Meat Grades...

Beef

When shopping for beef, it's harder to see the quality in a brisket than it is to see the quality in a steak. But if you know how steaks are graded, you'll have an easier time selecting your next brisket. With beef, safety inspection by the USDA is mandatory, but grading is optional. The top three grades are prime, choice and select. Usually only prime and choice are graded and marked at the retail level. Prime is usually reserved for the nicer restaurants but can be found occasionally in upscale meat stores. Choice is the grade found in most grocery stores and discount warehouses. Select is a lot leaner cut of beef and it is what is sold in the big discount retail grocery stores. "No roll" beef is beef that has not been graded by the USDA. Usually beef that has never been graded would fall into the "select" grade. So, when selecting the best brisket for slow smoking, look for a well marbled piece of meat.

Here are some good web sites which show the differences in marbling...

http://www.ams.usda.gov/kidsweb/beefgrades.htm

http://www.ams.usda.gov/howtobuy/meat.htm

http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/certprog/consumer.htm

Another way to select great beef is to buy the Certified Angus Beef brand (CAB). Remember that this is only a brand name and not certified by the USDA. CAB grades as USDA prime or the top 35% of USDA choice. So... just look for the CAB brand and your shopping will be a lot easier because you know you will be getting good quality meat. Visit their web site for further info...

http://www.certifiedangusbeef.com

Chicken

Chicken is a little easier to shop for because there are only three grades - A, B, and C. Grade A is usually the only grade sold in grocery stores. Grade A chicken has no defects, is meaty, full breasted, firm, no broken skin, and no broken bones. Anything else will be grades B or C. Sometimes you'll find that the "on sale" chicken will be grade B or C. For more information, visit...

http://www.ams.usda.gov/poultry/standards/AMS-PYST-2002.htm#70-220-Start

Pork

Pork is sort of like chicken... there are only four grades 1, 2, 3, & 4 and most of the pork sold in grocery stores is grade 1. So your choice is fairly simple. Look for pork that is firm, grayish pink in color and has a good degree of marbling. I always buy the full racks of spareribs. The best ribs are "2 and under" but they are harder to find. 3.5 and under are more common and do just as well. Buy 4 and under if you have to but stay away from the "hogzilla" 5 lb spareribs. Remember, this is for the full untrimmed spareribs - not the loin cut, St Louis cut, or baby backs. To see how to trim your spareribs St Louis Style, visit...

http://www.bbq-book.com/news2006/html/october_2006.html

For a pork grade chart, visit...

http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/stand/slaughterswine.pdf

For more information on slow smoking competition quality ribs, butts, chicken, and brisket, please visit Bill Anderson's web site at http://www.bbq-book.com or http://www.bbq-recipes.net