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In the USA beef marbling is graded by the USDA - and this grade labeling is enforced to be passed nearly to the end consumer (i.e. the labeling is on the cryovac). So if I wanted well marbled beef in the USA, I could either buy in cryovac, comparing unit prices between prime grade and premium select grade, or in the grocery store where the cryovac is opened, I can see the marbling myself and make a judgement.

I am living in the UK, and although we technically have access to EU beef and a number of non EU imports, most available beef is UK sourced. And most consumer education is around awareness of beef cuts, food safety and animal welfare, rather than any information about beef quality.

When I approach butchers at say, Smithfield Market, they conflate quality with country of origin, following I think the attitudes of shoppers here (UK citizens seem to think if the meat comes from a faraway country it will be swapped for horse meat).

Finally I find that in the UK we do have carcass grading - to identify females or age of the animal. But as far as I can tell this information is unavailable to the end consumer.

So if I don't care a whit about country of origin, and would simply like the most well marbled best tasting product for my budget... how to shop?

Since meat is heavy, I prefer to make my purchases online.

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With online meat shopping in the UK you have to go with the reputation of the source, there's no grading system which you can refer to. Top end butchers and grocery stores carry top end beef, and most of the time you do get what you pay for. Many supermarket chains have premium labels, ie Tesco Finest and Sainsbury's Taste The Difference, which are definitely much better than their regular stuff, but I think the best mainstream grocery store premium brand for meat is Coop.

At the end of the day there's no substitute for getting your own eyes on the meat you are buying, so I would recommend you try local butcher shops. There's still plenty of them around in the UK, and the quality varies dramatically. There are some that will pawn off legs of lamb that are about to turn, and others which control their entire supply chain and have some of the best meat in the world. You just have to try a few and see.

  • Thank you! I often buy from Ocado where I will see the same joints range from £14/kg to £37/kg from different producers or brands... the only difference being a flowery description of the pasture the cow lived in, or a meaningless "red tractor certification". But nothing quantitative about the eating quality, like the age or sex of the animal. I will try a visit to the local butchers, where they are generally selling in the middle-high of the price range. – Douglas Held Jun 12 '16 at 22:58
  • I would like to follow up on this a bit. I studied up and found that EU slaughterhouses grade the carcasses by the EUROP scale (I put together the wikipedia page on this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… ). I quizzed Ocado about the grades that their buyers provide for the various different pricing, and found they have no idea what carcass grades they sell, nor why they sell some ribeye products for 70% higher unit prices than others. – Douglas Held Jul 1 '16 at 8:40
  • Next I went to my two local butchers - one, relatively clueless on the day, pulling an Irish ribeye out of a cryovac, had no idea what a carcass grade was. While the other butcher gladly told me he had bought a Scottish R4L and showed me the abbatoir's carcass tag for his air dried beef. – Douglas Held Jul 1 '16 at 8:40
  • SO I would have to say your answer has turned out 100% accurate in my case. There is no substitute for getting my eyes on the product; and between butchers, the quality varies dramatically. Thank you. – Douglas Held Jul 1 '16 at 8:42
  • That's great, glad I could help! – GdD Jul 1 '16 at 9:10

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