The challenge of being a grillmaster is more than throwing a slab of meat on a wire grate. It takes an understanding of the different cuts of steak, and selection of the best quality.
Certain meat cuts are more conducive for grilling. The following steaks are appropriate for grilling, beginning with the cuts that are the most tender: filet mignon, rib-eye, rib, T-bone/porterhouse, strip, top sirloin, flatiron, chuck eye, and tip center.
Less tender cuts, such as bottom round, round, and eye of round are not as grill-friendly.
Besides the cut, the quality of the meat will greatly affect the taste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a quality label to assist the consumer in choosing certain grades of meat to grill.
Historically, the grading of beef has been a voluntary service of the meat industry, except during World War II and the Korean War. The first formal grading of beef occurred in the 1920s.
It was expanded with the Agricultural Act of 1946, which required the USDA to facilitate the marketing of agricultural products. Beef grading has been considered one of those services.
Today, beef grading is still voluntary, and the meatpacking industry asks the USDA to perform the service. Meat processors pay the cost of training graders.
Inspectors follow detailed guidelines that consider many factors, such as the amount of marbling (fat content, which adds taste and juiciness) and the age of the beef carcass (tenderness) to determine a specific grade quality.
There are eight quality levels of beef grading. The top three are USDA prime, choice, and select.
The amount of USDA prime beef is limited and generally bought by upscale restaurants and gourmets. Supermarkets offer the next two quality grades to consumers.
The lower grades include standard, commercial, utility, cutter, and canner.
Standard and commercial are often sold as ungraded or store-brand beef products. Utility, cutter, and canner grade beef may end up as frozen pot pie dinners, microwave burritos, hamburgers, and other processed food.
For the backyard grillmaster, the best quality steaks available at the supermarket are most likely USDA choice. A savvy shopper needs to be aware that supermarkets may use the terms prime and choice that are not USDA graded.
Look for the official USDA shield along with the words prime, choice, or select. Also, do not be confused by the quality grade USDA prime and prime rib. Prime rib is a cut of meat, not a quality grade.
CAB, or certified angus beef, is not a USDA quality grade. CAB is a branding name used as a marketing tool.
For the health-conscious, USDA choice and select grades will have less fat but still adequate taste for most individuals. USDA prime may have the best taste, but it will also have the largest level of fat content.
Pay attention to the store labels as you buy your steaks. Starting with a good quality steak and selecting the right cut of meat is a big part of impressing family and friends with your cooking.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.