Steak 101: What is Angus Beef?


Angus beef is touted a lot at restaurants these days.

While Angus steaks are pretty obvious, you’ll also find Angus burgers.

And Angus tapa…and Angus pizza.

And Angus sisig, Angus skewers, Angus ravioli, Angus barbecue, Angus short ribs, Angus bistek, Angus tapsilog, Angus salpicao, Angus sinigang and Angus kare-kare.

That’s a lot of Angus dishes!

What exactly is Angus? How is it different from regular beef? And is it worth paying extra for it?

Angus beef comes from Angus cattle. They were developed from cattle native to the counties of Aberdeenshire and Angus in Scotland and are also known as Aberdeen Angus.

While Angus cattle comes in two types, Black and Red, it’s the Black Angus that’s the most popular beef cattle in the world. Cattle farmers love them because they are adaptable, easy to raise, and they grow (deliciously) fast.

Black Angus

Black Angus beef is known for their higher level of marbling relative to other cattle breeds. Marbling is the fat mixed in with the muscles that creates a tender texture that feels like each bite is melting in your mouth.

Beef is graded based on marbling with the highest degree of marbling reserved for the USDA Prime grade (which represents less than 2% of all beef produced in the US).

Not all Angus beef is USDA Prime grade.

TIP: If you’re not familiar with how the quality of beef is evaluated, please read my previous article on Beef Grading first.

While Angus cattle is known for better marbling, just because a piece of meat is labeled “Angus” doesn’t automatically mean every piece of Angus beef is highly graded.

Simply put, Angus doesn’t necessarily imply quality.

Angus just means the meat is from an Angus cow.

Just like Bangus simply means the meat is from a Bangus fish.

It can be low quality Angus beef. Or it can be high quality Angus beef.

There are two ways to help you tell the difference.

Ask for the USDA Grade

Most Angus beef in the Philippines are imported from the United States, so ask for the USDA grade.

All US beef is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and graded for quality and consistency.

The higher the marbling, the higher the grade. Prime is the best grade of beef, then Choice, and then Select.

Look for Angus beef that’s graded at least USDA Choice, if not USDA Prime.

Anything lower and it’s probably not worth paying extra for because you’re simply paying for the Angus name rather than quality of the meat.

Look for the “Certified Angus Beef” Logo

Certified Angus Beef

Certified Angus Beef is a beef brand.

To help increase awareness of Angus beef and influence higher prices for their members, the American Angus Association created the Certified Angus Beef (or CAB) brand in the late 1970’s.

Keep in mind that while the USDA is a government entity, the American Angus Association is a private company. Specifically, a marketing company.

Any cattle ranch farmer can grow and sell Angus cattle, so how do you differentiate your Angus beef from all the other Angus beef to customers?

You sell yours as “Certified Angus Beef.”

But you can’t just slap a CAB logo on any Angus cow.

Certified Angus Beef is first graded by the USDA and must be in the top two grades (Prime and Choice) and then must pass the American Angus Association’s “10 science-based specifications for marbling, size and uniformity” to be labeled Certified Angus Beef.

Certified Angus Beef Chart

It’s important to point out that not only does Certified Angus Beef have more marbling than your average beef, it’s also distributed more evenly. This is what gives the beef the “melt-in-your-mouth” quality.

If you want to go straight baller status, look for Certified Angus Beef® brand Prime.

Certified Angus Beef Prime

This beef must not only be graded USDA Prime and pass all ten of the brand’s quality standards. Less than 1.5% of US beef achieves the high standards of Certified Angus Beef ® brand Prime.

And only 1.5% of your bank account will be left after you pay for it.

In the United States, CAB aggressively markets so well that Americans associate the word “Angus” instead of “Certified Angus Beef” with high-quality meat. Even fast food restaurants market “Angus Beef” and consumers assume it’s the premium stuff when it’s not. They get suckered paying twice as much as for an Angus burger when it tastes the same as a regular burger.

Because the brand is marketed as a premium brand, it’s highly unlikely that Angus beef sold outside of higher-end restaurants is actually Certified Angus Beef.

All Certified Angus Beef are made from Angus cattle, but not all Angus cattle are “Certified Angus Beef.”

That said, that doesn’t automatically mean non-CAB Angus is inferior to CAB meat.

A steak graded USDA Prime is already considered a high-quality steak.

If the steak has a CAB label, will it really taste better? Or is it just marketing?

Certified Angus Beef is simply “branded beef.” It carries a specific brand name on the beef label and meets the unique set of specifications set by the branding company. There are many beef brands in the US aside from Certified Angus Beef. Sterling Silver and Creekstone Farms are other examples.

Unbranded beef is USDA-approved and simply carries the grade of the beef the label like “USDA Choice” vs. “Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef.”

Brands like to use words like “Premium Angus” or “Premier Angus” or “Gourmet Angus” or “Signature Angus” on their labels to make their beef sound fancy. But just like any commodity product, it’s mainly to help them differentiate themselves against other Angus beef suppliers.

I’d put more weight on the USDA grade rather than the beef brand label.

For example, if I had to choose between an unbranded USDA Prime steak versus a Certified Angus Beef® Choice steak at the same price, I’d choose the unbranded steak.

The main benefit of choosing a beef brand like Certified Angus Beef is more rigorous quality control.

Certified Angus Beef is more likely to taste better than unbranded beef at the same USDA grade, but it’s not guaranteed.

It’s the Grade That Counts

Angus is a breed of cattle. It is not the overall quality of beef nor a specific grade of beef.

Beef labeled as Angus can still be crappy even if it comes from Angus cattle.

If you want Angus beef, look for the USDA grade not just something labeled Angus.

If you’re lazy, look for the Certified Angus Beef label then. At least you’ll be certain that the beef is graded either USDA Prime or Choice.

Certified Angus Beef Steak

But because there’s still a big difference between the two USDA grades, you might still end up not enjoying your steak because you ate the lower grade, USDA Choice, but were expecting USDA Prime.

So ask for the USDA grade anyway.

Be a smart consumer and know what you are buying.

Don’t be deceived by Angus beef labeling. Restaurants may sell Angus steaks or burgers and while it’s technically Angus beef, it might be made from lower grade or even ungraded Angus beef and not worth paying extra for.

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About Author

Odell Ramirez

A self-educated Ebonics linguist who aspires to teach Honors Ebonics classes one day. Until then, he works as the clown-in-residence at looloo. He has a B.S. in B.S. and was working on a master's degree in playa hatin, but discovered he can just get a Ph.D.