Creating Great Tasting Steaks

How to make a great tasting steak (or pork or lamb chop):

  1. Start with an animal genetically inclined to produce a high-quality product.

Genetics + Environment = Phenotype

Basically, the genetic background of the animal, plus the environment it is raised in determines its physical appearance, or phenotype. Meat quality and quantity is a portion of that phenotype.

Utilizing genetic data, farmers and ranchers can select for specific quality traits for their livestock. For example, using ultrasound, measurements of a bull’s ribeye can be taken to estimate its size and marbling score.  Knowing these numbers can provide an estimate of what the offspring will look like and be able to produce.

2. Feed the animal correctly to let it reach its maximum genetic potential.

The environment portion of the equation can consist of the animal’s surroundings, diet and lifestyle. In order to best maximize final product quality, animals need to be fed a high energy diet. Doing so will allow the animal to meet its full genetic potential.

For example, say twin steers each were fed different diets. One of them was fed a low energy, forage (ex. grass) based diet, while the other was transitioned to a high energy, grain (ex. corn) based diet.  Both animals have the same genetic background, but their environment can have a major impact on the final product. Likely, the steer fed the high energy diet will produce a ribeye that has more intramuscular fat (marbling), which is associated with a higher quality product.

3. Keep the animal stress free and comfortable.

Stress can have a major negative impact on final product quality. Stressed animals can produce product that has color defects, limited ability to retain moisture, and tenderness problems. All these things can devalue the product, hurting the bottom line of the producer and the processor.

4. Harvest the animal efficiently.

Effectively rendering the animal unconscious and correctly exsanguinating it are imperative for maintaining product quality as well as ensuring humane handling. If the animal is not exsanguinated quickly and effectively, an increase in blood pressure can cause the capillaries within the muscle to burst, leading to splashes of blood within the meat. Not only is this unsightly to the consumer, but it also can poorly impact taste and can shorten shelf life.

5. Age the meat to allow time for natural tenderization to occur.

Storing the meat in a refrigerated environment for a period of time prior to cutting retail cuts allows natural enzymes found within the meat to breakdown protein and improve tenderness. Optimally, beef is aged for approximately 14 days, but can vary due to cut, demand, and storage space at the processing facility.

6. Cut steaks and keep them free from contamination that could impact taste and safety.

Meat can pick up contamination on surfaces as well as absorb off odors and flavors. Because of this, it is necessary to keep the environment clean and controlled. Contaminants can impact taste but can also be a food safety concern.

7. Package and store correctly.

Poor packaging and storage can lead to meat that can quickly develop off flavors or become rancid. Oxygen and light exposure can impact the color and flavor of meat products. Storing cuts in packaging that limits exposure to both is important to maintain a high-quality product. Additionally, keeping meat frozen and only thawing it as you need it is also a great way to keep quality and safety in check. For the best, safest eating experience, plan and thaw meat products in the fridge rather than on the counter or in the microwave.

8. Don’t overcook it!

Undercooking meat products is a food safety concern; however, overcooking them can lead to a product that is tough and dry. Using a meat thermometer is your best bet for a safe, high quality eating experience.

Who would have thought something as seemingly simple as a steak could be so complex? All these steps can add up to create a great tasting product. Similarly, an error at any point can hurt the final product (ex. great quality product that gets forgotten on the grill and is overcooked). One of the exciting things about careers in meat science is that we are constantly studying ways at every point throughout this process to try to improve the final product. We want to ensure a great eating experience every time that product is consumed!


Grain vs. Grass

A topic that is consistently discussed in the beef industry is the differences in grain fed vs. grass fed beef products. Debates cover the diet, cost and quality of the final product. So, which is really better?

Grain fed

Excess energy from a grain finished diet is often stored as marbling. A ribeye with a slightly abundant amount of marbling would qualify for USDA Prime and would likely offer a better eating experience than one with a slight amount of marbling (USDA Select).

This is seen as the “traditional” way of feeding cattle today in the US.  On this diet, cattle can be fed a combination of grass and grains. Grain finished diets are high in energy and allow cattle to build muscle and deposit fat. Grains that may be included in the diet include corn, distillers grains, oats, barley, various forms of silage, and more.

Excess energy is stored as intramuscular fat, or fat that is within the muscle, commonly known as marbling. High levels of marbling are associated with a high-quality product that would be expected to be tender, juicy and flavorful.

