Smart Shopper: What to Look for When Buying Meat

For a long time, we felt very intimidated buying meat simply because we didn't really know what to look for. How do you choose between one cut and another? How can you tell when meat is of good quality? For us, choosing cuts of meat has ultimately boiled down to looking for three main features!

Of course, the very best way to feel confident that you're buying good quality meat is to buy it from a good butcher. This is usually someone local and independent who buys from local farms and does the butchering of the animals themselves. These kinds of butcher shops were fading out for a while but seem to be on the rise again, so keep your eye open for one in your neighborhood!

In no particular order, this is what we think about when we're choosing a piece of meat out of the case:

1. Well-Butchered - A skilled butcher who cares about the quality of his or her products will usually have well-butchered pieces of meat on display. Cuts of the same variety should be about the same size and thickness. The cuts of meat should also be smooth with no ragged edges, hacked bits, or uneven sections.

2. Color - Color can vary depending on the particular cut or which animal it's coming from, but fresh meat should have a rich, vibrant, eye-catching color. Uniformity in color is usually an indicator of quality, since discolored spots can be a sign of poor handling or meat that's past its prime.

3. Texture - We also look at the grain of the meat (the direction of the muscle fibers) and how tight or uniform this looks. If the fibers are broken, very loose, or uneven, these can be more signs of poor handling or just poor quality meat.

It also helps to know a little about the cut of meat you're buying. Knowing which cuts have a lot of fat, which ones are more muscle, and what the muscle should look like can help you choose the best ones. For instance, we look for a lot of fat marbling in a tender rib-eye steak, but uniformity of texture and grain is more important in a tougher flank steak.

What other things do you look for when choosing meat?

Related: Kitchen Shortcut: How to Thaw Meat Quickly

(Image: Flickr member Stu Spivack licensed under Creative Commons)