of meat” every time. By starting with a favored cut of great quality beef, you’ll have everyone from competition judges to family and friends easily impressed.
You can’t expect to have outstanding BBQ without starting with quality ingredients. BBQ secrets and techniques like the ones covered above, combined with what you’ll learn in the first-of-its-kind online BBQ cooking school from us here at BBQ Champs Academy, will have you cooking and grilling competition-worthy BBQ in no time.
Have you perfected selecting great steaks and BBQ beef? Do you have any tips we may have missed? Leave a comment below. We want to hear from you!
I liked how you mentioned that your local butcher shop will have quality beef to buy. My wife and I are wanting to start cooking for our family more and we were wondering where we could get some quality meat to cook. I'll be sure to tell her that we should go to our local butcher shop to buy some beef.
Aaron local butchers are the best sources for getting quality meats. Make sure you follow us on Facebook @bbqchampsacademy. We do a LIVE weekly podcast every Tuesday at 7:00pm CST. Lot of great information and you can ask questions while we are live on the podcast!!
Thanks Hannah! We're glad you enjoyed it!