The price of grain fed beef can vary based on quality grade (ex. A USDA Prime ribeye will cost more than a USDA Select ribeye). Although there is variation in price within the product, there are plenty of nutritious, affordable, great tasting beef products on the market.

Grass Fed

Typically, grass fed beef is seen as a niche market.  To fall within the grass fed category, cattle must be 100% forage fed after weaning and offered continuous access to pasture. Forages allowed on the grass fed diet include grass, legumes, some cereal grains (pre grain state), hay, crop residue without grains, and a vitamin and mineral mix. 

Due to the grass centered diet being lower energy, it takes a longer period for cattle to be ready for harvest compared to their grain fed counterparts.  Additionally, grass contains a high level of beta-carotene (what is converted to vitamin A, high levels in things like carrots, peas, spinach, etc.).  Because of this, fat associated with grass fed beef is often a yellow color, compared to the bright white color typically associated with grain finished beef.

Since grass fed beef is seen as a niche item, it often will come at a higher price point than the same cut, same quality grade, grain finished product. For example, Walmart sells USDA Choice, grain finished, NY strip steaks for $10.97/lb. They also sell USDA Choice, grass finished, NY strip steaks for $12.96/lb.

Which is Better?

Simply put, grain fed and grass fed beef are both great options. One of the awesome things about the food system in the US is that consumers have a choice. You have the opportunity to choose what cut, quality, and price point best suits you.  

Beef from both grain finished and grass finished animals offers 10 essential nutrients that are necessary for a healthy diet. Beef is an incredible source of iron, choline, protein, vitamins B6  and B12 , phosphorus, zinc, niacin, riboflavin and selenium. Additionally, all meat that is sold in the US is legally required to be processed under USDA inspection to ensure food safety. Whether grain or grass finished, you can trust that you are serving your family a safe, nutritious, great tasting product.  

Considering Color

Imagine you are buying steaks for your family. You walk up to the counter at the grocery store to try to decide which package to buy. What do you look for?  For many people, one of first things that is taken into consideration is the color of the product. In fact, one of the primary factors for discounting meat products is discoloration. Although the product may be perfectly safe, nutritious and delicious, off-color is off-putting to many consumers.  Variation in meat color can be caused by many different factors.

Meat gets its color from the myoglobin that is present in muscle tissue. During life, myoglobin carries oxygen throughout the muscle and is what is responsible for the red color primarily associated with meat. When meat is thawed, myoglobin and water are released creating purge, a liquid often confused with blood. Different muscles have different amounts of myoglobin depending on their use.  The more active they are, the more myoglobin present as the muscle requires more oxygen. The level of myoglobin within the muscle can vary based on muscle fiber type and maturity of the animal.

Type 1 muscle fibers are used for long term locomotion (cross country runner) and have higher amounts of myoglobin. Cattle have predominantly type 1 muscle fibers. Beef are locomotive animals and often are consistently walking to reach water and feed sources. The high levels of myoglobin within their muscles create a bright, cherry red colored meat.

Type 2 muscle fibers are used for short bursts of energy (sprinter) and have lesser amounts of myoglobin. Chickens have predominantly type 2 muscle fibers (there are varying degrees of type 2 fibers, but we won’t go into detail on those today). Typically, chickens only need short bursts of energy to make it to their roost or to run for a short period of time. Due to the lower levels of myoglobin, their muscles will have a lighter colored, pinkish tint.

The muscle structure within animals is not strictly one muscle fiber type or another. They can have a combination within they system based on their use (white vs. dark meat). Even breed and production style can cause differences. For example, farm raised turkeys are not required to be very mobile and don’t need sustained locomotion to get food, water, etc.  Wild turkeys, on the other hand, will cover a lot more ground and engage their muscles a lot more.  They produce a meat that is much darker in color compared to their farm raised counterpart.

In addition to muscle fiber type, maturity can impact final product color. As an animal ages, more myoglobin (what carries oxygen to the muscle and makes it red) is present and gives meat a redder color. This is especially evident in beef animals. Veal, or meat produced from a young calf, will often be a pinkish color. Meat from a traditional market steer is traditionally the bright, cherry red color that we are used to seeing at the retail counter. Meat from old cull cows or bulls, is a darker, deeper, red color that is not as appealing to the consumer.

