Tag Archives: ground beef

A taco-stuffed sweet potato? Another great recipe from Paleohacks

The great recipe team at Paleohacks has shared another tasty dish with Roam. This Mexican-inspired recipe features sweet potatoes stuffed with taco meat and topped with homemade guacamole for a single serving meal everyone will love!

Ditch the tortilla and stuff your favorite taco fixings inside tender roasted sweet potatoes for a filling and guilt-free meal.

Tacos are a dinner staple that everyone can agree on. However, when following a Paleo lifestyle, tortillas can be difficult to replace. Traditional tortillas and other grain-filled foods can cause bloating, which is why sweet potatoes are such a great alternative. Plus, they’re big enough to stuff with drool-worthy toppings for a fun twist on taco night.

Grass-fed ground beef carries the smoky taco spices, like cumin, onion powder, and chili powder. A little tomato paste adds to the tangy zip. And as we all know, no taco is complete without a scoop of creamy guacamole. This one is kept simple with chopped onion, cilantro, and jalapeños so you can mash it together while the meat sizzles on the stove.

stuffed sweet potatoes

Get started by greasing the sweet potatoes with avocado oil, which helps to lightly crisp up the skins. Bake for one hour, then let the sweet potatoes cool at room temperature while preparing the other ingredients.

Meanwhile, heat ground beef in a skillet until browned, then stir in dry seasonings, tomato paste, and a little water. Cook about five minutes more.

While the taco meat cooks, make the guacamole by mashing an avocado until just slightly chunky. Add red onion, cilantro, sea salt, and jalapeños.

When everything’s ready, slice the sweet potatoes lengthwise and fill it up with taco meat. Top with a scoop of guacamole and finish with freshly diced tomatoes. Enjoy it while it’s hot!

stuffed sweet potatoes

Other great toppings to include:

  • Pickled jalapeño
  • Diced mango
  • Sliced radishes
  • Chopped bell pepper 

Tip: Try baking up a few additional sweet potatoes so you can have these decadent sweet potato brownies for dessert!

Taco-Stuffed Sweet Potato 

Prep time- 10 minutes

Cook time- 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total time- 1 hour, 25 minutes

Serves- 4 


Parchment paper

Baking sheet



Small bowl 


stuffed sweet potatoes

4 sweet potatoes

1 T avocado oil

1 lb ground beef

1 T ground cumin

2 t chili powder

1/2 t garlic powder

1/4 t onion powder

1/4 t cayenne pepper

2 T tomato paste

1/4 cup water

1 medium ripe avocado

2 T red onion, chopped

1 T cilantro

1 T minced jalapeños

1/4 t sea salt

1/2 cup tomatoes, diced


1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Grease the outsides of the sweet potatoes with avocado oil and set on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, then let cool.

3. Meanwhile, heat ground beef in a skillet over medium heat, using a spatula to break up the meat. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in dry seasonings, tomato paste, and water until thoroughly combined. Continue to cook for 5 minutes.

5. While the taco meat cooks, prepare the topping: Mash an avocado in a small bowl. Add the chopped red onion, cilantro, jalapeños, and sea salt. Stir well.

6. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them down the center lengthwise. Stuff with the taco meat, then add a scoop of the guacamole and diced tomatoes and serve.

If you liked this recipe, then you’ll love this sweet potato cheeseburger casserole recipe that you can make with just one pan.


Latin American cooking

The best Mexican and Latin American cooking methods and marinades for beef, pork, and chicken

Nothing is better than taking some delicious meats, tossing them in some marinades or throwing a bit of rub on them, chucking them on the grill, and then cutting them up, and wrapping them in a few soft tacos with some pico de gallo or cilantro and onion.

Steak tacos, pork tacos, chicken tacos. All great. All quick and easy to make. 

But there is so much more to Latin American cuisine than tacos; this is especially true if you combine the rich, sweet, and savory flavors with healthy grass-fed beef, heritage-breed pork, and free-range chicken.

With Cinco de Mayo coming up this weekend, we wanted to break down some of our favorite dishes inspired by Latin American and Hispanic cultures. And while there are a lot of amazing, flavorful dishes to choose from, these are the standout Mexican and Latin American cooking styles and marinades.

Carne asada

If you want to make steak tacos the right way, you need some vital components. Of course, you need some fresh tortillas and some fresh salsa or pico de gallo — the difference between the two is that salsa is more like a soup or sauce, while pico de gallo is chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. You might also want to add a bit of cojita or other cheese, guacamole, and some crema fresca or sour cream.

