by Steve Johnson
The USDA has 8 grades for beef – “Prime” “Choice” “Select” “Commercial” “Standard” “Commercial” “Utility” “Cutter” or “Canner”. USDA grade is only one factor in defining overall beef carcass quality. This leads many consumers make a very linear and somewhat oversimplified summation that USDA carcass grade absolutely defines the overall quality of beef, end of story. This is simply not true; the USDA grade is one variable in a far more complex equation. The USDA grade categorizes beef, but there are many more factors that contribute to beef’s overall quality.
“Premium” starts with animal quality – aka “genetics”. Cattle aren’t cattle any more than a dog is a dog, we use this analogy as people are familiar with dogs and understand just how completely different two dogs of different breeds can be. It’s no different with cattle. To produce truly premium beef, one must start with premium genetics.
Building on the footings of peerless Aberdeen Angus genetics, our beef is also “Natural” which means it has never been administered drugs or antibiotics. This also demands a cost premium from any packer – even on the carcasses that grade USDA Choice and Select. Natural cattle take more time, feed and attention to raise and are more expensive – and valuable – all the way around.
65-70% of all beef harvested in the United States grades USDA “Choice”, roughly 25% grades USDA “Select” and USDA “Prime” is generally less than 7% of all cattle harvested. The average harvest weight of US beef cattle is currently around 1,550 lbs. Nebraska Star Beef cattle consistently grade around 20% “Prime” with the remainder grading “Choice”, in the beef world they are considered “High Choice” but where that isn’t an official USDA grade, we just go with “Choice”. An even more significant difference is that our animals are grading this well with an average harvest weight between 1250 and 1300 lbs. Maintaining a much higher than average overall quality standard AND kill weights between 250 and 300 lbs below industry average make a BIG difference on the plate – most notably, a considerably thicker steak. Smaller animals grow a smaller cross-section primals. Primals with a smaller cross section must be cut thicker to get to the different call weights we produce, thicker steaks cook easier and stay more tender and juicy. There can be A LOT of difference between two USDA “Choice” steaks.
We continue to build on this foundation in the way that we age, break, trim, portion and flash freeze our steaks – we do everything we can to ensure that every single steak is as close to perfect as we can make it. The larger beef industry is geared toward very efficient production and uses a variety of genetics from many producers. This means that the end products will vary significantly when compared to a small, highly controlled single source program like Nebraska Star Beef. We put much less emphasis on production volume and efficiency and much more emphasis on quality control and doing things the right way every time. It costs more to do things this way, but if you are looking for a truly exceptional beef product we are it.
“Premium” is the best word we have found to describe the experience we intend to create with our beef. We are not trying to use the word “Premium” in a deceptive manner to make people think we are something we are not and sell cheap beef for high prices. We raise our own cattle and are absolute control freaks about every aspect of it as we turn our beef cattle into steaks, burgers and jerky. Using the existing USDA grading system doesn’t capture the breadth of what we do at Nebraska Star Beef. Trying to define the ultimate quality of a complex product based on one, relatively broad, government established grade is not fair to that product regardless of the type of product. Whether you choose our Wagyu, USDA Prime Angus or USDA Choice Angus you will be buying the best beef we can produce and we are certain it will be higher quality and more consistent than beef from the grocery store. They simply cannot do what we do.