Consumer’s Guide to the Meat Case

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What to have for dinner? Which cut of meat would be best? More than 150 different cuts of beef, pork and lamb are sold in grocery store meat cases. But these bountiful selections can translate into confusion for some consumers. Regional and local differences in the names used for cuts can further complicate meat purchase decisions.

According to the American Meat Institute in Washington, DC, carrying a simple chart in your pocket can help consumers make good selections at the meat case and ensure an enjoyable eating experience.

Different cooking methods should be used depending on a meat cut’s natural tenderness and its lean/ fat content. The three major types of cooking are dry heat, moist heat and combination cooking.

Dry Heat Cooking is best for naturally tender cuts of meat. This technique uses hot air or fat to transfer heat to the food. Dry heat cookery results in meats with a rich flavor caused by browning and allowing surface sugars to caramelize. Dry heat cooking does not have a tenderizing effect, so meats cooked by dry heat techniques should be naturally tender or marinated for an appropriate period of time in a tenderizing marinade.

Dry heat methods include:

• Roasting

• Grilling

• Broiling

• Pan-Broiling

• Sautéing

• Stir Frying

Moist Heat Cooking is ideal for inherently less tender cuts of meat. Steam, water or other liquids are used to transfer heat to the food. Moist heat methods are used to develop tenderness and to emphasize natural food flavors.

To achieve tenderness, meats are gently cooked at low temperatures from one to several hours.

Moist heat cooking procedures include simmering and slow cooking.

Combination Cooking uses both dry heat and moist heat procedures. Meats are first seared or browned in hot fat, then covered and slowly cooked in liquids over low heat. Less tender and typically less expensive meats benefit from combination cooking methods as the moisture slowly penetrates the meat and softens the connective tissues. The dishes usually have hearty flavors.

Combination cooking techniques include braising and stewing.

Marinades are often used in combination with dry heat cooking. Marinades, which contain an acidic ingredient (such as wine, vinegar, citrus juice) or a natural tenderizing enzyme (found in papaya, ginger, pineapple, kiwi, figs) help break down the muscles and tissues of inherently less tender meat cuts. After marinating, the meat may be cooked by a dry heat method.

The charts included in the brochure offer a ready reference for beef, pork and lamb cuts. For recipes that feature “value cuts” – meat cuts that provide a big protein return on a budget, download the companion brochure “Stretch Your Meat Dollar” at

For nutrition information, visit

For meat safety information, visit