But meat is THE essential ingredient that defines a standard taco from a great taco.

While Americanized — or Tex-Mex tacos — like the ones you can find at Taco Bell can be a good quick treat, they do a severe injustice to the original: The street taco prevalent throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Tacos using ground beef can be quite good. In particular, we prefer using grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef for our quick, homemade tacos. But nothing compares to a taco filled with a steak — seasoned and then seared on a grill or over hot charcoals — from the sirloin, tenderloin, or rib primals of a cow.

And, for the most part, that is what carne asada is. The Spanish word, “asada,” basically means grilled, and “carne” is an all-encompassing term for meat — even though carne asada is most often associated with beef. Carne asada is any Latin American-style steak. Kind of.

Carne asada is a steak preparation method most often associated with Mexico and some Central American countries. (Different Central and South American nations have other steak traditions that we’ll discuss below.)

Carne asada can be made from a wide variety of beef cuts. As a standalone steak, you can make carne asada from a ribeye. However, because it is often marinated, sliced, and served with pico de gallo, beans, and other rich dishes, carne asada is best with tougher cuts that benefit from marinating, such as flank steak, hanger steak, short ribs, sirloin tips, or skirt steak.

As for marinades, the typical carne asada marinade or sauce is usually some combination of salt, freshly-ground pepper, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, and chiles, like ancho chile or chipotle.

But the key to a delicious carne asada steak is an open fire or red-hot coals to grill over. Give the steak a little char, cut it up (against the grain if its a flank or skirt steak), and enjoy.

Across South America and Mexico, there is a range of different styles and processes to cook beef. Barbacoa, which originated in the Caribbean and gives us the word “barbecue” is a common way to cook beef over an open fire. Other methods are also well-known that derive from South America, including steak churrasco, which is a Brazilian-style of steak cooked rotisserie style (usually over an open flame) on a skewer or large knife.

We haven’t even delved into chimichurri sauce, which is one of the best steak marinades/sauces there is. But that’s a topic worthy of its own, lengthier breakdown. Most commonly used in Argentina, chimichurri accompanies steaks cooked in the Argentine manner — that is, they never touch a flame and are grilled over burning wood.


Al pastor versus carnitas?

Pork is often a featured dish in the cuisines of many Latin American cultures. Braised, slow-cooked, fire-roasted, or barbecued, there are many different ways that pork can be prepared for tacos, tortas, burritos, or even as the main dish in a variety of meals.

However, two of the best-known versions of pork made in Latin American countries are carnitas and al pastor, which, while cooked similarly, have quite different flavors.

Carnitas is a Mexican method of braising and then quickly roasting a large piece of pork shoulder, like a pork butt or Boston butt. Traditionally, a large portion of pork is placed in a copper pot and an array of spices — cumin, garlic, oregano, and chiles — are added along with lard or some other flavorful fat. After slow cooking for hours, the pork is then roasted on high heat, crisping the outer edge of the pork so that it is fall-apart tender.

Carnitas can be cooked in a Dutch oven or slow cooker, and you can experiment with a variety of different flavors, spice rubs, or marinades. However, a key step in the process of perfectly fork-tender carnitas is the finishing. While the best way to finish carnitas is by roasting, you can also quickly pan fry it so that it is both crispy and but maintains that fall-apart tenderness like pulled pork.

Al pastor is one of those fascinating international dishes that is the result of two culinary cultures mixing. Influenced heavily by the shawarma-style of spit roasting popular in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, al pastor is a combination of Mexican pork preparation reimagined by Lebanese immigrants who moved to Latin America in the twentieth century.

While spit roasting the pork shawarma-style has traditionally been the distinguishing mark of al pastor, these days, it is a unique sauce style that distinguished al pastor from carnitas for most Mexican food connoisseurs. Unlike most other taco, torta, or burrito styles, al pastor features a salsa that includes pineapple in addition to onion and cilantro.

If you get a pork dish at a Latin-American restaurant and it is heavy on pineapple flavor, you are likely eating al pastor.

Adobo and mole chicken

For quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, and tacos that feature chicken, there are endless preparation methods and flavorful marinades that can be used to give it the traditional spicy kick associated with Latin American food. But two of our favorites are chicken cooked in adobo sauce and mole chicken.

