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How to Select the Best Steak

No matter what the cooking method, the same criteria apply to choosing steaks. Look for meat that is bright red with streaks of fat, or marbling, running through it. The red indicates that the meat is freshly cut, while the fat in the interior, most of which drains away during cooking, provides juiciness and flavor. Exterior fat should be white to ivory and firm to the touch.

In the United States, all beef is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but grading is voluntary. Marbling is the main way beef is graded and priced in U.S. markets. The more marbling, the more tender, flavorful and expensive the beef will be.

- Prime meat, the highest-quality meat with the most marbling, is found mainly in luxury restaurants but has been making its way into more retail markets in the last few years.

- Choice meat, well marbled and tender, is available at many quality markets and butcher shops.

- Select meat, with little to no marbling, is the grade most commonly stocked in supermarkets.

Many supermarkets have their own grading system, which can sound similar to USDA grades; ask the butcher or read the label carefully. Officially graded meat will carry the USDA designation.