6 Reasons to Apply for an Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant

We know that teachers are always looking for new ways to engage students, but funding for classroom resources is limited.  We have a solution!

This week we kicked off another year of the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Program. Since 2003, teachers have utilized these grants to fund innovative lessons, classroom resources, outreach programs, field trips and more!

With funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation offers $200 grants to support the integration of agriculture into preschool-12th grade in-school and afterschool programs. The subject-area focus of the grant changes each year to allow a variety of projects to receive funding and encourage teachers to consider incorporate agriculture across the curriculum. This year’s focus areas are agriculture in literacy/language arts OR agriculture in social studies.

Not convinced yet, here’s a few reasons to apply:

1.  Agriculture is a topic students can easily connect with because it is all around us! Nearly everything we eat, wear, use — even the fuel that powers cars and buses — comes from plants and animals grown on farms.

2.   Agriculture provides real-world connections to Iowa Core Standards.  Teaching about agriculture in Iowa is an ideal way for students to learn what their state is all about and provide real-life connections to all subjects.

  • Tip:  On the application, be sure to specifically describe what your students will learn about agriculture through your project– not just how a topic, like Iowa history or technology, relates to agriculture.

3.  Social Studies, Social Studies, Social Studies!  Iowa recently adopted new social studies standards, and many have strong connections to agriculture!  Here’s just few examples:

-1st Grade: Describe the diverse cultural makeup of Iowa’s past and present in the local community, including indigenous and agricultural communities. (SS.1.23)

-2nd Grade: Identify how people use natural resources to produce goods and services. (SS.2.12)

-4th Grade: Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time. (SS.4.26)

-6th Grade: Explain how changes in transportation, communication, and technology influence the movement of people, goods, and ideas in various countries. (SS.6.18)

-7th Grade: Analyze the role that Iowa plays in contemporary global issues. (SS.7.27)

  • Tip: Take a look at the National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes for more ideas about what students should know about agriculture as it relates to the study of culture, society, economy and geography. Social Studies content is in orange print.

4.  It’s a great way to build your classroom library. Books are a perfect way for students to learn about agriculture! Incorporate books with an agricultural theme into a language arts or social studies lesson described in the application.  Then add them to your classroom library to be enjoyed by students for years to come.

  • Tip: Take a look at the books in the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s Lending Library for ideas. We have over 200 titles, and you can even check them out to review before buying your own.

5.  Funding for field trips is hard to come by. Take students to learn about agriculture first-hand at a farm, museum or historic site. Iowa’s many agriculture museums and historic sites offer tours and self-guided opportunities to learn about Iowa’s agricultural history.

  • Tip:  Be sure to include what you will do in the classroom before and after the field trip to make the most of the learning experience.  If you are learning about agriculture long-ago during the field trip, describe ways your students will compare and contrast that to farming today once they return.

6.  It’s easy!  Many grant applications take hours to complete and require long essays, spreadsheets with details budgets, administrator approval, and more.  Not this one! It only has 10 questions, and most have short answers. Head on over to the application page, create a log-in, and get started.

  • Tip:  Take a look at the application questions now, think about project ideas, and return later to finish. Once you start the application, you can save and return as often as necessary before January 10, 2018.

-Cindy

 

Beggar’s Night Favorites

Usually when we think about agriculture, we think about all of the healthy fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and grains that we eat. But nearly all food comes from agriculture – even our indulgences like candy!

According to Candystore.com, Iowa’s most favorite Halloween Candy is Reese’s Cups. Second and third place contenders are M&Ms and Butterfingers.

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Source: CandyStore.com.

Let’s break these down and look at the agriculture that helped make these sweet treats.

Reese’s Cups
It is no surprise that the three most popular candies are chocolate. Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa powder, milk, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, sugar, and maybe a little salt. We discussed chocolate and how it comes from the cacao bean before. Milk and milk fats come from dairy cows. Chocolate comes in a wide variety. Different types of chocolates have different amounts of these core ingredients. Dark chocolate will have a higher ratio of cocoa powder than milk chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa powder – only the cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is somewhere in the middle.

