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Community Agriculture Alliance: Which steak tastes best?

Krista Monger/For Steamboat Today
Community Agriculture Alliance
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Meat processing timeline

• 0 hours — time of kill

• 1/2 hour — ready to chill

• 36 hours — carcass is graded by USDA inspector (prime, select, choice)

• 48 hours — meat is packaged

• 72 hours — meat leaves the plant in refrigerated trucks

• Day 4 through 10 — meat is delivered, repackaged into smaller cuts of meat, put on shelf for consumers

• Day 20 — maximum shelf life for most cuts of beef (depending on packaging)

Which steak tastes best? People often tell me that they think grass-fed tastes best or all natural tastes the best, because they had it at a restaurant. But when it really comes down to the science, it’s the steak that’s been aged. What is that? Aging beef is the process in which benign bacteria, naturally found in meat are given enough time to break down muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender piece of meat.

Meat processing timeline

• 0 hours — time of kill

• 1/2 hour — ready to chill

• 36 hours — carcass is graded by USDA inspector (prime, select, choice)

• 48 hours — meat is packaged

• 72 hours — meat leaves the plant in refrigerated trucks

• Day 4 through 10 — meat is delivered, repackaged into smaller cuts of meat, put on shelf for consumers

• Day 20 — maximum shelf life for most cuts of beef (depending on packaging)

There are two methods of aging meat. Dry-aged is an aerobic process (with air), in which the entire carcass is hung in a controlled, refrigerated environment for 10 to 28 days prior to cutting. This type of aging also creates a more concentrated, robust beef flavor due to the loss of moisture within the meat. The taste is more pronounced.

The other method is wet-aged. It is an anaerobic (without air) process, in which the beef is cut into large, primal cuts and vacuum-packed, then aged in refrigeration for 7 to 14 days. Wet-aged beef does not have as intense a flavor as dry-aged.

Meat from a processing plant is usually not aged, so most consumers are unaware of the wonderful benefits of aging. This is the main reason people wrongly assume that the grass-fed steak they had at the restaurant was so good compared to their store-bought, no-aged beef. The comparison is not the result in the diet of the animal but from the process at the meat-packing plant. Great steak restaurants buy aged beef, or they do it themselves.

If aging is so great, why don’t the majority of meat processors do it?

First, it requires too much space, time and labor. Aged beef doesn’t have much shelf life; it must be cooked soon or frozen, making it difficult for grocery stores to keep it on display. Because it takes more space, time and labor, it is also more expensive, making it even more difficult for the grocery store to get it out the door. People want cheap meat.

The final reason: There are too many steps and variables, making it more difficult to maintain quality.

Most beef producers prefer their own beef, because they can ask the local meat packer to age it. It’s not that it was fed any differently than the steers they loaded on the truck, rather, because they can control how it’s processed.

If you are not a beef producer, try to buy a local side of beef and asked to have it aged. Better yet, seek it out on a restaurant menu, and try it.

It’s wonderful.

Krista Monger is president of Routt County Cattlewomen.


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