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Aug 5, 2009 03:06 PM

Angus Beef (It's only a marketing term)

This post is in response to a post on the Boston board from a Chowhound seeking an Angus beef source:

Not intending to pile on here, but I believe many consumers believe "angus" represents some kind of premium beef, but when it is touted, as in "certified angus beef" it is purely a marketing ploy. Angus are probably the most prolific beef cattle raised in the U.S. Angus in the U.S. is a breed of cow that is derived from Aberdeen Angus, which originated in Scotland. The other distinction of angus cattle is that they do not have horns.

When considering acquiring good beef, I believe it is more useful to focus on the USDA grade assigned, no matter what the breed of cow, and whether or not the cow was grass fed or corn fed. Most beef available for sale in the U.S. is corn fed. If you are willing to pay the money, then grass fed beef that is classified as Prime is what you would strive for. In terms of getting a good deal and good beef, you would probably want to investigate your local, independent butchers, they can tell you where their beef came from and whether it is grass fed or corn fed.

One other major factor in the taste of beef, is whether or not it has been aged. There are two aging processes, wet aging or dry aging. Supermarket beef is not aged. (High end steakhouses have their own aging facilities, which helps them control the quality of the process.)

I am sure other 'hounds with more knowledge than I might have something to add here.

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  1. Wayne, I would not presume to have more knowledge than you. Here in SoCal Whole Foods dry ages their choice beef but not their prime. Dry aging is a very expensive process as the butcher must trim off the outer layer of meat during the 21+ day aging process and this results in a loss of weight and hence a higher price. I was surprised that many high end steakhouses use wet aged beef; it pays to ask if the beef is dry aged if the website or the menu does not specify.

    1 Reply
    1. re: TomSwift

      Tom I have to disagree with you.........most dry aged beef prime or choice is carcass aged. Grew up on a ranch, work in the food industry been to many packing plants and seen it all............Certified Angus is a quality control thing but when it comes to cutting, for example New Yorks, they cut end to end and so some of the ip cuts are in fact vein steaks, in other words with the gristle running through it. I prefer Herford Beef it is better than Angus flavor wise, my opinion.

    2. The Angus folks will have you believe that Certifed Angus Beef is equvalent to USDA Prime, but I agree with ChinoWayne. Prime is a designation of quality based on, among other things, the level of marbling, or fine strains of fat in the meat. If CAB meat is equvalent to Prime, why not have it graded and labeled as such? It would command a higher price.
      Nothing better than a USDA Prime dry-aged steak. Available in only a few restaurants, such as Peter Luger, Keen's, or Bern's in Tampa. Also from purveyors like Lobel, Allen Bros. or Niman Ranch.
      As an aside, I showed steers as a youngster in school, and in 1966, had the Grand Champion at the West Florida Fat Cattle Show. He was an Angus. The reason I mention this is that, at the time of check in, the show's judge commented on my steer:
      "This is the only animal I've seen here which would grade Prime." And this was in 1966, before the USDA lowered all the standards.

      22 Replies
      1. re: steakman55

        At our local Fresh Market, the Certified Angus Beef is clearly marked USDA Choice.

        1. re: jimingso

          In Canada Certified Angus Beef is always graded AAA which is the equivalent of USDA Choice. Some USDA Prime or Canada Prime meat may come from Angus steers, but they are never labelled as such.

          1. re: SnackHappy

            Sorry but they do grade CAB prime,,,,,,,, my mistake. In other words it is CAB or CAB prime.

          2. re: jimingso

            Certified Angus Beef is a registered trademark and they DO NOT grade their beef, period.

            1. re: wineman3

              Not sure what you mean by that and the later post. Beef is graded by USDA. CAB claims to be the better part of the choice grade level (which has wide variations) or the prime level. They are choosing from among the beef that has been graded in that level. They have what they call 10 criteria for this selection. Sure it involves marketing hype, but there is some positive selection that goes into it. Call that "grading" or "choosing" or whatever you want.

              Also, please provide a reference for your assertion that most dry-aged beef is carcass aged. AFAIK most is aged on the bone in primal cuts (is this what you meant??)--seems to me it wouldn't make much economic sense to dry age the entire carcass since very little of it is going to bring a premium anyway--just the main steak cuts.