Soy lecithin you may not be familiar with. Lecithin are fatty compounds that can come from plant or animal sources (eggs, cotton seeds, etc.). Soy is abundantly produced in Iowa, throughout the Midwest, and throughout the world which is why soy lecithin is found in so many of our foods. It acts as a great emulsifier that helps oils and water stay mixed in our food products. Just a small amount goes a long way to helping improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of food.

Peanuts are the second main ingredient in Reese’s Cups. Despite the name, they are not nuts at all. They don’t grow on trees like almonds, walnuts, or pistachios. They are grown underground! They are legumes and related to beans and peas. What we know as peanuts are produced as part of the root structure of the peanut plant. Legumes are important in agriculture because they host bacteria in the soil that help turn nitrogen into nitrates. Plants use nitrates in soil to stay healthy. Peanuts and other legumes are used in crop rotation to help keep soils healthy. Peanuts can be roasted, boiled, and also ground into peanut butter.

The term “sugar” can be used to either refer specifically to sucrose or it can be used generally to refer to all simple sugars (lactose, glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, etc.). chocolatiers may use any of these sugars to sweeten their chocolate. Most commonly, sugar comes from sugar beets grown in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana) or sugar cane grown in more tropical climates (like Florida).

Reese’s Cups also use another sweetener called dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar obtained most often from corn (field corn,  not sweet corn), but can be obtained from other sources as well, such as wheat, sorghum, and tapioca.

M&Ms

The primary ingredient is of course chocolate. It is a slightly different ratio of cocoa powder, milk, and sugar, etc. but it has all of the same component parts. What makes M&Ms fun and unique is their colorful candy shells. To get the right appearance and to not let the candy shell mix with chocolate center, the chocolate is sprinkled with a little bit of cornstarch. Cornstarch (from field corn) acts as a moisture barrier to keep the candy shell crunchy and not mix with the chocolate. The shells are then made from a little corn syrup, dextrin, food colorings, and gum acacia.

Butterfinger

The flakey buttery center of Butterfinger candy is a mix of corn syrup, sugar, ground roasted peanuts, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, molasses, confectioner’s corn flakes, salt, soybean oil, and cornstarch. You can see a common theme in these candies (chocolate, sugar, etc.). The molasses, corn syrup, and peanut butter are all mixed together. Molasses comes from sugar beet or sugar cane juice that is boiled down until it yields a thick, dark syrup. It can also be made from sorghum, dates, or pomegranate.

The sticky rich mixture is poured over confectioner’s corn flakes. These are not like the breakfast cereal. They are small pieces of field corn that have been rolled flat and dried. The corn flakes provide the candy the crispity-crunchity texture. Finally chocolate is poured over the center filling. Check out the video on how Butterfingers are made.

As you can see, a lot of the ingredients used in these candies come from Iowa and Midwest agriculture. Corn syrup, corn starch, and corn flakes from field corn. Sugar and molasses from sugar beets. Soy lecithin and soy oil from soybeans. And milk! No wonder Iowans like these sweet treats.

Of course these candies probably can be considered a part of a healthy diet. So don’t overindulge. But we hope you enjoy Beggar’s Night and have a Happy Halloween!

-Will

What’s Cooking? Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

October is National Pork Month, or “Porktober”! This is a great time to celebrate, because Iowa produces more pork than any other state in the U.S. About 1/3 of all pork in the U.S. comes from Iowa!

If you would like to celebrate, there are some good ways for you to do so. One, is to make this easy and delicious pork chop recipe. The star of the show is, of course, the thick, Iowa pork chops, but there are some also great co-stars, like Parmesan cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Many of the ingredients are not widely produced in Iowa, like pepper, paprika, and garlic. To me, that just shows how fortunate we are to have established trade systems, so we can combine the things we do have close to home (like pork chops) with delicious things found abroad (like olive oil, paprika, and garlic).

To walk through the recipe and to learn more about each ingredient, watch this quick video:

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried, Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • bundle of asparagus (optional)

Instructions:

  • Mix dry ingredients on a plate or shallow pan
  • Coat pork chops in mixture
  • Sear chops in olive oil on medium-high heat for five minutes on each side
  • Place pork chops and asparagus in glass baking dish
  • Coat asparagus with olive oil and Parmesan
  • Place in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork chops is 145 degrees

Hope you enjoy this yummy Iowa treat!

