Beef facts from a local butcher: answering your questions about meat production

Matt Witte has a unique perspective when it comes to beef production. Not only does he spend most of his time interacting with customers at Bloomington Meats, a custom processing and retail meat shop in Bloomington, Illinois, but his family also raises their own cattle, giving him an in-depth understanding of how beef moves from farm to shop to plate. As a trusted source for high-quality beef, he also fields a lot of questions about beef at the meat counter. He’s here to share some of the basic beef facts.

Q: Is it grass-fed?

Matt’s beef fact: All cattle are grass-fed to some degree. A calf nurses and then spends time grazing. After that, most cattle are put on a grain diet while some will stick to forages like pasture grass or hay during the winter months.

While grass-fed beef is more expensive than grain-fed, grain-fed beef typically grades better. That’s because grain-fed beef achieves more marbling – those white streaks or specks of fat in the meat itself that add flavor and is a main criteria for judging meat quality. If you’re looking for a high-quality piece of meat with great marbling, I’d recommend grain-fed. If you prefer grass-fed, ask the person at the meat counter. They should be able to connect you with a grass-fed product or farmer.

Q: How do I cook this?

Matt’s beef fact: Even though a recipe may call for a particular cut of meat, don’t feel like you’re restricted to that one option. A skirt steak can be used in place of a flank cut. While not much beats the flavor of a ribeye, strip steak is lean and tender, and perfect for grilling.

Not all cuts are created equal when it comes to cooking, either. There are some meats you will regret overcooking, like a tenderloin or prime rib, while others are less “picky.” Ask for recommendations at the meat counter, or take a look at helpful online resources.

Matt’s advice: shop with intention. Familiarize yourself with grades and available cuts. And remember that everything you need to know is on the label – cut, size and grade. It’s required by the USDA. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the meat counter. Most employees should be familiar with the product they’re selling. If they don’t know the answer, they should be able to connect you with the right resource.

Matt’s just one of the many Illinois beef farmers who work every day to ensure their animals are well cared for and raised responsibly. Check out these perspectives from other beef farmers including the Chandler and Wexell families.