Additionally, preharvest factors, including diet and stress can impact color. When an animal is harvested, the muscle goes through natural changes to convert to meat. One major change is the pH, or acidity level. Living muscle tissue has a nearly neutral pH of around 7.0.  When an animal is harvested, the pH declines, making the meat slightly more acidic (pH of ~5.4).  Stress prior to harvest can affect the rate and level of pH decline, causing variation in color. In beef, long term stress can lead to dark cutters (product that is almost purple in color). In pork, stress leads to a product that is pale in color, soft (doesn’t hold shape) and exudative (losing moisture). Keeping the effect of stress on carcass quality in mind is important when handling livestock at home.

In addition to these factors, genetics, sex, harvest methods, oxygen exposure, etc. can all impact product color. Although not all variation in color is a negative thing (muscle fiber type), some may be an indication of a problem in production (preharvest stress). Understanding the production process is important to be able to identify the cause of color variation and determine if it is necessary to implement a change in production.

Steak Science: Making a Marinade

A few weeks ago I had the chance to be featured on Nebraska 4-H Living Room Learning. This program focuses on sharing activities with students that can be done at home to teach lessons in science, math, engineering, and more. The lesson I taught was focused on meat science, and discussed how to make a marinade.

Using marinades when cooking is a great way to add flavor and improve tenderness of various meat products. There are a few key ingredients that should be used when mixing marinades in order to have the best results.

Oil: This is used to bind ingredients and can help seal in moisture during cooking. I prefer to use olive oil, but any cooking oil will work.

Acid: The acid helps improve tenderness by breaking down protein. Common acids that can be used in marinades are lemon and lime juice or white wine.

Flavor: This is where you are going to add in your key ingredients to create a specific flavor profile. Are you hoping to cook a product that is savory? Spicy? Has some sweetness? Using various herbs, spices and other seasonings allows you to create a specific flavor profile. Some common ingredients include garlic, chili powder, brown sugar, mustard, pepper and onion powder.

Salt: This is a key ingredient for flavor, but also helps the marinade penetrate into the cut you are working with. It is important to be careful with the amount of salt you add to the mixture as it can quickly produce an off putting flavor and can draw out moisture in the meat, leaving you with a final product that is dry.

When mixing your marinade, plan for a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of meat. Place the meat in a resealable bag or container with a lid and pour the marinade over the meat. To keep the product at a safe temperature, make sure to marinate it in the fridge. The length of time that you will marinate depends on what cut you are using and your goal for the marinade. If you are using a tougher cut with the goal of improving tenderness (round steak, sirloin steak, etc.) marinades can be used for 6-24 hours. If you are simply trying to add flavor (chicken, strip steaks, etc), marinate for 20 minutes-2 hours. Do not mix or store your marinade in a metal container. The acid can react with the metal, producing off flavors and can damage the container.

Marinades are a great way to improve tenderness and change the flavor profile of your favorite cuts. There are a lot of great recipes out there, but it is also a fun way to experiment in the kitchen and develop your own favorite flavor profile. This is your opportunity to perform your own steak science experiment. The best part? You get to eat your research!

Garlic Herb Marinade:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine or lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 4 cloves minced garlic (1 Tbsp minced garlic)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 lb of meat

Mix all ingredients and pour over cut of your choice. This recipe will make enough marinade for 1 lb of meat. I used round steak when I did this talk. After letting it soak in the marinade for approximately 16 hours, I grilled the steak to medium, sliced it thin and served it over greens for a steak salad.

Check out the “Steak Science” episode on NE 4-H Living Room Learning!

Every Cut has a Consequence

When I first started graduate school for meat science, I had very little experience cutting meat.  I had taken a few meat science courses in my undergrad, but they were focused on the science that goes into meat production. While pursuing my master’s, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the meat lab and got plenty of cutting experience.

Now, every time I get to help on the fab floor, I can hear one of my professors telling me, “Every cut has a consequence.”

This phrase stuck out to me because it reminded me of opportunity cost, a concept I learned in economics that really made sense to me.  Opportunity cost is basically what you give up by choosing to purchase something.  For example, I could buy a new sweater, or I could buy 5 cheeseburgers from Culver’s.  If I buy the sweater, my opportunity cost is the cheeseburgers. I am giving up my ability to purchase them.  If I buy the cheeseburgers, I am giving up the sweater.  As a poor college student, this concept was crystal clear. (I should add, I bought very few clothes in college because I always chose the cheeseburgers. Very rarely would I actually spend that much on burgers, so I saved myself a good chunk of cash and calories).