-Chrissy

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

It’s that time of the year again. The season of warm sweaters, football games, and crunchy leaves. Not just that, but a variety of wonderful treats ranging from apple pies, comforting soups and finally pumpkin spice everything.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s pumpkin spice season and trust me when I say it’s everywhere from coffee and donut shops to pumpkin spice ice cream sandwiches, pumpkin spice Frosted Mini-Wheats to even pumpkin spice Oreos. It’s the flavor of fall and it’ll be around for many seasons to come.

But what makes this flavor so special? Well to make it yourself you will need all of five ingredients and less than five minutes of your time to create this unique flavor.

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice

1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves

Mix all the ingredients together and you have yourself some pumpkin spice. You might find it funny to note that there is actually no pumpkin in the spice itself. It is said that these 5 ingredients mixed together have been used in the creation of home baked goods for generations. When indulging in the flavor researchers state, that it brings back memories of home or of grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie.  The flavor brings out a sense of comfort, the holiday season, and nostalgia which has made it very popular in today’s culture.

It started with pumpkin spice candles then moved on to revolutionize the food industry with new and unique pumpkin spice creations. Each of the five ingredients adds to this flavor and creates the unique experience with each food or drink that is eaten.

Cinnamon

The cinnamon spice dates all the way back to 2,000 B.C. where it was used by the Egyptians as a perfuming agent. As time went on cinnamon became a highly demanded product in Europe but the source of cinnamon was not documented which began the search of explorers looking for the spice. It was first found in 1518 by Portuguese traders. They discovered the spice near present-day Sri Lanka. 90% of the world’s cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka.Image result for cinnamon

Cinnamon has been used for centuries as a medicine. It is known to effectively boost the  immune system and may aid in lowering type 2 diabetes to helping sore throats. Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a cinnamon tree. Farmers will shave off the outside bark of the tree and the next layer is the cinnamon layer. Farmers will shave the bark and lay it out to dry. As the bark dries, cinnamon has a natural tendency to curl; which gives cinnamon sticks its appearance. To see how cinnamon is harvested and processed check out this video.

Cloves

Native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, cloves work as a preservative for medical reasons to help prevent the growth of food-borne illnesses like E.coli. Cloves’ strong, pungent, and sweet aroma aid in the taste and aroma of pumpkin spice and add an enriched flavor.Image result for cloves on the plant

Cloves have to be handpicked for harvest. After they are picked they are laid out to dry for 3 days. Click here to see how cloves are harvested and marketed.

Ginger

Related imageFor thousands of years, ginger has been used to treat stomach aches and pains and nausea. Which explains my grandmother’s reasonings for eating two ginger snap cookies after every meal. I always thought it was just an excuse to eat a sweet treat but ginger really does have the property to aid in digestion. Originally from Southern Asia, it is known as a warming spice and adding a little kick to the taste buds.

The part we harvest to make ginger is the root of the plant. After we turn up the plant and take off the root, it needs to be washed and processed.

Nutmeg

This tropical evergreen tree is native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Its benefits include those that interact with the nervous system, digestive system and blood circulation. The spice nutmeg has a distinctive pungent fragrance and slightly warm sweet taste. The nutmeg trees may reach a height of about Image result for nutmeg on the plant65 feet and bear fruit that is like the appearance of an apricot. Farmers have to climb the tree and pick the fruit. Once they have picked the fruit they can pick out the edible part of the plant.

Allspice

This last spice is known for aiding in toothache pains. Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree. After drying down, the berries are small, dark, brown balls. Allspice comes from Jamaica, Guatemala, and Honduras. Check out this video that tells you everything you need to know about allspice.

With a combination of these flavors, the pumpkin spice flavor is created. All with the simple combination of five unique spices. So the next time you are out, take note of all the pumpkin spice creations. Maybe try a few to see which is your favorite or try recreating it on your own at home. Either way, it’s the season of sweater weather, football games, crunchy leaves, and pumpkin spice everything.

-Hannah

Celebrating Porktober; Getting to Know Pig Breeds

In case you haven’t heard, October is pork month! This is a great time to try a new pork recipe and get in touch with the pork industry. As with most industries, there are many things to learn about the pork industry. One fun thing to learn more about is breeds of pigs.