Chicken cooked in adobo sauce is usually quite spicy. Adobo sauces feature any combination of dried, roasted, and finely chopped ancho, chipotle, guajillo, and chile de árbol. The spicy concoction is often used to marinate chicken before being grilled, or it is added later to kick up the flavor of a dish.

Mole is a dark sauce that is both sweet and spicy. The spice comes from its heavy dose of hot chiles, including mulato, guajillo, ancho, and pasilla negro chiles. A more challenging to find chile, the chilhuacle rojo can also be used if you can get your hands on it.

The sweetness — and mole’s dark coloring — comes from the inclusion of chocolate and cinnamon in the sauce. In addition to cocoa and cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, tomatoes, onions, and a number of other spices can be added to a mole sauce.

The mole most common found in the United States is actually “mole poblano,” a sauce that originates in Mexico. (Where exactly is often disputed as both Oaxaca and Pueblo claim it originated there.) However, the sauce is popular in other areas of Central and South America; often, the chiles and other spices differ, giving it a unique flavor, texture, and color in each different locale it is made. 

Traditional Mexican mole sauce is often used with turkey, but it is far more common to find mole chicken, which is the dark sauce either poured over boiled or grilled chicken or chicken that has been cooked and finished by simmering in mole sauce.

For more on some of our favorite Latin American dishes, check out the ButcherBox recipe page or some of Chef Yankel’s favorite cooking methods on YouTube.

angus beef

What is Angus beef and why the label really doesn’t matter

We talk a lot about industry naming and labeling, and for a good reason: There are many confusing beef cut names, quality grades, and beef industry marketing tricks. Consumers are likely to have no idea that there are differences between USDA prime beef, organic steak, and grass-fed, grass-finished meat.

One brand name that has been used by the beef industry, steak restaurants, and fast food joints alike is “Angus.”

Angus beef is often used to designate a better quality product. But in fact, the term doesn’t have anything to do with quality grades, far better marbling, superior taste, or even beef that is raised to some sort of stringent requirements. If anything, the term Angus may be nothing more than a way to charge a higher price for beef that is quite ordinary, yet, in limited supply. In fact, Angus is so prevalent, both McDonald’s and Burger King have served their own “Angus” burgers at one time or another.

If Ronald McDonald and the King are slinging a product, that should be an indicator that a product is not quite what you might expect.

What exactly is Angus beef?

Angus is a term used for any beef that comes from the specific type of cattle known as the Angus breed. There are two types of Angus: Black Angus and Red Angus, and both can trace their roots back to Scotland.

According to the American Angus Association — which claims to be the largest beef breed organization in the world — a Scot named George Grant imported four Angus bulls from Scotland to Kansas in 1873, where he cross-bred the naturally-hornless, black-hided bulls with Texas longhorn cows. The Angus Association asserts that the original bulls came from the herd of a man named George Brown from Westertown, Fochabers, Scotland — to be specific. Also, the breed used to be called Aberdeen Angus, but some of the Scottish roots seem to have been lost through the whims of beef marketing interventions.

The black cattle ended up being quite resilient; they were able to last the winter better than other breeds without losing much weight. And although Grant died a few years after arriving in the United States, his legacy left a lasting impression. Between 1878 and 1883, twelve hundred Angus cattle were imported to the Midwest from Scotland. Today, it is the most common breed of meat-producing cattle in the country.

In 1978, a group of Midwest ranchers formed the Certified Angus Beef brand, setting up an organization to give specific certification to some Angus producers. This label has nothing to do with how the animals are raised or fed. To get the Certified Angus classification, a producer must meet ten standards related to tenderness, marbling, and flavor.

So, is Angus beef any better?

Likely, you’ve seen the term Angus — as well as Black Angus or Certified Angus beef — on restaurant menus and at the grocery store. The implications made by the brand are that consumers are getting a superior product — and likely, paying a higher price for it. However, Angus is far more common than you might realize.

The difference, according to the American Angus Association, has to do with the better taste. It asserts in much of its marketing advice that the “Angus breed is superior in marbling to all other mainstream beef breeds.”

Angus has become the prevalent type of beef found in America; it is also the marbled, rich-flavored type of beef the Americans have gotten used to over the past 50 years as the brand has flourished.

However, even the advice given by the American Angus Association on how to raise Angus cattle will demonstrate the differences between Angus beef and cattle that are grass-fed or organic and raised humanely. The AAA recommends producers’ use of “a corn-based, high-starch ration” of feed to fatten up the cattle and has other guidelines for Angus feedyards, vaccinations and more.