              1. re: wineman3

                Yes, CAB is graded. Every meat grade has ten levels. CAB is midCHoice or better. They have also created a CAB Prime which is USDA graded Prime and a CAB Natural which meets the grading criteria, source verified and hormone free.

                Here's a link to the USDA grading requirements for CAB:


                1. re: FEF

                  I thought that USDA grading was done by the USDA and based on the individual carcass. If a carcass meets the criteria, it's graded whatever it's graded. I don't see a trademark allowing passage through a USDA inspection based on a title- or am I wrong?
                  The only place I've ever seen USDA stamps in their purple glory was at the base commisaries I went to with my mom in the early '60s. I wish I could go there now, I have amazing memories that didn't make sense until lately. Now sometimes I have dreams that I go to the commissary and dread going through the checkout line because I have no valid base ID.

                  1. re: EWSflash

                    You're right; the USDA does the grading. But each carcass gets a numerical score on which the Select / Choice / Prime designation is based.

                    CAB used to be top-third Choice only; now it's top-two-thirds. What used to be a meaningful (near-prime) label is now largely meaningless.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Unless the USDA grading standards have also been relaxed. In which case the entire mess is not as meaningful as it used to be. I suspect that's the case.

                      Either way, CAB is a set of standards, just like USDA grading. You either think their standards are worth the premium or you don't. But, they are standards at the end of the day. Just like USDA grading, and then, of course, beyond that. But I think the argument is easily made that the program isn't meaningless, unless one wants to dismiss all aspects of it.

                      1. re: tommy

                        Maybe the standard for USDA Prime (Choice, Select, etc.) has slipped, but those standards still define broad categories. CAB used to signify Prime-minus / Choice-plus beef; it doesn't any more.

                        My local grocery chain stopped paying the premium for the branded stuff when they changed the quality standards. It's not that the standard is meaningless, it's just that its meaning is diluted when the store already focuses on Choice beef.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          USDA did change its grade standards several years ago, but I am not aware there have been any changes in grade standards ("slippage") recently (note I am talking about grade standards only, not yield nor wholesomeness standards). What USDA standard has "slipped?"

                          CAB standards are private and have no impact on the USDA grading process that I am aware of. As you know, they take beef that has been graded by USDA and choose from it what part they want to call CAB. Their protocols may have changed recently, but that has no impact on USDA.

                          1. re: johnb

                            I don't have any idea whether the USDA grade standards have changed. I suspect they haven't, but was just responding to tommy's suspicion that they have.

                            You're totally correct that CAB standards have no impact on the USDA grading process. My point was that those standards were recently redefined to include mid-choice beef, rendering certification a "why bother" issue.

            2. re: steakman55

              Your post raised 2 questions in my mind

              1) Was the judge a "USDA" inspector?
              2) Even though a steer can be raised and fed to a "prime" weight or condition, beef grading is essentially done post mortem isn't it?

              I apologize in advance for my ignorance, but this post really piqued my curiosity.

              1. re: Brandon Nelson

                You might be surprised by how well beef judges and buyers for packers could estimate grade back in the 1960s. There were also contests where the steers were judged on the hoof and later on the hook. This kind of feedback really helped sharpen judging skills.

                1. re: Brandon Nelson

                  Good questions. I don't know that the judge was a USDA inspector; I suspect he was not, but he was head of animal husbandry at the University of Florida, so he would qualify as a beef expert.
                  Yes, I believe that the grading is done of a carcass, not a live animal on the hoof. I do think, however, that an educated eye can predict a grade with accuracy.
                  This just stuck in my mind since 1966. I didn't know at the time what it meant until I later started to enjoy USDA Prime beef. And it was even more impressive in my mind (yes, this was my steer of which I was proud) since grading standards were much higher then.

                  1. re: steakman55

                    Thanks both of you. Interesting stuff.

                  2. re: Brandon Nelson

                    It is done after killing. You are right. Only in livestock shows is it done before and after.

                  3. re: steakman55

                    They can tell the grade before the steer is killed?

                      1. re: phantomdoc

                        With Wagyu/Kobe beef cattle, fat content can be determined through DNA testing of the live animal. this information drives most breeding programs.

                        1. re: steakman55

                          I understand that grading live animals is a genuine skill. It is taught in FFA classes and students compete based on their skill at grading live animals.