There are many breeds of pigs, with many different characteristics. Some breeds of pigs are known for their great meat quality. Others are known for superior mothering abilities. These breeds were domesticated in many different regions for many different purposes. Today, the Pork Checkoff recognizes about eight major swine breeds in the United States. Let’s walk through those, learn about their characteristics, and talk about why those traits are important.

As we talk about these breeds, there’s one cheat you can use to remember what they look like. If the name of the breed ends in “-shire” it will have pointy ears. All other breeds of pigs have ears that flop downwards.

yorkshireFirst, let’s talk about the Yorkshire breed. Yorkshire pigs are the most-recorded breed in North America. They are solid white, and have erect ears (did you catch the “-shire”?). Yorkshire pigs are known for being muscular, and for having lean meat.

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The second most-recorded breed of swine in the U.S. is the Duroc breed. Durocs are solid red, and their ears droop forward. Duroc pigs have many good qualities, including the quality of their pork, fast growth, and longevity of females.

berkshireThird in the list of most-recorded breeds is the Berkshire breed. Berkshire pigs are black with white tips on their feet, nose, and tail. Berkshire pigs are known for high meat quality and flavor, as well as efficiency. The American Berkshire Association is the oldest swine registry in the world!

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Hampshire pigs are the fourth-most recorded breed in the U.S. These pigs are black with a white belt across their shoulders and front legs. This breed boomed in popularity from the 1970s through the 1990s largely because of its lean meat. This is also the kind of pig I showed in the purebred classes when I was in 4-H!

landrace-1024x619Next, we have Landrace pigs in our 5th most-recorded breed spot. Landrace pigs are white and have droopy ears. They are known for being a great mothering breed. They are also fairly long in their body, and can contribute good carcass quality traits to a pig herd.

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Chester White pigs are also white with droopy ears. Like Landrace pigs, they are also noted for their mothering abilities. These pigs originated in Chester County, Pennsylvania, hence the name!

poland_china-1024x619Poland China pigs ironically did not originate in either Poland or China. Instead, they hail from Ohio. This breed is notably long of body, and (like Berkshire pigs) is dark-colored with white points on the feet, face, and tail. A good way to tell the difference between Poland China pigs and Berkshire pigs is that Poland Chinas will have droopy ears.

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Spotted pigs are easy to “spot”! As the name suggests, they have large black and white spots, and have ears that droop forward. These pigs are known to be feed efficient, as well as productive, docile, and durable.

 

That wraps up a quick summary of a few common breeds. But why do these breeds matter? For many producers, these distinct breeds will help them build a productive crossbreeding system for market pigs. When two animals of very different genetic backgrounds (in livestock, this means different breeds) breed, their offspring will perform better than either of its parents would suggest. This is a phenomenon called hybrid vigor, or heterosis. Producers want to use this to their advantage to produce the best animals possible.

Different breeds may also be more beneficial in different aspects of production. For example, we noted before that certain breeds of pigs are exceptional mothers, and other breeds are known more for meat quality. If a producer uses one breed of pigs to sire pigs, and another breed to mother pigs, the offspring can benefit from the meat quality of the sire and may perform better as a piglet because of the dam, plus gaining all of the benefits of heterosis.

When we talk about an animal performing better because of heterosis, what do we mean? Will they play better basketball, or be an accomplished dancer? Probably not. With pigs, when we talk about performance, we are largely talking about how well they grow. We want pigs to grow quickly, use their feed efficiently, and grow to a large size – at least in specific muscle groups. We also want our pigs to be physically sound. We want them to be healthy, and able to walk, move, and function without any difficulty.

Crossbreeding animals can have many benefits, from heterosis to genetic variety within a herd, but there are many ways to attain the same goal. Some farmers might use a terminal two-breed cross system with Duroc sires and Landrace dams. Some farmers might use a three-breed cross system, with 50% Berkshire, 50% Hampshire sires and Chester White dams. Other farmers might use a sustaining system, with all animals being the same percentage of the same breeds to maintain a consistent level of heterosis.

Like many things in agriculture, many decisions really come down to what works best for the producer. Some producers value certain characteristics or systems more than others because of their environment, management style, and even local markets.

For more facts about Iowa’s pork industry, check out this resource!

Happy Porktober!