Unlike ranchers obsessed with making sure their cattle flourish on grass-fed diets, enjoy grazing on a pasture, and don’t receive antibiotics and hormones, the goals of Angus producers are quite different. The ultimate goal of the Angus arm of the beef industry is to raise the fattest cattle that will result in the marbled, tender beef that consumers have grown accustomed to, whether this profile of beef is good for their health or not.

So, now you are armed with a little more information on what the term Angus beef means when you next encounter the term on a grocery store label or at a steakhouse. In reality, Angus is little more than any other American brand like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. It certainly doesn’t imply any benefit to your health, and, to our mind, the branding doesn’t make it taste better than a grass-fed, grass-finished cut of beef.



Grass-fed and grass-finished beef: How not to be fooled by beef industry tricks

One of the more fascinating aspects of the meat industry in the United States is the use and misuse of product naming and labeling by various purveyors. We’ve covered this topic a fair amount, quite honestly, because it is an area where we see so much manipulation and, sometimes, purposeful deception of consumers. This is most striking when it comes to grass-fed cattle and the designation “grass-fed beef” in particular.

Grass-fed AND grass-finished

One of the first things we discovered about quality grass-fed beef is how little customers know about the products they buy and eat.

There’s not that much to know, but, crazily, it’s still very confusing for the consumer. Grass-fed beef is expected to come from cattle that eat grass — or other green forage — while grazing in open pastures for their entire life. Seems pretty cut and dried.

However, transparency hasn’t always been the beef industry standard.

The fine print – Grain-fed beef

Confusion arrives with the use of labels such as “grass-fed, grain-finished beef,” which could trick consumers into thinking the meat they are eating is something it is not. Basically, “grass-fed, grain-finished” is conventional beef, the same thing as every cow raised.

Currently, 98 percent of beef consumed in the United States is grain-fed beef. However, every cow starts out the same way: It is raised the first six months on its mother’s milk and continues for about a year just grazing on grass (and hay or other “forage” as it is impossible to grow cattle on grass year-round in most regions of the country). After half a year, the majority of cows move to the feedlot where they are fattened on grains for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter.

But some cattle continue to graze and feed on grass after those first six months. This is what people think of when they seek out truly grass-fed, grass-finished beef.

When a label says “grass-fed, grain-finished,” that’s just the same thing as every other steak or roast at any supermarket. They were taken to a feedlot, just like other cattle. Although, that’s not what the labeling is trying to imply.

You can even have grass-fed and grain-fed cattle on the same ranch.

An example of grass-fed grain-finished marketing (with the branding removed). This is what they want consumers to imagine the cattle’s life entailed.

Why aren’t all cows both grass-fed and grass-finished?

The entire system is built for grain-fed, not grass-fed production. Grain-finishing is more efficient and cheaper, and it adds weight a lot quicker to get the cattle primed for slaughter. It also gives the cattle the type of marbling and fat content that Americans have grown accustomed to in their beef. If you think about it, even the “quality” ratings we use to talk about our beef — choice, select and prime — are based on marbling and rapid weight gain.

Feedlots and grain-finishing

Beef sales have been on the decline for a number of years, and a big reason for that is because people think that steaks are unhealthy. The reality of what makes beef potentially unhealthy has to do with the artificial fattening of the cow. Not only do grain-finished cattle eat food that has not been a traditional part of their diet, but feedlot cows also have more antibiotics and hormones than those that grazed for their entire lives (that is until some stricter FDA rules were put in place in 2017 tried to limit this practice).

Studies have discovered that grain-fed, corn-fed, or grain-finished cattle do not have the same nutrition profile as grass-fed. Studies show that cattle fed grain lack as many good omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) as grass-fed cows. Both of these essential fatty acids have pretty great health benefits.

And yet, the system is structured in a way where grass-fed is just not an option for most cattle ranchers and beef producers. They have limited resources and must focus on making their cattle operations as efficient as possible. Letting cattle graze for their entire lives does not work for many beef producers.

An example of grass-fed grass-finished marketing.

Purposeful misrepresentation

Some nefarious producers still want the financial benefits of shipping grass-fed, natural beef. This led to the creation and use of the grass-fed, grain-finished label.

Mislabeling isn’t the only tactic that has confused consumers. We’ve heard a lot from people who’ve tried grass-fed beef before and didn’t like it, even saying that it tastes like shoe-leather. We cannot imagine how someone could think that tender grass-fed, grass-finished beef tastes anything other than delicious.

