Beef Flavor Factors

by Amy on September 10, 2012

Even though my family is able to fill our chest freezer with a wide variety of different beef cuts, I still get confused in remembering where each cut comes from and knowing the best way to cook them. This is especially true now that new value cuts have been created out of the chuck, shoulder, and round.

 

Cooking beef dishes that stand out is an art form. The average cook doesn’t take into the numerous considerations such as recommended cooking methods that can turn an average meal into a savory family favorite or what contributes to a succulent-tasting steak or roast.

 

I oftentimes refer to a brochure I received at a Women In Ag conference one time called Creating Crave…The Beef Factor: A Professional’s Guide to Understanding Flavor put out by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and funded by the Beef Checkoff program. According to the brochure there are several factors that should be taken into consideration. All of these have helped me better understand how to make my beef dishes more flavorful. Here’s a summary:

 

·        Beef Production. Whether cattle are fed grass and hay or corn, their feed affects the flavor of beef. High energy feed diets create significantly more flavor as a result of marbling (flecks of fat) than grass fed beef.

·        Grading. This pertains to the meat quality and grades.  All U.S. beef is inspected for wholesomeness. Grading differentiates the quality. Quality grades pertain to flavor. The eight USDA grades include: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. Quality is determined by maturity, marbling, muscle firmness, color and texture. The 5 maturity groups are “A” through “E” (E being the oldest animals).  Meat from older animals is typically not as tender. Firmness, bright red color, and fine-textured muscle from younger animals are typically more appealing to customers. The yield grade pertains to cutablility, with yield grade 1 being of higher cutability. The top three quality grades are Prime (typically sold to restaurants), Choice (most common and most available to consumers), and Select (has least amount of marbling; meaning leaner but not as juicy or as flavorful).

·        Marbling. The amount of fat in a cut. Most people prefer the flavor of beef with marbling even though many will buy leaner cuts. The three types of fat in meat include: Subcutaneous (external fat covering the outside of a carcass), Seam or intermuscular fat (fat between muscles), and marbling or intramuscular (fat found within the muscle). Marbling has a lot to do with the flavor and juiciness of cooked beef.

·        Aging. This is the amount of time before a carcass is processed and is a huge factor in flavor. Aging naturally tenderizes the meat and improves flavor the longer it is aged. This process can take 14-28 days, depending on whether it is wet aged or dry aged. Wet aging is most common in grocery stores, etc.; vacuum sealed bags under refrigeration, and is less expensive. Dry aging is more complex, results in yield loss, and is not as common but dry aged beef produces better flavored beef.

o       When my family has beef processed, we request to have our beef dry aged 21 days because of the better tasting beef. Dry aged beef has a noticeably better flavor.

·        Marinades and Rubs. Marinades are a liquid seasoning and rubs are a dry seasoning of herbs and spices (sometimes mixed with oil or a little liquid). Both add flavor and some marinades also increase tenderness. The key is matching marinade types and time with the right beef cut. Tender cuts need less marinating time. Highly acidic marinades can toughen some meat fibers and work best with less tender cuts (several from the chuck, round, flank and skirt) do well when cooked after being marinated for a long time.

·        Commercial Marinating. These are beef cuts pre-packaged in a marinade and basically do the marinating time for you.

·        Thaw slow. Freezing, thawing and cooking can make a difference in the flavor of the beef. When its possible, obtaining meat that’s been frozen rapidly produces a higher quality product than conventionally frozen methods. Thawing beef slowly in the refrigerator benefits the flavor and moisture content in the beef.

·        Heat. The type of heat used to cook beef can make a difference in the flavor of the end product. Proper cooking techniques should be an important consideration. How the proteins in meats are cooked can affect tenderness and flavor. Fats in meats help tenderize it during cooking also. Beef cooking methods are categorized as either dry heat or moist heat.

o       Something I learned from this brochure is the importance of browning meats like roasts before putting in a roaster. It causes the surface to carmelize flavor and kind of seals in that flavor and juices. It has to do with the reaction of amino acids and sugars in the meat. It gives the finished product a savory flavor.

o       Use dry heat methods for tender cuts and moist heat for leaner and less tender cuts. Beef with higher levels of connective tissue like some of the cuts from the chuck or round need longer, slower, lower cooking times using moist heat.

o       The difference between broiling and grilling meats is that broiling produces heat from above and grilling produces heat from below.

o       When meats are allowed to stand before cutting (15 or so for roasts) it allows the meat to reabsorb some of the juices.

o       Moist heat cooking generally means the meat is covered or sealed with liquid during cooking and is best for less tender cuts. Flavored liquids aid in adding flavor.

The degree of doneness is an important consideration for ground beef safety and preference with other cuts. Ground beef should read at least 160 degrees (170 degrees for well done). Meats cooked medium rare-145 degrees, medium-160 degrees and 170 degrees for well done.

 

I hope this helps consumers understand the different cuts and how best to prepare them for their next family meal. I have found this information very useful in creating beef dishes that receive rave reviews with my family and guests alike.

 

One of my favorite family meals is fork tender roast beef. I recently found an excellent recipe for roasts from Pinterest.

 

Even if I forget to take a roast out of the freezer to thaw ahead of time, I can still cook it in my crockpot and get the fork-tender results by suppertime. I just don’t get the opportunity to brown the roast first. I start it out on high for 4 hours and reduce it to low the remaining 6 hours.

 

Trim the fat off a roast, brown all sides in a skillet and place it in a crockpot. Mix together one package each of dry Italian dressing mix, brown gravy mix, and ranch dressing mix. Wisk all three with ½ C. water and pour over the roast. For a fork tender roast cook on low 10 hours. This is a very flavorful roast beef dinner. I usually bake or broil seasoned potato bites to go with it or make a hashbrown casserole side dish.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Buttons October 9, 2012 at 11:49 am

Oh I like this post it is very informative and I as a beef farmer think more people should read it. B

Veronique November 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Thank you, this is very informative. Marbling and aging are huge factors when talking about taste and texture of beef.

I read on a french blog that it is good to let meat having a resting time after cooking. Meat should be covered and sit for at least 3minutes to let the juices flow back evenly. This makes the beef cut more tender. I applied this technique and it’s true it makes a real difference. This work with pork, veal and lam too!

Anyway thanks for your sharing
Regards
Vero

Amy January 4, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Thanks for the tip. I think I did know that but never seem patient that long. I will have to make an effort to try it more often.

Amy January 22, 2013 at 5:39 am

Thanks for reading and commenting! It’s my little way of informing people with the truth about beef.

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