Opportunity cost relates to “every cut has a consequence” because every cut you choose to make when fabricating meat is a choice against another product.  Let me break this down with an example.

Porterhouse and T-Bone steaks, vs. Filet Mignon (tenderloin) and NY Strip. These steaks seem to have a lot of differences, but in reality they are one in the same.  A Porterhouse is made of the Psoas major (aka Filet Mignon or tenderloin) and the Longissimus dorsi (aka NY Strip), while a T-Bone is primarily the Longissimus dorsi and maybe a small portion of the Psoas major. The only difference is that the Porterhouse and T-Bone remain bone-in. The consequence of leaving the bone in and cutting Porterhouse and T-bone steaks is not being able to get Filets and NY Strips.  Likewise, choosing to remove the bone and cut Filets and NY Strip steaks means that Porterhouses and T-Bones will not be kept.  Every cut has a consequence.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both products. Porterhouses and T-Bones are difficult to cook correctly.  The muscles have difference characteristics and are different sizes.  Those things, plus the addition of the bone make it difficult to get a consistent cook. Additionally, if you are buying them at the grocery store, you are paying for the bone, an inedible product. On the plus side, they taste good.  The filet is the most tender muscle on a beef animal and a NY strip is a very high-quality cut.  You get the best of the best in one cut.

Now, on the flip side, cutting Filets and NY Strips instead of Porterhouses and T-Bones results in two steaks that are very consistent and therefore easier to cook.  If you are cooking a grill full of Filets or NY Strips, it is much easier to get a good, consistent cook than trying to account for two totally different products at once. When you buy the product from the grocery store you are paying for meat.  There may be small amounts of plate waste from fat or connective tissue, but you are not paying for bone that will be discarded later. Choosing to de-bone and have 2 cuts will also lessen the portion size (positive or negative depending on your appetite).

So whether you’re working with your local butcher on how you would like your beef cut or buy steaks at the grocery store, remember that every cut has a consequence.  Luckily in this case, there are no bad consequences, only great tasting products!

Simple Steak Science: Yield

I got great feedback from my last post about using pineapple and jello to explain tenderness in beef.  This week, I will once again use a pineapple to explain a really important topic in meat science, yield! 

Yield answers the question of “how much?” How much meat can we expect from the carcass? How much boneless, closely trimmed, retail cuts will make it to the grocery store?

Now, it will take a little explaining to answer these questions. I personally am not a consumer of plant based meat, but for this post we will use a pineapple to represent a beef animal. Close enough to a steak, right?

Step 1:

The animal is harvested.  Harvest is a term often used instead of slaughter.  When an animal is harvested, the head, hide, hooves, blood and viscera (internal organs) are removed.  What is left is referred to as the “hot carcass.” The carcass is composed of muscle (meat), bone, fat and connective tissue.  Similarly, when cutting up a pineapple, the first step is to remove the top, bottom and outside, leaving behind the edible fruit and core.

Step 2:

Fabricate the carcass into primals.  Fabricate is another word for cut and primals refers to large groupings of muscles.  From here, excess fat is trimmed and bones can begin to be removed. Likewise, spots are removed from the outside of the pineapple and the core is removed.

Step 3.  

Cut the primals into retail cuts.  At this point, the muscle groups can be further portioned into steaks and roasts that will be sold at the retail counter.  Excess fat is continued to be trimmed and remaining bones are removed (unless cutting bone-in steaks and roasts, then some bones remain). Once this step is completed, you are left with the yield from that animal, or the boneless, closely trimmed, retail cuts. In a pineapple, once the skin and core have been removed, the fruit can be cut into chunks or slices and is ready to be served.

During this process, a lot of weight is seemingly “lost.”  If you were to bring a 1400 lb. steer to the butcher, it is likely that you will only get about 500 lbs. of meat back.  The weight that is “lost” is in the bones, fat, hide, blood, etc.  However, none of this weight is actually lost.  It can all be used.  Medical supplies, sports equipment, textiles, biofuels, pet food, and much more are all co-products of the meat industry and can be produced using that “lost” weight.  By harvesting the animals for meat, supplies are produced to be used in industries across the spectrum.  Nothing is wasted.