-Chrissy

What’s Cookin’ ? Homemade Salsa

I love attending the Des Moines Farmers Market. There are only a few more weeks left to enjoy the food, music, and produce offered. This farmers market is one of the largest venues that I have had the opportunity to enjoy. There are close to 300 vendors that come from all over Iowa to share their products. My family meets together to eat fresh breakfast items and check out many of the booths. This past weekend provided beautiful weather for a trip downtown to find fall favorites. Our purchased items come together to create this week’s blog: Homemade Salsa.

Searching for tomatoes was easy, as there were several booths that offered variations of ripe Roma tomatoes. The Roma tomato is a thick-walled, meaty, egg-shaped Romatomato that is less juicy and has fewer seeds than other varieties. They have a slightly sweeter tomato flavor. Due to the meaty flesh, the Roma is an excellent choice for fresh salsa and it blends well with garlic, cilantro and other items used in the making of salsa. Roma tomatoes are high in vitamin A and C and is a rich source of lycopene.

Onions and garlic are mainstays in our salsa. In a previous blogs, we touched on information about onions and garlic. Garlic and onions have been around for more than 5000 years. China is the largest garlic producer. Onions are a root vegetable grown commercially in more than 20 states.

Tomatillos, also known as Mexican husk tomatoes, are a small fruit native to Central America. The small fruit that is used as a vegetable comes wrapped in a husk and resembles a small unripe tomato and is usually green in color. The flesh is acidic and has a hint of lemon taste. Tomatillos in the United States are grown mainly in Texas. We add tomatillos for the addition of acidity and lemon flavors.

Now for the peppers. We like using banana peppers and jalapenos. Banana peppers are a member of the chili pepper family and have a milder taste. These peppers can be green, red and orange in color. The ripest ones are sweeter, while the less ripe will be a bit 3tangier. Jalapenos are a chili pepper pod that is round, firm, about 4-6 inches long, and shiny green in color. With the jalapeno, it is important to Remember that they can carry a lot of heat inside. It depends on how hot you like your salsa when it comes to leaving in the seeds and membranes. The more left in, the hotter the jalapeno mixture. Color is another important measure to hotness for peppers. As the jalapeno pepper ages, it turns from green in color to red. A red jalapeno can pack a lot of heat inside.

Cilantro, also called Chinese parsley, is the leaves of a coriander plant. It is grown mainly in Texas. The flavor of cilantro is strong and pungent. Quite often used for the taste, as well as for the garnish appearance. Not everyone cares for the strong flavor, but this little plant is completely edible and used in many recipes.

Here’s the ingredients we used for some great homemade salsa

30 Roma tomatoes

4 Vidalia onions

4 banana peppers

3 jalapenos

2 tomatillos

3 diced garlic cloves

5 tbsp. cilantro

1 cup lemon juice

5 green peppers

3 tbsp. salt

4 tsp pepper

 

Depending on the amount you want to make, you will need to adjust the amounts of the ingredients listed above. We are making a big batch to share. Feel free to try adding some of your favorite things to make your version of homemade salsa.1

  1. Wear gloves while preparing salsa!
  2. Prepare tomatoes by soaking tomatoes in boiling water for 2-3 minutes to split and loosen skins. Peel and chop all tomatoes, drain excess juices off in a strainer or colander before adding extra-large bowl.
  3. Once all the vegetables are in the bowl, stir in the lemon juice, garlic cloves, salt and pepper.
  4. Taste to see if it is as hot as you would like it.  Increase heat by adding 1-2 more hot peppers, tasting after each addition. Keep in mind that as the salsa sits for a while, it will get a little bit hotter.
  5. Bring all ingredients to a boil in large pot & simmer for 15 minutes. Stir often to prevent sticking.
  6. Fill clean pint jars with salsa, leaving about 3/4 inch at the top. Wipe off tops of the jars before putting hot canning lids on. Screw lids tight then turn back about 1/4 turn.
  7. Process jars in a steam canner or boiling water canner (not pressure cooker or vegetable steamer) for 15 minutes. (Recipe makes 12 pint size jars.)

Here’s to chips and homemade salsa. Try it for yourself!

Sheri

Prime, Choice, Grass-fed, Flank steak, Round roast….What does it all mean?

Standing at the meat cooler in a grocery store can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many options. And it is even more intimidating to talk to the butcher and ask for a specific cut of meat. How do you know what to ask for? There is so much lingo and jargon. All you really want is a delicious dinner for your family.

