What Cattle Breeds Produce the Best Beef?
Expert Advice

Image: Creative Commons, flickr.com

You’re probably used to buying beef based on its USDA grade or a specific cut, but the cattle’s breed is also important. Store-bought meat doesn’t always list the animal’s breed on the packaging, except for Certified Angus Beef.  The breed has a significant effect on flavor, quality, and fat content. Studies show that intramuscular fat content, also known as marbling, can vary considerably among different breeds. This wide range of marbling is a sign of how significant the fat content can be in the overall flavor.

It’s helpful to know the differences between Angus and Piedmontese, or Hereford and Wagyu. Cattle lineage has a huge impact on quality, so it’s worth exploring the key differences among the best beef cattle breeds raised in America. Our friends at BBQGuys are here to be your guide.

Angus Cattle

Originally from Scotland, Angus cattle have been raised in the U.S. since the 1800s and are the most popular breed raised for the dining pleasure of Americans. Angus beef is well known for its excellent marbling and is the highest quality beef that you can buy, earning Prime or Top Choice grades from the USDA.

Since 1978, the American Angus Association has stamped meat as “Certified Angus Beef” provided it meets 10 quality standards. Angus cattle are often crossbred to increase the quality of meat in other breeds.

The top percentage of Angus beef is favored by high-end restaurants and meat distributors because of its consistently outstanding quality. “Angus” is arguably the most highly marketed term in the beef industry.

Wagyu Cattle

The only cattle breed more hyped in the USA than Angus is Wagyu. The domestic beef industry developed American Wagyu, which is the result of crossbreeding Japanese Wagyu cattle with American Angus stock. Wagyu beef is viewed primarily as a delicacy due to its amazing level of marbling and the buttery richness of the fat, along with the expensive price tag.

Charolais Cattle

A popular breed of cattle with origins in France and can be traced as far back as 878 AD. The breed made its way to the US in 1934. Charolais cattle have been raised for both their milk and their meat. Now most are raised for consumption due to the quality of their meat. Like the Angus, they are often used in crossbreeding to increase the marbling in other breeds of cattle.

Hereford Cattle

Originated from Herefordshire, England and first imported to the U.S. in 1817. Hereford cattle are sturdy and able to survive in harsh environments. The meat of Herefords has long been celebrated for its luscious flavor. Hereford beef tends to grade lower than Angus among USDA inspectors and is therefore cheaper. You can still find delectable cuts of beef from Hereford heritage. If you frequently buy ground meat or supermarket-brand steaks, there’s a solid chance you’ve had your fair share of Hereford beef.

Piedmontese Cattle

Raised in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy before North American farmers bought and created their own breeds in the 1970s and early 1980s. Piedmontese cattle are widely known for a genetic quirk called “double muscling”. This makes them incredibly beefy, resulting in more protein per cut and a greater general yield compared with other breeds. The meat has minimal marbling, leading to lean and even tough cuts. For this reason, the USDA rarely grades higher than Select, and it’s usually braised or stewed to compensate for its leanness.

So now that you’re equipped with a better understanding of the best beef cattle breeds, head to the market and get ready to fire up the grill!