Who would have thought that a pineapple and a steak could have so much in common? Now whether you’re enjoying a bowl of pineapple or a steak on the grill, it is sure to “yield” a great experience!

Meat Science, is it Where You Belong?

Last week I had the opportunity to be part of recording a webinar for the Nebraska Pork Producers Association Pork Mentorship program about my experience getting involved in meat science and opportunities within the industry. 

I didn’t get involved with meat science until I was in college.  It wasn’t until I snuck my way into an upper level meat science course my freshman year that I was introduced to this career path.

What drew me to meat science is that it is really all encompassing. Not only do you have to understand livestock production in terms of genetics, nutrition and handling, but there is also a whole host of things can influence meat quality and safety after the animal has been harvested.  The process of getting a safe, tasty product from the farm to your table is extensive. Meat science is also a great way to relate to consumers.  Not everyone has had the chance to work in a feedlot, but most people have eaten a hamburger. Connecting the story of agriculture through the actual food people consume is a great way to promote the industry.

Through great classes and opportunities in my undergraduate and graduate programs, I was able to learn more about the industry and the science behind meat production. This led to my current role in youth meat extension for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Now, my story is heavy on the academics. I love to learn, and higher education was a good path for me.  However, there are so many more ways to get involved in the industry than just working in academia. Being involved in the meat industry can involve a wide variety of careers.  Below are just a few areas that barely crack the surface of opportunities within the industry:

  • Livestock Production and Health: What happens on the hoof is incredibly important in determining the quality of the product produced. Sickness, stress, bruising, all can lead to later problems with the carcass. Combine that with genetics, diet and environmental factors, and people with roles in this area can make huge impacts in the meat industry.    
  • Research and development: Everything that you see in the grocery store that contains meat has been researched. This includes determining the safety of the product, nutritional value, flavor, shelf life and best packaging for each product.  
  • Industry: Packing plants or butcher shops are what most people think of when considering careers in the meat industry. The fact is, they do provide a lot of opportunities. From line workers, management, marketing, and food safety controls, these businesses are incredibly important to the industry and provide thousands of jobs across the country.
  • Government: Food safety and meat quality are determined with government oversight.  Additionally, jobs in policy, trade, and labeling, all impact the value of the final product.
  • Technology: The amount of technology and automation within livestock and meat production blows my mind.  From feeding systems for the live animals, to machines that assist in harvest and fabrication, to the packaging that holds the final product, the technological advancement in the industry is incredible.  Careers developing and maintaining these technologies are abundant.

Like I said, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. With the growing population and more mouths to feed, career opportunities within the meat industry will only continue to grow. You don’t have to be an animal scientist to be active in the meat industry. I encourage you to look into the world that is meat science, you may be surprised to find that it is right where you belong.    

How Many Pounds of Meat can we Expect from a Beef Animal?

This post was co-written with Nebraska Extension Educator, Randy Saner, and originally posted on the UNL Beef Extension website on August 1, 2020. The link to the original publication, which includes more graphs and reported data, is included at the end of this post.

Consumers who buy a live animal from a local cattle producer or 4-H member for custom processing are often surprised by the amount of beef they receive, the amount of freezer space needed and that they did not get back the entire live weight of the animal in retail cuts.  This article will discuss how to estimate how much meat you will receive when purchasing an animal to harvest.

Dressing Percentage is an important term to remember as it represents the portion of the live animal weight that transfers to the hot carcass weight.

Dressing percentage is calculated as: (hot carcass weight ÷ the live weight) x 100.

The hot carcass weight (HCW) is the weight of the unchilled carcass in pounds after the head, hide and internal organs have been removed.  For most fed cattle, the HCW will be approximately 60 to 64 percent of live animal harvest weight.  For example, a 1400-pound animal with a hot carcass weight of 880 pounds has a dressing percentage of approximately 63%, which is calculated as follows:

(880 hot carcass weight ÷ 1400-pound live weight) x 100 = 63%.

It is not uncommon for the buyer of a live animal to question, “The dressing percentage of my 1400-pound steer was 63% but I only got 550 pounds of meat – where is the rest of my meat?”  The calculation of dressing percentage is based on hot carcass weight.  The hot carcass weight includes bones, excess fat and moisture loss that will not be packed and wrapped for home consumption. The hot carcass weight is not the actual amount of meat that the consumer will put in his or her freezer. 

