Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's Not You, It's The Steak

A lot of folks blame themselves when the steak they grill comes out bland or tough. Well guess what? Time to give yourself a break. It's not you, it's probably the steak.

Seriously, you can do everything right and still have a sorry eating experience. Here are some reasons why:

Zero aged beef. North Americans like their beef to be tender. One key to tender beef is how long and how it's been aged. Aging helps break down muscle fibers to tenderize the beef. In their quest to keep prices low, most grocers and many butchers do not age their beef at all, it goes right from the processor to the store shelf. Look for steaks that have been aged at least 14 days. More on aging in a later post.

The life it led. Most don't want to think about this but raising livestock in stressful conditions can negatively influence both flavor and texture. It's actually pretty logical. Stress hormones change the chemical balance in the meat. In the worst case it can lead to drier, tougher, darker colored meat. Well a lot of commodity (grocery) beef is raised or slaughtered in stressful conditions. A good meat purveyor will be able to tell you with confidence how livestock were handled from farm to fork. Artisan beef is by defition raised with care.

Your steak was raised on drugs. A natural cattle cycle would take up to 3 years from inception to market weight. That's a long time to wait to get paid for raising the beef. Most commodity beef is raised with the use of growth stimulants, including preventative antibiotics and growth hormones, to get it ready for market faster. Both can negatively influence taste & texture.

Bad luck. Not every apple that falls from the tree tastes exactly the same. Even the very best artisan crafted beef can be an occasional miss. If most of the beef from one producer tastes fabulous but then something's not quite right one time, try to pass on that feedback to the purveyor. You never know, they might be able to use the information to improve their program!

The crap shoot. I am not being derogatory here. There are hundreds if not thousands of potential artisan beef producers but today, their beef shows up at the processor's door and comes out the other end on the retail shelf as "Choice" or "Select" or whatever simple label. In my opinion, it would be worth keeping each producer's beef separate so that you and I could appreciate the unique taste and texture of that beef.

The wrong cut. I've certainly made this "mistake." Some muscles get more work than others and exercise = flavor but also tougher meat. The four most popular premium steak cuts, the Filet Mignon, Rib-Eye, New York Strip Loin, or Sirloin, come from the mid-section of a cattle. They can be grilled or pan friend or broiled using high heat. With few exceptions, beef cuts that come from the front or back got used a lot more frequently. It's best to cook most of these cuts, such as a tri-tip or brisket, more slowly either as a roast, smoked, or braised to help tenderize the beef.

Notice that I am not suggesting that you purchased the wrong "Grade" of meat. More on that later, but I will leave you with this thought: USDA Prime beef is not necessarily the most flavorful or most tender meat.

The key to really fabulous tasting beef? Here's the short summary of my "cheat sheet." I'm working on a downloadable version, too.

  • Specific ranch or producer group (source-verified).

  • Single breed or cross-breed.

  • No added growth hormones (steroids, yuck!).

  • No preventative antibiotics (if they can't keep healthy without 'em...)

  • All vegetable diet, no funky stuff in there like stale chewing gum.

  • Treated gently on farm, in truck, at yard (if relevant), & at slaughterhouse.

  • Dry-aged or wet-aged for at least 7 days

  • Bonus points: certified organic, humane, grass-only diet, holistic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Artisan Steak Tasting Winner (s!)

OK, this will not be my most articulate and thoughtful post. Why? Well, I lost my email files last week, thanks to Outlook just disappearing - poof! - overnight. So I had to hunt and peck to recreate the list of comments, which took me a very long time, making me two days late in announcing... ah, forget the whining.

This is going to be fun. I am cheating on my own contest rules!!!

Greg Rempe of BBQ Central Show (LATalk Radio) invited this Beef Geek aka Beef Sommelier aka The Steak Lady aka Grillmeistress onto his radio show to share the secrets of artisan beef. I truly hope you all are inspired to go out an start asking these questions of me, your grocers, butchers, online purveyors, or folks at farmers' markets and CSAs.

But then right now you really want to know if you won the Discover Beef Artisan Steak Tasting kit for your home. This tasting pack includes beef from four different artisan quality ranches, each raising a different breed in a different region with a different diet and aging technique. You'll also receive instructions for conducting a home tasting, an Artisan Beef Institute tasting guide, plus a personal consultation to help design a fabulous tasting extravaganza.

Well, here's a bit of good news. I had set an internal goal of 50 or more comments on my blog. If I reached that goal, there would be two winners, selected at random by the magic random number generator machine at http://www.random.org/. Well, we did it.

So here are the two lucky winners, I hope you're excited!!

@UrbanBohemian (aka Brian) - who met me over steak on Twitter and who lives in Washington, D.C., my stomping grounds for 8 years after graduation from college. Brian was lucky #24


Lucky #19 Curt McAdams (aka @cmcadams) from Ohio - a competitive BBQer and all around nice person who (whom?) I had the good fortune to talk with by phone a while back. Curt is one of the many who inspires me to learn more about the art of barbecue.

Brian & Curt, congratulations! I will be sending you an email to arrange a time to ship you your artisan steak tasting pack.

For all others, THANK YOU for participating. I look forward to continuing our dialog about artisan beef and why it's important to us and the people who bring it to our plates.

Finally, I'll be sending everyone who provided an email address a copy of my Artisan Beef Institute "Cheat Sheet" in the hopes that you find it helpful in your quest for cleaner, better tasting, humanely raised beef.
Please email me at carrie [at] oliverranch [dot] com with any questions about this contest or artisan beef in general. My goal is to help you find artisan quality beef that meets your needs. It's a win-win situation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Want To Win An Artisan Steak Tasting?

If you're reading this post you are probably a fan of Greg Rempe of the BBQ Central Show (LATalk Radio) and heard me on his radio show talking about how to find artisan quality beef. Well hopefully you were listening carefully as we have a little contest here and the winner is going to be one very happy steak lover.

We're giving away one of my Discover Beef Experience Artisan Steak Tasting packs! An artisan steak tasting is like a wine tasting but with steaks. You'll receive four 10 to 12 oz steaks, one each from four different artisan beef producers, each specializing in a different breed, growing region, diet, and aging technique. I'll also send you one of my Artisan Beef Institute steak tasting guides and a how-to for hosting a steak tasting at your home. Finally, you'll receive a personal consultation from me to make your tasting a huge success.

Now I have to admit that I'd be really grateful if you read a bit of my blog or visit my online marketplace, The Oliver Ranch Company, and sign up for my newsletter (don't worry, I don't sell or let people borrow or pay for your email address).

But, to win the Artisan Steak Tasting pack, all you have to do is leave a comment below listing one of the 8 criteria I use to help identify artisan quality beef.

When you comment, make sure to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win. Sorry, because the border police make tend to make life difficult when shipping internationally, this offer is good for shipments to the Continental US, only. The contest closes at 11:59pm EST on Sunday, March 15, 2009. I will use some whiz bang software to select a winner at random.

If you post a link on Twitter or your blog referring people back to this contest you'll automatically be entered a second time. Make sure to come back and leave a new comment with a link back to your post.

If you didn't hear the show, go back and listen to the podcast, it's great! If you're clever, you'll also find the answers on one or both of my sites.

Finally, if you want to read about a tasting, pay a visit to SteamyKitchen and read her hilarious blow-by-blow of a tasting last fall here.

Good luck, and thanks for the visit!