                          I have not ever heard of a judge grading a live animal as prime. I was under the impression that that a prime grading required examination of marbling after slaughter. Is that not so?

                          I have attached a picture of the bone in rib roast I cooked for Christmas this year. While this is commonly marketed as "Prime Rib Roast", that marketing and common usage label does not indicate an actual prime grading. I would deem this roast as very good choice, but it does not have the marbling throughout the roast that would qualify it as prime. How could a judge know these facts on a live animal?

                        2. CAB is nothing more than beef that's certified to be from a predominantly Angus cow and meets the programs requirements of being steroid and anti-biotic free. Usually the cows are brangus AFAIK. While I agree the marketing can be hyped a bit I'll take CAB over run of the mill CAFO beef from origins unknown any day assuming they are of equal grade meat.
                          I agree there are many other factors at play. Dry aging, how well the meat was cut etc.
                          CAB dos offer both choice and prime grade steaks.
                          According to their web site less than 8% of angus beef qualifies for CAB and less than 1.5% of that for prime CAB.
                          There's plenty of marketing there. They wouldn't be one of the most dominant brands with out it but I don't think it's a ploy.
                          Consumers just need to know what they are buying.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: Fritter

                            In the US the requirement to meet the CAB standards is thus: Genotype 51% Angus, or Phenotype 51% Black. Notice the OR. If a carcass from an animal with 51% black fur that is maturity grade A, yield grade 2-4, and grades in the top 2/3 of choice, it is eligible for the CAB program. Period. All CAB have received hormones and antibiotics. Period. I hope you are in a country with different guidelines, because here, all CAB is CAFO beef, and most slightly better beef cattle would qualify for the marketing program. Trust me - I purchase millions of pounds of beef a year.

                            1. re: almansa

                              CAB beef is one of the biggest scams in american industrial food.

                              most CAB beef is of the 51% Black variety.

                              this is because the cattle are only 50% angus-- the other 50% is generally holstein. and cafo holstein, at that.

                              the whole dairy/beef industry scenario is evil enough that veganism looks pretty good, by the end of it. you see, holstein dairy cows need to give birth each year in order to lactate, duh. dairy farmers only artificially inseminate the top 10% or so milk producing cows with holstein sperm. so you get about 50% of those cows (5% total) producing viable female calves who will go on to be big milk boxes like their mothers. the male calves are either killed immediately (more milk for people) or see the industry: veal.

                              leaving the other 90% of the holstein dairy cows,& they just need to give birth to something in order to produce milk, male dairy calves being pretty much worthless. so, savvy cafo managers say: let's cross a bony black & white dairy cow breed with purebred black angus-- which virtually guarantees that any calves will be more than 50% black, therefore qualifying all calves, male or female, to be CAB "beef" cattle. feed 'em grain and hormones, butcher 'em young, as soon as they get to marketable weight, and marketing takes care of the rest: the american consumer believes s/he is getting a quality beef product, when in fact it's 1/2 holstein. voila!

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                They have to be 100% angus breed.

                                1. re: aziline

                                  No, they just have to be mostly black, minimal hump, no dairy influence to make the first CAB cut. After the hide comes off, if they meet the meat quality requirements, they're designated CAB. The CAB Natural line is from cattle source verified to be sired by a registered Angus bull. But regular CAB doesn't require proof of Angus blood.


                                  1. re: FEF

                                    My mistake on that. They do only have to be 50% Angus. But if the carcass has certain non-Angus charateristics (copied from site) "e.g.; dairy conformation, Brahman humps" then they are rejected. The likely hood of a half Angus and half Dairy not showing any Dairy traits is very unlikely.

                              2. re: almansa

                                Their web site does indicate they offer a steroid and hormone free product. I've never found any reason to question them any more than any other commercial beef because I think it's a better product than run of the mill CAFO beef. In no way does it compare to many of the higher end beef products (IMO) available but the price here seems to fall in line with that as well.
                                As far as genotype Vs phenotype again the consumer needs to understand what they are buying. That's true no matter what you buy including all other beef brands. CAB is still 51% Angus Vs cattle of 100% unknown breed to the consumer. Period. Their program guide lines exclude cattle that display select dairy or brahman traits. Are those guide lines not set at least in part by the USDA?
                                While what SK has posted sounds "evil" most cattle breeding programs include selection and cross breeding. That same process is occurring with many other brands of beef that cross breed with angus. brama, hereford etc.
                                It's not like cross breeding for profit is a recent development.