Many factors can affect the dressing percentage.  Anything that adds weight to the live animal but does not appear on the carcass will lower the dressing percentage.  Factors that might add to the live animal weight but not be included in the hot carcass weight include:

  • Hide
  • Horns
  • Pregnancy
  • Mud and/or manure on the hide
  • Gut fill

All beef animals are not created equal.  Therefore, the dressing percentage is not consistent from one animal to another.  Some of the primary factors that influence the dressing percentage include breed of the animal (dairy vs beef), live weight and how it was finished (grain fed or grass fed). The table below shows the relative dressing percentage for various types of beef animals and background conditions.

A beef carcass is composed of 70 to 75% water.  As it is chilled, water evaporation will cause the carcass weight to decrease.  It is not uncommon for a chilled carcass to weigh 2 to 5% less than the hot carcass.  That means our example 880-pound carcass could lose nearly 40 pounds during chilling solely due to water loss by evaporation!

After a carcass is cooled, it will be further processed into the retail cuts you bring home.  The carcass is split in half, and further separated into “primal” (or wholesale) cuts.  This process is referred to as “breaking down the carcass or fabrication.”  Beef primal cuts in the front-quarter include the rib, chuck, shank, brisket, and plate; while the hind quarter is composed of the flank, round and loin (short loin and sirloin).  The table below shows the typical weights and percent of a carcass of various primals from an 880 lb. carcass.

Wholesale or primal meat cuts will be further processed into sub-primals or retail cuts. The basic concept of fabricating beef retail cuts is to separate tender muscles from less tender muscles, thick muscles from thin muscles and fat from lean portions.  What remains when bone and fat are removed is referred to as yield, or the percent of boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts. For example, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association publication entitled “Beef Cut: Primal and Sub primal Weights and Yields,” the round typically makes up 22% of the hot carcass weight. For an 880 – pound carcass, the round would be approximately 194 pounds.  About 20 percent of that weight is made up of fat and bone. This leaves approximately 155 pounds of meat, including steaks, roasts, and ground product, that will be packaged for consumption.

This picture demonstrates yield. A carcass includes muscle, fat, bone and connective tissue. As a the meat is divided into retail cuts, excess fat, bone and tissue are removed to provide a boneless, closely trimmed product that is ready for consumption. Photo Credit: Jessica Lancaster, University of Idaho

Factors that affect yield of retail cuts include:

  • Carcass Fat – External carcass fat, or backfat, has the greatest impact on the percent of retail product from a carcass.  As more fat is trimmed away from the retail cuts, less weight will be included in the final packaged product; thus, a lower percentage of retail cuts.
  • Carcass Muscularity – Superior carcass muscling can increase the yield of a carcass.  Dairy – type animals with lower lean-to-bone ratios typically yield lower than beef type animals.
  • Cutting style or cutting directions given to the processor can affect carcass yield.  For instance, the amount of bone-in versus boneless cuts, trimming of retail cuts and the percent of fat of the ground beef will affect retail yield.
  • Aging – the two major advantages of aging meat are improvement in tenderness and enhancement of a “beefy” flavor.  A typical aging period of seven to fourteen days allows for tenderness development. Long term aging also can have a negative effect on carcass yield as it results in more weight loss from the carcass due to further moisture loss.

In summary, the amount of meat that is cut and wrapped for consumption will be much less than the live weight of the animal.  A 1400-pound beef animal will yield a hot carcass weight of approximately 880 pounds.  Once cooled, the carcass weight will be approximately 840 pounds. When deboned and trimmed, there will be approximately 570 pounds of product to fill your freezer.

It is important to remember that fat, bone and trim that is discarded from the carcass are not simply thrown away. These products are known as byproducts and can be used in various industries across the spectrum.  From leather, pet food, and fertilizer to medical equipment, cosmetics and sporting equipment; the value of a harvested animal stretches far past your freezer.

It is important to understand that these numbers will vary based on many factors.  Not all harvested animals weigh 1400 pounds.  Some may be harvested at 1100 pounds and some at 1500+ pounds. Some animals may be dairy type and others may be beef type.  Some may be grass finished and some may be grain finished.  All these factors contribute to how much meat you take home.

When deciding to purchase an animal for harvest, keep in mind the space you have available for safe and effective storage. A quarter of beef takes an approximately 4.5 cu. ft. of chest freezer or a 5.5 cu. ft. upright freezer.  A side (half), requires around 8 cu. ft. of space, while a whole beef will need 16 cu. ft.

