Did you know that every food and drink item that you can buy in a grocery store has been through various forms of scientific testing? Whether it be for pathogens, allergens, microbial growth, flavor development, ingredient use, sensory appeal, the list goes on and on, there is a lot of science that goes into the food we eat!
The same goes for the products that you can purchase at the meat counter. Now, when I say that there is science in your steak, I don’t mean that it has been chemically altered. I mean that there has been significant testing put into place to help improve that piece of meat to provide a great eating experience and safe product for you and your family. One of those tests is Warner-Bratzler Shear Force (WBSF).
Although a long name, WBSF is a simple concept. Imagine biting into a big, juicy steak and having one of these two thoughts:
“This is so tender, it just melts in my mouth,” or “This is so tough, I feel like I’m chewing on rubber!”
Sound familiar? These two thoughts are describing the tenderness of the steak. WBSF is a measurement of tenderness. To complete this test, steaks are cooked and cores (basically bite sized pieces) are removed. The cores are then cut with a machine that measures how many kilograms of pressure it takes to cut through the piece (the force it takes to shear the core, hence the name). This represents how much pressure you would have to use to chew through the product. The lower the WBSF value, the more tender the steak. Using this information, we can find different things that can improve tenderness, whether that be a production method (think the animal’s environment it is raised in or what it is fed), a processing method (how long the product was aged, how the meat was cut, etc.) or cooking method (rare vs. well-done).
WBSF is often used alongside taste panels. It is helpful to use WBSF as it gives a definite number without being influenced by personal preference. However, taste panels are necessary because even if a machine tells us it should taste good, it’s people who need to enjoy it.
For those of you who are new to The Meating Room and haven’t read my bio, I am currently pursuing my master’s degree in meat science. Last week, our lab group spent three days running WBSF analysis. Three days, 230 steaks, 1,400+ cores to cut, all to try to find a method to improve steak tenderness and consistency for the end consumer.
This is just a tiny fragment of the science that goes into producing great tasting steak. As I continue with my project, I hope to share more of the work we are doing in the lab and to give you an insight into what a “meat scientist” really does!