Just how many calories are there in that steak you are about to eat, and what is the difference between the various cuts?
Mary Ryan, director of communications for the Foster City-based California Beef Council, says that USDA grading is done visually and is completely up to the discretion of the inspectors, who dub the cuts--from least to most expensive:
* Top Choice
Whether a cut is judged to be Select or Choice, Top Choice or Prime is a function of marbling, the way in which fat is distributed in the flesh itself. ("Don't call it fat," Ryan said, "the fat is on the outside.") A Prime cut has the most marbling.
Steak, says Ryan, tends to be from the leaner cuts, and the Beef Council recommends anything from the round or loin. Something they call their "skinniest six" lists eye of round, round tip, top round, top loin, tenderloin and sirloin as the most desirable for consumers.