To summarize: A 1,400-pound steer, one-half inch fat, average muscling, yields an 880-pound carcass. The 880-pound carcass yields approximately:

  • 570 pounds boneless trimmed beef;
  • 280 pounds fat trim and bone;
  • 32 pounds of kidney, pelvic, and heart (KPH) fat, trim loss and carcass shrink.

Preparing to buy a Quarter of Beef, University of Minnesota Extension
Beef Cuts Primal & Subprimal Weights and Yields Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
How Much Meat To Expect From a Beef Carcass University of Tennessee Extension Publication 1822
How Much Meat Can You Expect from a Fed Steer, South Dakota State University

The Beef with Burger King

Last week, Burger King released an ad toting the beloved (at least by me) Walmart yodel kid singing a song about cow farts releasing methane and leading to green house gas emission. This video quickly went viral and was met with a lot of jokes and some mixed reactions, from annoyance, to frustration, and honestly, a lot of confusion. Personally, I fell within the confused group.  On one hand, I was glad that Burger King was still using and promoting real beef on their menu.  On the other hand, the video seemed to provide a lot of misinformation that did not represent the beef industry well. I couldn’t be angry, but it certainly didn’t make me crave a Whopper! 

Since then, Burger King has pulled the ad and has enlisted the help of Dr. Frank Mitloehner of UC Davis who specializes in air quality to ensure accuracy of their advertisements. I had the chance to hear Dr. Mitloehner speak at the International Livestock Congress at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo earlier this year and was so impressed by his presentation on the impact of livestock on the environment. Prior to the BK video release, Dr Mitloehner was active on social media sharing his insights and experience.  Since the video dropped, more scientific information about the impact of livestock production on the environment, and people are listening.

This info graphic was produced by UC Davis and was shared on Twitter. It explains the role that livestock play in the carbon cycle.

It is encouraging to see a company like Burger King make the decision to work alongside the livestock industry to accurately promote a product.  Admitting that their claims weren’t what they initially thought and being willing to stop the distribution of costly advertisements is a huge step.  In the future, I hope to see more companies work with experts in animal science, whether that be farmers and ranchers, faculty at Universities, or others in the industry from the beginning to ensure factual advertising.  This could go a long way to promote their product, accurately represent the ag industry and build consumer confidence in the food they eat.      

This video produced by UC Davis is a great resource explaining how methane from livestock impacts the environment and makes it easy to understand. I highly recommend a watch!

Tenderness and Taste Tests

While at the University of Idaho, my research is focused on making beef more tender.  To do this we evaluate enzymes, measure mechanical tenderness, and best of all, perform taste tests! 

A lot of planning goes into performing a taste panel. It isn’t just simply cooking, cutting and serving steaks!  Prior to performing the taste panels, product is labelled and randomly assorted.  If we are looking at different treatments (ex. If the panel is looking at degrees of doneness, one treatment may be cooking steaks to well done, while another treatment is cooking to rare), the product is randomly distributed among the panelists.  We don’t want one panelist to get 5 samples from the same treatment.  Additionally, in the taste panels I performed, we assigned what order that the samples had to be eaten.  This allows us to eliminate any bias or ‘sample fatigue’ of trying the same sample first every time.  Sample fatigue may seem like a silly concept (who wouldn’t want more steak?), but it is necessary to limit the size and number of samples each panelist receives so they don’t become too full or exhaust their taste buds. We also serve unsalted crackers (boring, I know), and water with the samples so panelists can cleanse their palette between samples.

Along with the samples, panelists receive a questionnaire that has them rank each sample on a 1-10 scale based on tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and overall acceptability.  They can also provide comments on what they really liked or disliked about the sample. This type of form gives us actual numbers to analyze for differences as well as provides some actual insight as to what the consumer actually thinks about the product.   

Lab analysis is so important to meat science.  Understanding what is actually happening within the meat itself is necessary to try to improve it.  However, the most important aspect of researching food (in my opinion), is making sure that consumers are satisfied. We can develop the coolest technology to ‘improve’ the product, but if consumers are unhappy or don’t notice an improvement in the final product, it may not be worthwhile to implement.  Because of this, taste panels are so important to develop methods to improve consumer satisfaction to drive the demand for high quality meat; keeping processors, producers and meat scientists in business.