Let’s try to break it down and make sense of the word soup. Let’s be specific and talk about beef. Pork and chicken have some of their own terms.

Cuts

Where the meat on the animal comes from and specifically how it is sliced or chopped, will determine the cut of meat. For beef, the animal can be broken down into four main quadrants. Cuts of meat from the hind leg are from the round. Cuts from the front leg are the chuck. The two middle sections are then the rib and the loin.

Different cuts of meat are better for different dishes that you may want to prepare. Briskets come from the chuck of the animal and can be very tough and dense meat. It needs to be cooked for a long time at a very low temperature so that the meat will break down and become softer. Briskets are perfect for corned beef. If you prefer to cook meat for a short period of time over high heat you want to start out with a cut of meat that is naturally tender. Filet mignon which is a cut of the tenderloin is known as being one of the most naturally tender cuts of meat.

If a recipe calls for a specific cut of meat, you could potentially make a substitution if you know what part of the animal it comes from. For example, you could interchange top sirloin steaks, New York strip steaks, and Filet mignons because they are all from the loin section of the animal. This video from Bon Appetit gives a complete breakdown of cuts of meat that butchers can get from a steer. Cuts from different parts of the animal can also have different flavors.

Quality

Within each cut of meat, we can assess the quality for the meat. Beef is evaluated by skilled meat graders and rated with a scale created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The meat is evaluated for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor as well as the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. The four grades are prime, choice, select, and standard.

8424794896_550f4beb1d_h.jpgPrime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling (fat interspersed in muscle tissue). It is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting or grilling.

Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful and are suited for dry-heat cooking. Many of the less tender cuts can also be cooked with dry heat if not overcooked. Such cuts will be most tender if braised, roasted or simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.

Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. Only the tender cuts should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.

Standard and Commercial grades of beef are frequently sold as ungraded or as store brand meat. Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades of beef are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and processed products.

Marketing terms

If you know the cut of meat and the quality you should be set for a high quality, delicious meal. Marketers try to help consumers understand the beef that they are buying. But sometimes it can actually muddy the waters.

One of the terms that is used is grass-fed. While this doesn’t have an official definition, it typically refers to cattle that have been raised on pasture their entire life. Many cattle spend the last two months of their life on a diet that is supplemented with corn and nutrients in addition to grass. This is called grain-finished beef. This diet of corn helps increase the marbling of the meat and can increase the quality of the final cuts. It is harder for cattle raised on only grass to achieve the Prime grade. In the United States grass-fed beef seems to have a perception of higher quality, in part because it isn’t as readily available. In other countries like Australia, grain-finished beef has a perception of being higher quality. Most beef sold in the U.S. is grain-finished.

Marketers might also use terms like hormone-free or antibiotic-free. Hormones occur naturally in the body and help the animal grow. The FDA regulates any artificial hormones that might be used. Meat raised with hormones have to be safe for humans to consume and can’t harm the animal or the environment. If hormones are used, they are usually synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones. So, the meat can’t be 100% hormone free, but it could be synthetic hormone free.

Antibiotics are an essential strategy to help animals get healthy if they get do get sick. Just like a doctor might prescribe an antibiotic for a sick human, a veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic for a sick animal. The important thing to know is that antibiotics have a withdrawal period before that animal can be harvested. Many antibiotics have a 60 day withdrawal period. That means that the animal waits 60 days or more before it is slaughtered. The animal won’t have antibiotics in its system or in the meat. If the meat is being sold, it is required by law to be antibiotic free. The label ‘antibiotic free’ doesn’t mean much.

beefcow34.jpgYou might also see beef labeled as 100% Black Angus. Black Angus is a great breed of cattle. There is a certification process to guarantee that it is Certified Angus Beef. However, is Black Angus better than Hereford, Simmental, or even Holstein? Some might argue that it is, but all three can grade the same and be Prime or Choice. If looking at two steaks right next to each other you, probably couldn’t tell the breed of the animal or which one is a Black Angus steak. And both steaks are going to taste great.

So the next time you are at the grocery store, stop and look at all of the labels. See if you can decipher the code and pick the best cut of meat for your next dinner.

-Will