We discovered that at one point producers trying to get into the grass-fed market would sell dairy cows.  While most dairy cows are just fed grass, they are often old by the time they stop producing milk. In these instances, the product being sold was not beef raised with the intention of being high-quality meat, but that it was raised for dairy and got used for meat, under the implication that it was “grass-fed.” But as the market has grown, more and more companies have decided to raise grass-fed cows specifically for meat instead of dairy cows.

And so most of the beef on the market tastes a lot better than what people who remember eating grass-fed meat — but were actually eating dairy cow — have experienced.

This issues of misrepresentation and mislabeling have been a persistent problem for consumers who may have been unknowingly ignorant to the realities. When someone buys grass-fed beef, they think they are getting an idyllic cow grazing in a field. Too often that hasn’t been the case.

Finding real grass-fed beef

One of the challenges for the customer is that they have good intentions, they want to eat a quality product, and they want the benefit of eating a steak that’s better for them. But they can easily be led astray.

The key is for consumers to look for labels and brands that offer either 100 percent grass-fed meat or the grass-fed, grass-finished labeling. There are also a lot of organizations that offer to certify that products are indeed fully grass-fed. This includes the American Grassfed Association. However, the USDA, which only monitors certified organic beef, does not concern itself with grass-fed regulation. The story of how certified organic/grass-fed beef is labeled and regulated is the topic of another post entirely.

ButcherBox is a brand that stands against all this confusion. We partner only with the farmers whose interests are aligned with our own. We want to bring the customers the best quality meats without any surprises.

And, we are willing to scour the globe to do that.

We want to end the confusion about grass-fed, grass-finished beef. It’s time to be able to access high-quality, trusted meat.


beef cuts chuck short ribs

For grilling season — the best beef cuts from the chuck

Winter is slowly receding here in the Northeast, and it seems as if we’ve — finally — come to the end of a period of strange, colder-than-usual weather across the country. The Masters Tournament has come and gone. The selection of foods at farmers markets is more robust. Scarves, beanies, and mittens will soon be packed away.

And, most importantly, grills will reappear. They will be cleaned, repaired, and lit once more as we undertake that yearly rite of spring — cooking outside.

In our opinion, there is nothing that compares to the experience of throwing a scrumptious hunk of grass-fed beef over some hot charcoals or onto a red-hot grill.

But which beef cuts are best for cooking out? One section of the cow that has long been overlooked is the chuck, especially compared to the filet mignons, ribeyes, strip steaks, t-bone steaks, and tri-tips that come from the middle areas that make up the rib, loin, tenderloin,  and sirloin primal cuts.

As our ButcherBox Head Chef Yankel Polak says, “The chuck is a goldmine of great cuts.”

Some of the best cuts of beef to cook outdoors come from the chuck; also, some of our favorite steaks and roasts, in general, are chuck beef cuts.

You already know chuck beef

The “chuck” primal section produces the vast amount of meat that is used from a cow. Most of the meat from this area — the front section from the shoulder blade and down to the leg muscles — lacks fat and has a ton of connective tissue. Therefore, it can result in tough cuts of meat if cooked incorrectly.

Most parts of the chuck close to the ribs are used for various roasts.

Beef chuck roast, for example, is ideal for braising and slow cooking. Other common roast beef cuts from the chuck include pot roast and bone-in chuck roast, also known as the 7 bone chuck roast. These roast sections are fantastic when quickly seared and then put in a slow cooker for a few hours, especially with some complementary seasonings and spices.

These cuts are large and used for braising mainly because it is easy to cut sizeable hunks of beef out of the chuck section, but also because the connective tissue caused by the overuse of the muscles don’t make them as tender and marbled as sirloin steaks and tenderloin steaks.

However, many of the standard — sometimes vaguely labeled — steaks you can get at the supermarket are likely to be steaks cut from the chuck. Like flank steaks or skirt steaks, chuck is also often used as stew meat, kabobs, and sandwich steaks, and as an alternative to more expensive cuts like sirloin tips, tip roast, and ribeye.

You likely cook chuck meat on your grill quite often without realizing it: Chuck meat is one of the primary sources that butchers use to make ground beef. So if you are cooking cheeseburgers for the family this weekend, there is a good chance you’ve got some ground chuck in the burger mix.


