Angus beef is a popular term found everywhere from fast-food joints to artisanal butcher shops. Despite its ubiquity, the term “Angus beef” generates its fair share of carnivorous confusion. Is it a grade of meat? Is it certified organic? What is it, really?
Angus is a breed of hornless cattle developed from the indigenous herds of Northeast Scotland in the nineteenth-century. In 1873, an enterprising Scotsman named George Grant imported four Angus bulls to Kansas. Prized for their well-marbled, meat-heavy carcasses, they now make up the majority of the cow herd in the United States. Why does “Angus beef” seem to be everywhere? When it comes to cattle, they’re as common as it gets.
But just because something is labeled "Angus" doesn't mean it has passed any sort of quality control. When buying Angus meat, look for the Certified Angus Beef® brand, which was created in 1978 in order to supply consumers with high-quality meat. A registered-trademark, Certified Angus Beef® is owned by the American Angus Association and its nearly 30,000 rancher members.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects all of the beef sold in the U.S. It also assigns grades to most beef, primarily USDA Prime, Choice and Select (with Prime topping the scale). For the sake of clarity, the USDA uses the same classification system to evaluate and “certify” meat for the Certified Angus Beef® brand.
Certified Angus Beef must first meet the standards of USDA Choice or Prime, which means Certified Angus Beef is always of a higher grade than USDA Select. In order to earn the brand's logo, qualifying beef must then pass eight specifications more than USDA Choice regarding marbling, tenderness and consistency of flavor. Tellingly, only one in four Angus in the U.S. qualify. In order to qualify as Certified Angus Prime, the beef is required to meet nine additional standards not required of USDA Prime. The brand also has a natural product line, Certified Angus Beef Natural, which is from cattle that have never been given hormones or antibiotics.
What makes Certified Angus Beef so tasty? From strip steak to ribeye, their offerings boast a high degree of marbling (the tiny white flecks of fat distributed through the lean red meat). These fat deposits create flavor and help to keep the meat moist while cooking. If you're looking for inspiration, you can find recipes and cooking tips on the Certified Angus Beef official website.