Where They Come From
It's a wise cook who knows where
the beef cuts he needs come from. It will be easier for him to get his menu
done and where to get the specific cuts his recipes call for. Here's a primer
from the U.S. Meat Export Federation; those with asterisks are the beef primals
that feature cuts lowest in fat.
measure beef tenderness
How can one tell the tenderness
of a steak? Experts are divided on the question. Currently, USDA graders voluntarily
grade carcasses for meat plants, largely by judging the amount of marbling present
in the ribeye muscle. Palatability studies have shown that the meat from young
cattle, with high intra-muscular fat provides a higher probability of a satisfactory
eating experience than leaner beef.
However, others are arguing more
forcefully that other factors, when combined, can provide tender beef without
abundant marbling. These factors include the genetics of the animal, the feed
rations of the animals, the amount of aging and whether the carcass was electrically
There is a scientific test to determine
meat toughness called the Warner-Bratzler shear test. It uses an apparatus to
gradually increase force until a sample piece of meat is ripped in half. The
resulting force measurement is very accurate but unfortunately, the test is
impractical to implement in a commercial plant.
New sophisticated techniques are
appearing in commercial enterprises. Some programs use a camera to measure the
color of the meat in different carcasses. Others have submitted meat to small
explosions to try and loosen up muscle fibers to provide a better eating experience.
For the moment however, most consumers will have to rely on the USDA grading
system of Prime, Choice, Select and Standard, the four grades for young beef
carcasses, to predict eating satisfaction.