New beef cuts from the chuck primal

Because chuck beef has primarily been used for braising roast cuts, cheaper cuts of steak, and ground beef in the past, some steak lovers believe that you can’t find quality steaks in this front section of the cow.

However, over the past few decades, the beef industry has innovated and uncovered tasty, tender steaks in the chuck section that were previously unknown, difficult to access, or more prevalently used in unique ways in other cultures.

For instance, as part of the Beef Checkoff Program, meat science researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska identified new and potentially more affordable tender cuts of meat. The project led to the discovery of little-used or unknown cuts, like the Denver steak.

The Denver steak — which does not officially have anything to do with the Mile High City — comes from the chuck flap, an area of the chuck under blade that is full of tough, connective tissue. This steak is delicious as long as it is cooked correctly and, as we’ve said again and again with these types of cuts, must be cut against the grain once cooked.

The beef industry research project also led to the discovery of the flat iron steak, which is a challenging cut to find from the top section of the chuck shoulder. Flat iron steak is a perfect grilling steak; it is tender and tasty when cooked on an open fire. However, it can easily become tough if overcooked. Similar to many other cuts with lots of connective tissue — like the Denver steak — it should also be sliced against the grain.

The Denver steak and flat iron steak aren’t the only great grilling cuts that come from the chuck. Additionally, the chuck eye steak comes from an area of the chuck that is part of the longissimus dorsi muscle, the same place where the ribeye steak is derived. There is some confusion about whether or not a chuck eye is also a Delmonico steak, but that is a subject for another day.

The most delicious of all the chuck cuts might be a surprise

Although it sounds like it should come entirely from the ribs primal, the best short ribs come from the chuck. The first few ribs of a cow — usually the second through fifth ribs — are where the serratus ventralis muscle is thickest. This area is in the chuck primal section. The meat in this section is often tough, which is why short ribs are best cooked over a long period of time with a good marinade or rub.

Culturally, short ribs have been prominent in East Asian and Middle Eastern cooking traditions. However, they have emerged more recently as a delectable treat in the U.S. and can be cooked in a number of ways.

Chef Yankel describes short ribs as “the kings of the braising cuts.” We love slow cooking them bone-in with a sweet marinade.

“Short ribs are packed with healthy fats and collagen,” Chef Yankel added. “Nothing compares for texture and flavor.”

Many of the chuck cuts mentioned above are featured in our monthly grass-fed beef ButcherBox — if you are a member, you’ve likely experienced some of these steaks and roasts. If you want some more on our favorite cooking methods and recipes for the different cuts of chuck mentioned, check out our recipe page or YouTube channel.

If you aren’t a member and would like to become a ButcherBox member with delicious, thoughtfully-raised grass-fed beef delivered to your door each month, click here.

grades of beef

What different grades of meat mean, and why meat grades don’t matter for grass-fed beef

If you’ve dined at a local steakhouse recently, you may have seen USDA Prime Beef advertised on your menu. What does this mean? Is prime beef better or healthier than other beef?

Prime is a designation given by the USDA and is a label that producers can choose to pursue, to distinguish their meat from lower-quality products. However, in the case of USDA meat grades, “quality” refers to the amount of flavor, the juiciness, and the tenderness of the meat. It has absolutely nothing to do with the level of nutrients within the cut, nor does it refer to how the animal was raised or what that animal ate during its lifetime (as organic, non-GMO, or grass-fed food labels or designations do).

It’s also important to note that any cut of meat can receive any grade, no matter how sought-after or expensive that particular cut happens to be. For example, a ribeye can be graded as prime or standard, a lesser-quality grade.

Finally, the quality grade has nothing to do with health or sanitation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) ensure all meat sold within the United States — either locally or nationwide — is inspected for safety, diseases, and other necessary measures. Once again, the quality grade is entirely optional; producers actually pay the USDA to grade their meat so they can price and sell the cut accordingly.

What are the different grades of beef?

There are two different ways to “grade” a cut of beef. The first, and better-known method is the quality grade. There are eight different USDA quality grades, evaluating the steak or roast for tenderness, flavor, and juiciness.

The second method doesn’t grade the actual cut — it grades the entire carcass. Yield grade measures how much lean meat can be used compared to the amount of marbling (fat). Yield grades are given a number between one and five, with one being considered “the best,” with the highest portion of lean meat; and five the lowest quality, with the lowest portion of lean beef available.

