Again late in getting this posted but better late than never! This past weekend the Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences put on a Beef Excellence Education For You (BEEF U) program. This program is designed for youth, aged 6 to 18, to spend a day on the Auburn University campus and learn about beef. The kids have the opportunity to learn about beef production all the way from the farm to the fork, so raising and feeding an animal all the way to cutting the steak and cooking it. I had the opportunity to work with the both the younger group of kids (6-12) and the older group (13-18). For the younger kids, I focused on washing hands and how that influences food safety. We talked about using warm water and soap, scrubbing our hands, and singing “Happy Birthday” while washing hands. For the older group of kids we talked about the difference between yield and quality grade.
Inspection is mandatory, tax dollars pay for it. Grading on the other hand is optional and is paid for by the packing house. Quality grade is what we see in stores and on restaurant menus: “USDA Choice” and “USDA Select”. Quality grade is based on marbling, or fat within the muscle, and maturity. Generally, the younger the carcass the more tender the meat. We look for “buttons” on the ends of the spinal processes. Buttons are just white ends of the bone which have not yet ossified or hardened yet. The presence of buttons indicates a young carcass. Marbling is what makes us perceive the steak as tender, juicy, and flavorful. The marbling, or fat, melts as we cook the steak and keeps the flavor and moisture in the steak. When we apply heat to cook a steak, we are removing moisture and thereby making the steak tougher. Marbling helps to negate the effect of cooking. Overall, quality grade is an indicator of eating satisfaction or eating quality. A “choice” steak is supposed to be a better eating quality than a “select” steak based on these characteristics.
We can also buy ungraded meat. This tends to be a little cheaper because the packer didn’t pay to have the carcass graded. It doesn’t mean that the ungraded meat is any less safe or less tasty, just that it wasn’t graded. So what do you look for when you go to the grocery store? What gives you the most “bang for your buck”? My suggestions are to:
- Buy non-graded meat. It is a little cheaper for the same product.
- Look for more marbling. This means buying a steak with more fat inside the muscle. THIS IS A GOOD THING. When you grill or otherwise cook the steak, the more marbled it is the more tender, juicy, and flavorful it will be.
- Grill your steaks. You have an upside-down grill in your oven called a broiler. This is the best way to cook steaks.
- Just because a cut says steak doesn’t mean we should cook it like a steak!! Grill ribeye and sirloin steaks. NEVER grill a round steak (this comes from the round and needs help to be tender).
- Consider marinades. These help steaks, like sirloins, which need a little extra attention to be tender and juicy. A marinade is a great way to add tenderness and flavor. Some really simple marinades are Italian dressing, Worchestshire sauce, or lemon juice.
Enjoy your steaks!