My wife and I have been needing a little help, and like many married couples we decided to seek out a some guidance.
I had told Shannon that I knew quite a bit about these things and what takes place, but she insisted (as most wives do) that she would like a second opinion. So off we went to Ohio. This was our first trip to the Buckeye State so we were a little anxious to say the least, and even more so when a one hour flight out of Amarillo turned into a two hour and forty five minute commute. The first hour and 45 minutes we sat on the tarmack waiting for a mechanic. But l always say - it’s better to fix it now than try to work on it at 25,000 feet. I bet it’s hard to hold a screw driver when you’re just trying to hang on for dear life!
The flight to Cleveland went off without a hitch and we landed in a winter wonderland. We met with the driver and we were off to Wooster to meet with Dr. Phil. I had never heard of Wooster and I sure didn’t know that was where Dr. Phil lived, but it made sense since Wooster, Ohio is the home of CAB, Certified Angus Beef.
Oh wait – did I have y’all confused? Pardon me, let me clear this up – Shannon and I flew up there to learn and brush up on our meat skills and knowledge with Dr. Phil Bass the head meat scientist at Certified Angus Beef. Luckily when we got there we talked about beef not our inner feelings like that other Dr. Phil!
We had originally met the good CAB folks when Shannon and I catered an event for them in Kansas. Their head Chef, Michael, was kind enough to arrange for us to fly up to their headquarters to learn more about the company. Let me tell you, the CAB folks are a class act. Chef Michael and the rest of the bunch sure rolled out the welcome wagon for us. They began with a slideshow presentation to introduce us to the brand and then it was off to the meat lab!
This part was my favorite because I love to be hands on and I hadn’t been in a meat lab since my time at Oklahoma State University in the late 70′s (go Pokes). I know quite a bit about meat from butchering elk, deer, beef… nearly any four-legged creature that makes a track – but this Dr. Phil sure knew his stuff. He was a great teacher, was easy to understand and kept us all engaged. Not to mention he was a hoot. I think maybe he had tried a previous career in stand-up comedy. His jokes may have been a little corny at times like: What do you get when you drop beef on the ground… Ground Beef!”, but luckily for us the comedy didn’t work out and he went into meat science.
There is quite a bit that goes into grading beef and it really is all about quality control. There are 10 quality specs that are required, and here are some of the top reasons I found interesting for what makes beef Certified Angus Beef.
-Modest to Higher Marbling: Marbling refers to white flecks and streaks of fat within the lean sections of meat. Marbling is very important and creates better flavor. Certain cuts of meat naturally have more marbling such as the rib. Other cuts like sirloin tend to have the least.Tenderness and marbling don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Beef tenderloin is possibly the most tender cut of beef, but it doesn’t have much marbling.
-Medium or Fine Marbling Texture: Marbling is important, but you don’t want large pieces of fat in your steak. The finer the marbling the better texture. You can see the steak on the left has thicker/wider white streaks while the steak on the right has finer streaks. Go for the right!
-Less than 1-inch Fat Thickness: You don’t want a large amount of fat on the outside of your steak. I always called this the rule of thumb, or finger. When you’re at the grocery store, choose a cut of steak that has less than 1-inch of fat (the size of my thumb) around the outside. But I always preferred more like the width of my pinky (3/4-inch) to ensure great flavor.
Choosing a Good Cut
Shannon said it would be nice to be able to look at a steak at the meat counter in the grocery store and actually pick out the right one. Luckily, the USDA has a system that grades the amount of marbling. A lot of people are intimidated when they walk up to the meat counter. Remember that steer can’t give you a hooking anymore, so first of all look at the GRADE. There are three types of USDA grades: Select, Choice and Prime. Select has the least amount of marbling and Prime the highest. Price also reflects the flavor/marbling and Prime will tote the highest $.
Looking at Different Cuts…
With beef prices being at a all time high let’s get the most for our dollar. Ribeye and New York strips are the most common cuts that wield the most flavor. But after visiting with Dr. Phil and Chef Michael, let’s not forget about some other flavorful cuts that won’t break the bank.
Flank: It’s not just for fajjita meat anymore! The great part of flank steak is that one piece could feed a family of six (depending on appetite). I just picked up a piece at the grocery store for $20 – that’s $3.33/person vs. at least $7 for the NY Strip. One mistake folks make is cutting the flank incorrectly. Be sure to cut against the grain, which won’t make the steak chewy. I also prefer to cook it rare to medium rare so it won’t be too tough.
Sirloin: Or as Dr. Phil calls it in his British accent – Sir Loin! The eye of the loin is a great cut of meat. You could fool most people with this if you have it cut into filet size and wrap that rascal with a piece of bacon and grill it rare to medium rare. Again, its very important to not overcook it. He died once let’s not kill him again!
Skirt: Another great cut. There is inside and outside skirt. The inside will be a lot more tender because it doesn’t have to do as much work as the outside skirt. Since it is more tender, the inside skirt will be slightly more expensive than the outside cut. Also be sure to cut this against the grain.
For all of these cuts, it is important to marinate them in something acid based. Acid breaks down the muscle and makes it more tender. I like to use lime juice or balsamic vinegar mixed with your favorite seasonings.
After all this meat handling my tastebuds where telling me, “Hey get some wood, build a fire and let’s cook some beef! Even better than that, Chef Michael, Chef Ashley and Chef Peter treated us to a lunch complete with some of flank steak we had just cut. Now that’s fresh! I liked to have died and gone to Hog Heaven… I mean Beef Heaven.
A big Thank You to Certified Angus Beef and their hospitality and knowledge.
So, I hoped this has helped you feel a little better about picking out a piece of beef. Remember good beef first starts when it’s still on the hoof, and CAB knows what goes into manufacturing the best product from the pasture to the table. Now I’m not saying Certified Angus Beef is the only good cut you’ll find because there is great beef from all over, but CAB has done all the hard work for you in ensuring a quality steak with great flavor.
So when you go to pick out your next cut of beef remember its like grading: You have to SELECT the right CHOICE to make this a PRIME dining experince.
(Note: No vegetarians were hurt in the making of this blog post)