So you've ordered a never-been-frozen, AAA grade, sirloin-and-chuck burger. What exactly does that mean? We asked Susan Evans, trade communications manager for the Beef Information Centre, the market-development division of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
AAA grade: Canadian beef is graded to reflect the amount of fat marbling from A grade to prime. Since ground beef is typically categorized as "extra lean," or "lean," if you see AAA on a menu, the beef is probably source-ground. (See source-ground.)
Chuck: This cut comes from hard-working shoulder muscles. That makes it tougher, but it's considered one of the more flavourful cuts, with a rich, beefy taste.
Extra lean and lean: The beef contains no more than 10 per cent and 17 per cent fat, respectively. These are the best choices for health-conscious consumers and produce a denser burger.
Fresh: Freezing a patty causes moisture to collect on the surface area, which makes it dry out quickly and gives it a spongier texture. You want fresh.
Grass-fed versus grain-fed: The majority of cattle farmed in Canada are raised on pasture and finished in feedlots for 90 days. In Western Canada, cattle are typically fed barley, while in central Canada, they are fed corn. Both create more marbling, which gives the meat juiciness and flavour. Grass-fed beef, which is not finished, has less fat and is considered to have a distinctive taste.
Medium: The beef contains a maximum of 23-per-cent fat. This yields a juicy, flavourful burger.
Prime rib: From the sixth to 12th ribs of the cow, prime rib is tender and is heavily marbled.
Regular: The beef contains a maximum of 30-per-cent fat. Home grillers be warned: The higher fat content can cause grill flare-ups.
Sirloin: Located in the hindquarter of the animal, sirloin is tender and lean.
Source-ground: Source-ground beef comes from specific cuts. Chuck, sirloin and prime rib are the most popular. Each source-ground burger will have the qualities of the cut from which it came; a prime rib burger, for instance, will taste like a prime rib steak.