Prime Grade

Less than two percent of all meat in the United States is graded “Prime.” Viewed as the highest quality grade, prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. Prime beef is known for its abundant marbling, as 11% (or more) of the cut is from intramuscular fat.

The only time(s) you’ll cut into a prime cut of beef is either at a steakhouse or an upscale hotel. You will rarely (if ever) find prime beef at your local supermarket — although they can be found at a few chains.

Choice Grade

One step down from prime is “Choice” grade. USDA Choice is still considered a high-quality grade; it just has less marbling than prime (only 9.5-11% intramuscular fat). A tender cut of meat, like a ribeye or filet mignon, will still be very tender and juicy (honestly, you probably won’t notice the difference from prime). A less tender cut could dry out, so it’s best to use a meat thermometer while cooking.

Select Grade

“Select” grade is considered of lesser quality than choice or prime, but still higher than the average steak you’ll find at the supermarket. Select beef has less marbling than either choice or prime, making it a leaner cut of meat. It’s still reasonably tender, but since it contains less fat, it might lack some of the juiciness found in the two higher grades.

Standard and Commercial Grades

“Standard” and “Commercial” are the two grades you’ll typically find at the meat counter as “store brand” meat. As you probably guessed, it contains less marbling than the three higher grades, thereby lacking some of the juiciness and flavor. Many times, these grades will be packaged as “store grades” or “un-graded” at the grocery store.

Utility, Cutter, and Canner Grades

You won’t find filet mignon labeled as utility, cutter, or canner. These three, lower grades are reserved mainly for ground beef and processed products. You won’t find a cut of steak with any of these three grades.

How to cook different grades of beef

Since the amount of fat varies so much between the quality grades, it’s important to know how to cook them. The less marbling in a cut, the higher your chances of overcooking it. Consider using a meat thermometer to prevent drying out your dinner (Remember: our recommendation is 125°F for medium rare).

When dealing with the two highest grades — prime and choice — almost any cut can be cooked by any method. Even if you’re cooking a less tender cut (like a rump or round roast), you should be able to cook with dry heat, such as roasting, broiling, or grilling.

When cooking a select steak or either of the store grades, you should only cook the tender cuts (those from the loin, ribs, or sirloin) with dry heat. Any other cut, you should consider marinating the beef prior to cooking. You could also consider braising — or cooking with another form of added moisture — to keep your meat nice and tender.



Grades for Poultry

Unlike beef, there are only three grades for poultry: A, B, or C. There are no yield grades for poultry, so the three grades apply whether you’re purchasing a whole chicken or a single, boneless skinless chicken breast.

Grade A

Grade A poultry ensures the meat is free of bruises, feathers, or other defects. If it’s a bone-in product (like bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs), the bones should not be broken. For “whole” products, like your center stage turkey at Thanksgiving, should not have any tears or exposed skin that could dry out when cooking.

Grade A is, in all likelihood, the only label you’ll ever see in a store. It applies to all chicken, duck, turkey, and other poultry products if they meet the above standards. The few exceptions are gizzards, wing tips, tails, necks, and ground meat, which are not graded — no matter their condition.

Grade B and C

To our knowledge, poultry labeled grade B and C is not sold whole in stores. Typically, poultry that falls under either one of these grades will be saved for further-processed products, like ground turkey.

Grades for Other Types of Meat

There is no USDA grade for pork, the only other meat we sell on this site. However, we thought we’d share two other types of meat graded for quality by the USDA.

Grades for Veal

Veal is beef produced from a young calf. The grades are similar to that beef quality grades, with fewer options: prime, choice, good, standard, and utility. Like beef, prime and choice are considered the highest quality and suitable for almost any cooking method. Good, standard, and utility decrease in quality and marbling, with standard and utility usually being reserved for ground veal.

Grades for Lamb

Similar to veal, lamb has five quality grades. The highest quality grades, prime and choice, are typically the only grades found in grocery stores. Good, utility, and cull grades are rarely labeled as such.

What Grade Comes in Your ButcherBox?

None of them.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with quality grade standards, it has nothing to do with the health or well-being of the animal a cut of meat came from. We would rather ensure our meat came from animals that were humanely raised, grazed on grass, and were never given growth hormones or antibiotics than simply measure the amount of marbling within a cut.

Grain-fed cattle are raised to get fat quickly, which enhances their marbling. Grass-fed cows are leaner, and therefore have less intramuscular fat within each steak. While the USDA beef grades consider this a disadvantage, we look at it as a selling point. We prefer grass-fed beef because they were fed a healthy diet of grass and forage, resulting in a cut of meat that is lower in bad fats and higher in key nutrients.

