Home Cook’s Guide to Certified Angus Beef® Prime Steaks
If you hang around our meat counter long enough, chances are you’ll hear one of our butchers say, “Certified Angus Beef® Brand of USDA Prime Beef.” It’s a bit of a mouthful, but when it comes to buying meat, every one of those words has meaning. In this short guide, we’ll tell you all about it — and how to pick the perfect cut of prime beef for your dinner.
Let’s start with the Angus-Aberdeen cows, called Angus for short. An old and venerable breed, they originated in the Angus and Aberdeenshire counties of Scotland, a region that ranges from the Eastern sea, through fine, green valleys, and up into the mountains. They’re generally black cows, and the Scottish have nicknamed them hummlies or doddies because they’re naturally hornless. Historians believe hummlies have existed in the area for centuries because hornless cattle are depicted in prehistoric carvings in the area.
Amazingly, most of today’s Angus cattle can be traced back to two cows that lived during the 1800s: Old Jock and Old Granny. They belonged to Hugh Watson, a Scottish cattle farmer widely credited with being the first to improve the breed for black coats, hardiness, and meat quality. Old Granny alone birthed 29 calves — before being struck down by lightning at the ripe old age of 35.
The earliest American Angus herds were established by importing cows from Scotland. When the first four Angus arrived in Kansas in 1873, folks found the hornless cows strange, but they soon caught on: Midwestern cattle ranchers purchased some 1,200 cattle between 1878 and 1883. The rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, not all Angus cows are created equal, and that’s where the Certified Angus Beef® Brand (CAB) of premium beef comes into the picture. The brand is founded on a set of rigorous standards developed by a group of American cattle ranchers and meat scientists back in the 1970s.
In order to qualify for CAB prime beef, Angus cows must pass not only the USDA’s extremely stringent Prime standards, but also all 10 of the brand’s quality standards for marbling, maturity, appearance, tenderness, and consistent sizing, e.g., the cow’s weight and fat layer. It’s telling that less than 1.5% of Angus cows meet these high standards!
Marbling is at the top of that list for a reason. It refers to the little white flecks of fat you see in a cut of beef — and the more marbling you have, the higher the quality of beef. Every cut of CAB prime beef has exceptional marbling, and that makes it super flavorful, tender, and juicy.
Here are some of our favorite cuts of CAB prime beef, along with some butchering notes and cooking advice from Sean Saenz, our Senior Director of Meat and Seafood.
Certified Angus Beef® Prime Tenderloin Steak (Filet Mignon)
This steak is cut from the long, thin tenderloin muscle, which runs just below the spine from the middle of the cow’s body to its hind leg. Lean and only slightly marbled, it’s the most tender cut of beef available. We recommend grilling it on high heat, letting it develop a nice char, and then moving it to indirect heat to finish. You’ll want to serve it rare to medium-rare, or about 130º to 145º.
Tenderloin steaks are so buttery and mild, we like to deepen their flavor with a rich, savory steak sauce — think truffled mushrooms and parsley, creamy, Dijon-forward Steak Diane, or a simple pan sauce of shallots, red wine, and brandy.
Certified Angus Beef® Prime Cowboy Steak
The cowboy is a gargantuan 2.5-inch-thick rib-eye steak that comes from the front rib of the cow.
It’s super marbled, and we leave the bone in, so the meat cooks up very moist and intensely flavorful — a great eating experience. Because of its massive size, which is super fun, we like to make cowboy steaks for big birthdays, anniversaries, and the like.
It’s best grilled slowly over indirect heat. You can move it to a hotter part of the grill just at the end — it’ll sear up perfectly and give you a lovely crust and crispy edges. We like this one best with just salt and pepper, but sometimes overkill is the name of the game, and we’ll drop a knob of blue cheese on the hot steak with a few shots of hot sauce.
Certified Angus Beef® Prime Tri-Tip Roast
Did you know the tri-tip originated in California? If we had an official state patio grilling steak, this would be it. True to its name, the tri-tip is the triangular shaped piece of muscle found on the bottom sirloin — it’s a highly marbled, tender, and tasty piece of meat. Sean recommends oven roasting or grilling it on indirect heat after 1 to 2 minutes of charring on each side.
A tri-tip will serve four people, so it’s great for dinner parties. We like to marinade it or give it a thick coating of spicy rub, roast it, slice it, and tuck it into tacos with grilled pepper, sandwiches with spicy-sweet cucumber, or Santa Maria-style toasts with salsa. Also good: a deluxe grilled steak board appetizer loaded with bowls of ponzu, chimichurri, romesco, and whatnot.
Certified Angus Beef® Prime Porterhouse Steak
The porterhouse gets our vote for Most Romantic Steak! It’s cut from the rear end of the short loin, and it includes both a New York strip steak and a filet mignon on one bone — just perfect for sharing. We generally cook it on a grill or in a hot, cast-iron pan over high heat to sear, and then move it to indirect heat until it’s medium-rare or about 130º to 145º.
The strip steak has a full, meaty flavor, the filet mignon is mild, so we like to split the difference by dressing the whole in a stunning compound butter, like thyme and lemon zest or parsley, chives, and shallots. Looking to add some spice? Jalapeño, lime, and cilantro are nice.
Certified Angus Beef® Prime New York Strip Steak
Since we’ve given porterhouse props for being romantic, here’s a nod to the strip steak for being lazy. Which is to say, it’s cut from the cow’s short loin, a muscle that doesn’t do much — and that’s a good thing because it makes the steak very tender. It’s also well-marbled, so it’s juicy and scrumptious.
We like to cook our strip steak over high heat and give it a gorgeous char. It’s the steak we slice up and serve with a nice, bold grilled Caesar salad — or spicy watercress with pistachios and a punchy citrus vinaigrette. It can also be fun to do a build-your-own steak salad, with fingerling potatoes, sliced veggies, pickled red onions, a springy lettuce, and green goddess dressing.