                                1. re: Fritter

                                  I have a friend who's a butcher at one of the premier butchers in TO. I asked him one time if Angus was worth the extra money. He laughed and said "No".

                                  If the butchers won't pay extra for it, why would you??


                                  1. re: Fritter

                                    Yes CAB has created a "Natural" line. It's from cattle that have never had antibiotics or homones.

                                    The CAB specs exclude cattle with dairy influence, so the holstein tale told above is just wrong....on many fronts.

                                    There are many beef programs around. But the USDA certified ones like CAB have been approved by the USDA. In fact, the first CAB product rolled out a day later than planned because at the last minute the Sec of Ag decided the whole thing was a fraud on the public. Mick Colvin, the "father" of CAB, flew to Washington, DC and had a face to face talk with him to explain that the consumer is actually getting more for their money with the specifications that have been set and he allowed the product to be sold. Guidelines have changed a little in the 30 years that CAB has been available.

                                    1. re: FEF

                                      "the consumer is actually getting more for their money"

                                      That is simply a blanket statement that is as often as not, untrue.


                                      1. re: Davwud

                                        But if you get it here at Costco it all comes from high river and you drive by they are all Black Angus

                              3. Love this thread. I've been saying for years that Angus beef is just a scam.

                                I'm sure a lot of these FF joints pushing Angus burgers are using choice and charging premium dollars.


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Davwud

                                  Angus is not a "grade" of meat. Angus of any brand is available in all of the same USDA grades as other beef including choice or prime.
                                  Quite obviously a lot of Butchers carry Angus products. If they didn't there wouldn't be much to talk about.
                                  CAB runs about a buck a pound more here but the butchers that carry it cut and handle the meat so much better than some of the other stores it's well worth the premium to me. If you buy meat based on grade or brand alone then your probably wasting money. You might want to take a look at the recent review I started on Costco Prime.
                                  Just because meat is graded higher it doesn't automatically mean it's worth the premium. The same goes for CAB or any other brand.
                                  Maybe we should consider Niman Ranch beef. They use cross-breed angus as well.


                                2. It's just a consumer product brand, that has been brilliantly marketed to great success. It's not a ploy, it's not a scam, it's just a brand marketing campaign. The proof of the success of the campaign is that there are people who believe it signifies premium or better tasting beef than non-branded beef, whether true or not. That's marketing - creating the perception of value and/or quality. No different than branding any other consumer product.

                                  17 Replies
                                  1. re: janniecooks

                                    It's not a consumer product brand, it's a type of cattle. A breed. That's it. Anyone who says it's "better" than any other breed, is misinformed.

                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                      Angus, Black Angus, Aberdeen Angus or whatever may be breeds of cattle, but Certified Angus Beef® is most definitely a brand.

                                      1. re: SnackHappy

                                        Okay, I get that. But the brand is based on the breed, right? Are you saying any one of those Angus breeds is better than the other, as in the grade of beef they produce? That 's what I'm saying, it's a breed, not a better "brand" as in grade, of beef.

                                        1. re: Phurstluv

                                          It seems to me we are getting into the extremely fine points of what constitutes a "brand" here. CAB is a registered trademark controlled by the Angus Assoc. or whatever it's called. But what they are saying is that it is a certification program, and that any beef so labeled can be counted on to meet certain criteria. I don't think this indicates they would claim their beef is "better" than another hunk of beef that meets those same criteria. As such it may be different from other branded products, such as Perdue chicken, where the Perdue company claims their chicken is better than that of the next guy. Of course, either way, it's true that it's all hype.

                                          There is one way in which I think CAB actually is of value to the meat shopper. To be choice CAB, it must be from the higher levels of the USDA choice range. That does give the shopper information that he wouldn't get otherwise, which does suggest there is at least some element that is more than just hype.

                                          1. re: johnb

                                            Good point, and I think I agree.

                                            1. re: johnb

                                              My opinion taste blind any day of the week the 1886 brand of choice beef at Costco to CAB and 90% of the time the Costco will win.....I have done it 26 times with a 90.17% success rate.

