TODAY   |  October 06, 2012

Meat buying 101: What’s at stake when buying steak?

With grocery bills soaring you can’t afford a bad cut. If beef is what’s for dinner tonight, find out how to buy smarter and see what’s behind the label. NBC’s Janice Lieberman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this morning on "today's consumer smarts", choosing the best cut of meat for your money. we enlisted the help of janet lieberman. good morning.

>> good morning. it's basically meat-buying 101, because since the days of having a neighborhood butcher are basically gone, how do you find the best meat value for your family? well, we decided to find out. choosing the best beef for your buck can be confusing.

>> beef. it's what's for dinner.

>> with prices going up, what to spend your money on isn't easy. so we sought out expert jack bishop of america's test kitchen .

>> mind boggling.

>> there's so many choices. there's so different names on all the packages.

>> a lot of us remember sam the butcher from ""the brady bunch "."

>> do you have an order of meat for us to pick up for alice?

>> but in today's super market , finding a butcher is rare.

>> this is a luxury where you can ask information, get information.

>> so it's up to you to know what you're buying. the first item we looked at was ground beef .

>> i like this because you know what cut it's coming from, the sirloin, it's got a really great flavor. you can tell by the texture. that's really great for making a burger.

>> but if it's pre-packaged, how do you know what's right for you?

>> if you're eating a burger, either the 80 to 85% lean is going to make a juicier burger. if you're cooking, you want to be using 90% or 93%. because you don't want all that grease.

>> next, what's at steak when buying steak?

>> the three grades of beef, prime is the most expensive. then choice, then select. select is only available in some bargain supermarkets. the differentiation in the grade is by fat content. so i've got a prime rib eye steak here and you'll see these fine white lines are called marbling, and that does two things. one, it's going to give it a great texture. it's going to make it really tender and juicy. also, fat equals flavor. this prime steak is $23.99 a pound. this is the same cut. choice is our number one choice. it's about $14.99 for this. you see it's got enough fat that it's going to have flavor and good juiciness.

>> shell sirloin and blade steak is often overlooked. jack says buying them can actually save you money.

>> another cut that people don't think of grilling is the shell sirloin. this is about six bucks a pound. it's got nice flavor. just throw it on grill as is. slice it thin across the grain when you're going to serve it. that will make it seem late bit more tender. sirloin really has good flavor. this is blade steak. it's $4.99 a pound. you see this line here of gristle? this is really, really tough. get rid of that, and now i can cut this into stew meat, i can slice it really thin for stir fry and it's got great beefy flavor, great choice.

>> and last, a smarter way of buying pork.

>> see, this looks like it's regular old pork tenderloin , but if you read the label carefully, it's up to 30% of a patented flavoring solution. pork broth, potassium, all kinds of ingredients. you're paying for those because it's by weight. a better option, turns out it's less expensive is the one that's natural. the only thing in this is pork.

>> and actually this is cheaper. $6.49 a pound. and that's $7.99 a pound.

>> so you save money and you get a better cut.

>> so no matter what you pay for a piece of prime, overcooking it may be the difference between making it tender and tough.

>> when go to the grocery store , does color matter? the deeper the red, the better the meat?

>> if there's graying, it could mean oxidation. so you want to go for the red if you can find it. when you take something home and it has any kind of odor to it, take it back to the supermarket.

>> there are the purchase by dates. how much of a window do you really have there?

>> you have three to four days. you want to look at something that's in the future. so if you have a choice of something that's two days older or a week, go for the week. look in the back, if you reach to the back, you'll get the fresher stuff.

>> i went to the grocery store , bought meat, decided we're going cook this tomorrow or the next day. how long can you live it in the refrigerator as opposed to freezing it?

>> i thought that was a great question. jack bishop says you have about three days to keep meat in the refrigerator. two days only for ground beef . if you're not going to use it, throw it in the freezer. when you're ready to use something, put it inside the refrigerator on a plate and let it thaw, don't leave it outside on the counter.

>> we have all experienced that where you reach into the freezer for something that's been in there forever, and it's got freezer burn . can i cook it?

>> what that really means is that it's changed its texture. the juices have frozen. so it kind of makes it a little bit chewier, but it's not going to hurt your health. when you take it out, pat it dry because you want to get that extra ice and moisture out and it won't ground and brown if you have that extra water in it, which i thought was interesting.

>> it won't hurt you then.

>> no.

>> great to have you on.