The purpose of USDA meat grades is to evaluate a cut of beef for flavor, but we happen to prefer the taste of grass-fed beef. But hey, don’t take our word for it.


Digging into shepherd’s pie: A rich, simple dish with a complex history

As the days start to get warmer, let’s skip the stew and dig into a dish that’s a lot easier to make. 

The dish itself is not complicated. Popular in the British Isles, it is usually some combination of meat, spices, vegetables, with a mashed potato crust. 

A problem arises, however, when discussing the name of the entree. Shepherd’s pie? Cottage pie? “Pâté chinois?

Here in America, we usually refer to any dish that contains beef, hearty veggies, and is topped with potatoes as “shepherd’s pie.” However, what we know as shepherd’s pie is actually a “cottage pie,” which is popular in Ireland, Scotland, and England. A shepherd’s pie is the same except the featured meat is lamb instead of beef. 

The background for the name differences is quite interesting. Cottage pies have traditionally been more common because they were made from the leftovers of from larger meals. So commonfolk in places like Ireland and England — who predominantly lived in country cottages — would take leftover beef they had, cut it up, and throw it into a pot or dish with whatever veggies they had lying around. 

As our in-house chef, Yankel Polak explains, “There are endless variations since its basically a free-form stew topped with mashed potatoes.”

Because potatoes have been such a prevalent and accessible crop to broader swaths of the population — especially in Ireland — it made more sense to use mashed potatoes as a crust or topping than any grain-based foods. And so, the cottage pie became a staple in Ireland, Britain, Scotland, and, eventually America.

It is a bit odd that a cottage pie — the dish with beef as its meat — would be called shepherd’s pie more commonly here in the U.S. 

If you haven’t made the connection yet, shepherd’s pie gets its name because it features lamb, the livestock tended to by shepherds.

Whatever name it goes by, the savory dish is good just about any time you happen to have ground beef or any leftover meat and vegetables handy. But it is a perfect hearty meal for the winter, especially in the more snow-blanketed, northern sections of the country.

ButcherBox’s Chef Yankel likes to make a beef stew and store mash potatoes in a pastry bag. “When I’m hungry,” he explains, “I heat up the stew in a saute pan, pour it into an oven safe dish, pipe the mash on top with a sprinkle of parmesan and pepper and broil it till golden.” 

For another variation on the cottage pie/shepherd’s pie, check out Chef Yankel’s “Spiced-Up Shepherd’s Pie,” which adds some more complexity with Indian-inspired flavors and a unique potato topping that blends in cauliflower for a lower carb count:


Spiced-up Shepherd’s Pie


Meat Filling

- 1 ButcherBox Ground Beef

- 1 c butternut squash, small dice

- 1 c carrots, small dice

- 1 c peas (if frozen do not thaw)

- One can (15½oz) garbanzo beans

- 1 can (14½oz) diced tomatoes

- 1 medium yellow onion, small dice

- 4 garlic cloves, minced

- ½ tsp cinnamon

- 1 tsp muchi-curry powder

- 1 tsp garam masala

- 1 Tbsp tomato paste

- 2 tsp kosher salt

- 1/3 c beef stock

Cauliflower Topping

- 1 cauliflower

- 2 russet potatoes

- ½ tsp muchi-curry powder

- ½ tsp ground black pepper

- 1 tsp kosher salt

- 1 tsp ghee


30 minutes cooking time:

Serves: 4-6

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Rinse potatoes, poke them twice with a fork and place on baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 1 hr or until fork-tender. Peel the skin off once you are able to handle them.

3. Cut up cauliflower and place in a steaming basket. Steam for 10 min, or until very soft.

4. Place cooked cauliflower, peeled potatoes, and remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

5. With a hand mixer, mix until smooth.

6. Set aside.

Meat Filling

7. Preheat sauté pan. Crumble ground beef into the hot pan, and sauté until slightly pink, then drain liquid.

8. Return the meat back to pan and add garlic, onion, butternut squash, carrots, and spices. Sauté until onions are translucent.

9. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and beef broth mix, and cook for 3 min.

10. Add garbanzo beans and peas. Mix everything together and pour meat filling into a casserole dish.

11. Spread the mashed cauliflower and potato mixture evenly on top of meat.

12. Bake for 30 min. Remove from oven and enjoy!