                                        2. re: Phurstluv

                                          But the marketers have transformed and co-opted the name for cattle breed into a brand name for a consumer product (beef). And I don't disagree that anyone who says it's "better" than any other breed is misinformed. My point was merely that angus beef has been transformed into a consumer brand with brilliant marketing. Name any other branded beef sold in grocery stores.

                                          1. re: janniecooks

                                            "Name any other branded beef sold in grocery stores"

                                            Sterling Silver
                                            Niman Ranch
                                            Coleman Natural
                                            Dakota Farms
                                            Premium Angus
                                            Certified Wagyu
                                            Valley Pride Angus

                                            Just to name a few not that I dissagree with your point about CAB being a good marketing program. However it is also a good product as are several of the others listed. The real benefit (IMO) is that most of these brands set higher standards than the USDA.

                                            1. re: Fritter

                                              I never said it was a "good" marketing program, I said it was successful because it was brilliant marketing.

                                              You got me on a few. I'm not familiar with Sterling Silver, Coleman Natural, Dakota Farms or Valley Pride Angus, but a google search indicates they are producer brand names not cattle breeds like angus is. Piedmontese is a breed, but not a brand name. Certified angus beef is indeed a brand marketing program created to stimulate demand for angus beef. It is a successful marketing program (not the same as "good" which I never said). And none of the "certified" brands can become certified without the approval and cooperation of the USDA.

                                              1. re: janniecooks

                                                CAB is successful. I equate that with "good". If the majority did not agree it would not be successful. However the use of the word "good" Vs "sucessfull" was inadvertant on my part and in essence I was agreeing with you.
                                                It shouldn't be a surprise to any one that all brands (not just certified brands) in the US operate under USDA guidelines. However not all brands exceed those guidelines as some of the certified brands do. IMO that's a good thang.
                                                As far as brands go every brand I have listed in this thread is registered with the USDA. That includes Piedmontese which is a well recognized brand name owned by the NAPA in the very same way CAB is owned by the AAA.

                                                I believe you said;
                                                "Name *ANY* other branded beef sold in grocery stores".
                                                You did not specify you wanted those brands to be to be breeds as well.
                                                How about Certified Hereford?
                                                Dakota Farms Black Angus?
                                                Premium Black Angus?
                                                Valley Pride Angus?
                                                Certified Stock Angus?

                                                The point simply being that CAB is not alone in this type of marketing.

                                              2. re: Fritter

                                                I have been reading this thread for awhile now.

                                                Name any FF resturaunt that is touting any of the "branded beef" that you have mentioned.

                                                CAB is a brilliant marketing (most good marketing campaigns, come from the merits of their products).

                                                1. re: Poppie

                                                  Just off the top of my head, Chipotle uses Niman Ranch, Burgerville uses Coleman Natural, and Jody Maroni's sells "Kobe" hot dogs. I'm sure there are others.

                                              3. re: janniecooks

                                                I just don't see it as a big deal one way or the other. Many if not most non-processed or minimally processed foods we buy in the grocery are branded. What about milk and butter--it's nearly always under a brand name. Is Land o Lakes really better? Perdue or Tyson or many other "brands" of chicken. Lettuce. Carrots. Strawberries. Canned vegetables. The list is endless. Branding is as old as the hills. Is it hype? Call it what you want.

                                                1. re: johnb

                                                  Delmonte canned fruits are consistently better than other brands. Delmonte has the concept that the fruit must be ripe before putting it in the can. I am speaking from experience, nothing else. And Delmonte vegetables are usually better than other brands as well.

                                                  1. re: mrjerryg

                                                    With beef, there is a big quality spread within each USDA grade. Many branded products claim their products are in the upper 1/2 or upper 1/3 of a USDA Grade.

                                                    My personal experience is when buying sub primals, branded products in the upper end of the grade are worth the extra 10% - 20% cost, especially if there is limited selection of sub primals to pick from.

                                                    For individual steaks, you see the entire surface so if you know what to look for its pretty plain to see and branded vs commodity is not a major factor.

                                                2. re: janniecooks

                                                  Sterling Silver, Certified Hereford Beef, Creekstone Farms.....

                                                  But I cheated: